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The Midshipman was an Inventor Roswell Evander Morey

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This time out I am writing about another appointee from the state of Maine, Roswell Evander Morey. The last time I wrote about a midshipman who hailed from the Pine Tree state (L. B. Foster), he was one who turned his back on his state and the Union, went south and became a rebel. Roswell left the state also, though he took a different direction. He went west and became an inventor.

Though the 1860 US census lists Roswell was born in Maine, other records (the earlier 1850 one and then all the later censuses) indicate he was born across the US border in St Stephen Canada. Had this fact been known, his appointment to the Naval Academy would have been null and void. I have run across another midshipmen, who was born in Canada and kept that fact secret also.

If it’s any consolation, both of Roswell’s parents, his father Gibeon and his mother Abigail Sarah Farnesworth, were born in Maine and hence American citizens. According to that same 1860 census, Gibeon was a machinist in Machias, Maine. The area was known for machinery that processed one of Maine’s major crops – converting pine trees into lumber. These circumstances may explain Roswell’s later interest in machinery and invention.

Roswell’s career at the Academy got off to a rough start, with his academic standings hugging the bottom of the class. However, he did follow the regulations closely, indicated by his extremely low accumulation of demerits in his plebe year (1857-58). They totaled only 38 on the year  – nearly half of them involving a two day contretemps with a fellow midshipman – upon whom he had thrown water from an upper window. He was sent on the summer cruise on the USS Preble and would continue as a plebe.

There is a noticeable improvement the next year (1858-59), academically speaking – perhaps because he repeated all the plebe classes. His standings jumped to the top third in his class, but so did his demerits, almost tripling to 92, officially. He shipped aboard the USS Plymouth for the 1859 summer cruise, and reported for the 1859-60 school year as a third classman.

Come the end of his third year at the academy, a mystery crops up.  In the official record for the year most of his classmates – 42 out of the 45 total were continuing on to the next year, 1860-61. Roswell would not. He was listed 44th, two below those passing – this despite placing well in 5 of the 7 classes. And it seems particularly odd given that his standing in Seamanship was number three. Such a high mark would carry a lot of weight when it comes to one’s standing in the naval service. The number of his demerits also declined (down to 74).

So what kept him from continuing at the Academy? Why was he forced to resign?

Looking back on other correspondence there is one severe sounding reprimand from the Superintendent in January of 1860. Was this the camel back breaking straw that resurfaced to haunt him?

“Naval Academy
 Annapolis Md
Jan 3 1860

Sir
You are reported to me for
breaking the lock of a trap door in the
quarters & opening the same.-  You will
please reply in writing through the
Commandant of Midn to this most serious
charge.-

I am respectfully
Your obt servt
G S Blake
Sup’t’d’t

Acting Midn
R E Morey USN
       Naval Academy
       Annapolis Md”

I could find no reply from Roswell to the charge. His conduct roll states only that “No excuse” was given for this infraction, for which he received ten demerits.

Yet, he was still at the Academy five months later with no sign of a problem. In fact, his name was put on a list of midshipmen granted leave for the summer to commence on 6/16.  But a few weeks later (7/6), he was notified by Superintendent Blake that because he had failed to tender his resignation, as so directed on 6/19, his appointment was revoked. What happened between those two dates in June?

The only clue I have points to a matter of timing. The June examinations closed on 6/16, so perhaps his standings were not known at the time his name was included with those allowed a furlough.

In any event one way or another Roswell was going home. He was back in Machias with his family just in time for the (already cited) 1860 census on 7/17, in which he was listed as a sailor. The draft registration records for 1863 indicate that he still followed the sea in the merchant marine, but curiously lay no claim to prior military service.

After the war, he moved out to Lake Valley near Tahoe in California, bringing his parents with him, and remained in the state for the rest of his life, moving to San Francisco, then Alameda, and finally, Oakland, along the way working as an engineer, a bookkeeper and finally the manager at the Union Box Factory in Oakland.

Something about the Box Factory inspired his creativity. He applied for four separate patents over a period of 15 years.

1879 – for a return-crate

1880 – an improved fruit and berry basket

1892 – for a machine to form berry baskets

1894 – for a fruit basket and a crate.

As far as I can ascertain Roswell’s family was not aware that he had been at the naval academy. In the obituary for his son Charles, it only mentions that Roswell was a pioneer in Oakland, and had a box making plant.

Perhaps the stigma of dismissal, like that trap door in his academy room, was something better left unopened.

About rwoz2

Poet, historian, writer for stage and screen. Responder to Jesus (Romans 5:8)

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