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Joseph Carl Spratt Papers - MS 1099

Introduction | Biographical Sketch | Scope and Content | Series Description | Inventory


The papers of Joseph Carl Spratt consist of approximately .25 linear feet of cards, letters, and photos from period of service in the U.S. Navy during the world tour of the “Great White Fleet” between 1908 and 1912 as part of a goodwill mission initiated by Theodore Roosevelt to demonstrate the status of the United States as a world power.

The material was transferred to the Center for Archival Collections through the cooperation of Donelda S. Huffman, in September 2008. No restrictions exist on the use of this collection. Duplication may be permitted for the purposes of preservation and research. The register was prepared in October 2008 by Marilyn Levinson, Curator of Manuscripts.

 Biographical Sketch

Joseph Carl Spratt was born Sept 25, 1890 to William Isaac and Hannah Spratt in Paulding County, Ohio, although at his enlistment in the Navy in 1908 he gave his birth year as 1888. After training at Newport, Rhode Island, Joe signed up as a coal-passer for posting with the Great White Fleet along with his cousin Gomer Nichols who had enlisted with him. At that time in 1908 the fleet was on the west coast preparing for departure from San Francisco to Honolulu on the first leg of the round-the-world voyage.

Shipping out from Boston on the U.S.S. Constellation to Panama, and then on the U.S.S. Buffalo up to San Francisco, Spratt joined the U.S.S. Kearsarge and Great White Fleet got underway on July 7, 1908, visiting ports in Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, China, Ceylon, Egypt, and the Mediterranean before returning in 1909. During the cruise he crossed the Equator for the first time (undergoing the traditional ceremony that qualified him as a “shellback”), was active in fleet boxing and rowing matches, and was generally popular for his ability to play the piano for the amusement and entertainment of the crew.

After that first tour of duty Spratt was assigned to the U.S.S. Tonopah in May 1909, stationed at Annapolis, Md. and then Norfolk, Va. After brief assignment to the U.S.S. Hancock in 1910, Joe found himself in the crew of the U.S.S. North Dakota. It was with that assignment that Joe completed his service, with a cruise to England in late 1910 and an extended stay at Guantanamo into the spring of 1911, after which the North Dakota sailed for Norfolk and then to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for repair. He obtained his discharge from the Navy on April 21, 1912.

During his tour of duty Joseph Spratt rose from a coal-passer to leave the service as a Fireman First Class. As the recruiting slogan of the era proclaimed, he joined the Navy and saw the world.

 Scope and Content

The Joseph Carl Spratt papers provide a glimpse of the daily life and extraordinary travels of a regular sailor in the United States Navy both as a crewmember of the U.S.S. Kearsarge during the “Great White Fleet” cruise around the world during 1908-1909 and during later service aboard the U.S.S. North Dakota. The bulk of the collection consists of letters written home by Joe, along with picture postcards sent from many of the ports he visited.

Early letters in the series describe the feelings and observations of a young man from Grover Hill, Ohio about such things as his first impressions of New York City, training and drill routines, the other men he serves with, and his prospects when training is completed. Once he had been accepted as a coal-passer to serve in the Great White Fleet his next letters are more sporadic as he was often en route at sea and unable to write, with a single letter from Panama, one from Honolulu, and then beginning in August 1909 from various ports of call on the cruise, including Auckland, Melbourne, Sydney, Manila, Amoy, Colombo, Cairo, Malta, and Algiers. Spratt’s description of the various ports didn’t go into a lot of detail and were limited by his writing skills, but you still get a sense of the wonder and excitement he felt, and the recognition of the magnitude of his adventure.

Some letters are filled with the enthusiasm of a young man seeing the world, such as his letter of January 6, 1909 describing Cairo, the pyramids, and the rather macabre reaction to seeing a mummy, “They are awful looking things all dried up and no eyes. That alone was worth ten dollars”. Other letters show how he has matured from a footloose young man to a somber and responsible sailor describing the aftermath of a fatal explosion and fire on the U.S.S. North Dakota in his letter of Sept. 13, 1910, “I helped to carry the dead bodies out of the fireroom. The flesh was burnt to the bone on some parts of the body. It was the most horrible sight I ever seen.” Many of the letters written from Cuba in 1911 describe his activities in boat races and betting, as well as his observations about the country.

While most of his correspondence is more about the process of a trip as seen from above and below the decks than the wider implications on a national level, Spratt provides a unique point of view of an ordinary U.S. Navy seaman at the dawn of the 20th century.

 Series Description


1908-1912, n.d.
Letters written home to various family members in Grover Hill, Ohio,
while he was in service with the U.S. Navy, including period of the tour of
the Great White Fleet around the world

1907-1911, n.d.
Picture postcards acquired during service, many from during the tour of
the Great White Fleet. Some have correspondence on verso, but many do


Map, table, and handwritten list of the route and various ports followed by
the Great White Fleet


Joseph Carl Spratt’s Tour of Duty, U.S. Navy 1908-1912, biographical sketch, originally compiled by Parker Johnson and augmented by Donelda S. Huffman, uses material from the collection adding biographical details


1908, 1911
Booklet put out in commemoration of the Great White Fleet by the Prudential Insurance Co., and a single issue of a periodical published on the U.S.S. North Dakota while stationed at Guantanamo, Cuba


Individual and group shots of Joseph Spratt in uniform and with crew members of the Kearsarge and the Tonopah; also a photo of Rear Admiral Evans of the Fleet


Box 1


  1. Correspondence April 24-May 25, 1908
  2. Correspondence June 2-July 19, 1908
  3. Correspondence August 1-Oct 6, 1908
  4. Correspondence Nov 1-Dec 14, 1908
  5. Correspondence Jan 6-Feb 24, 1909
  6. Correspondence Mar 3-29, 1909
  7. Correspondence April 23-May 10, 1909
  8. Correspondence May 15-30, 1909
  9. Correspondence June 8-Dec 4, 1909
  10. Correspondence Jan 30-Apr 27, 1910
  11. Correspondence May 3-June 18, 1910
  12. Correspondence July 2-Sept 25, 1910
  13. Correspondence Oct 10-Dec 29, 1910
  14. Correspondence Jan 15-Mar 11, 1911
  15. Correspondence (unmatched covers and pages) circa 1911
  16. Postcards
    • Pride of the Navy, Jamestown Exposition, 1907
    • A Run on the Bank (1908)
    • Washington Bridge, NY (1908)
    • Joseph Spratt and other sailor in U.S.S. Constellation uniform (1908)
    • Unidentified U.S.S. Constellation sailor (1908)
    • Australia Greets America - Kangaroo and eagle (1908)
    • Kearsarge (1908)
    • Life in our Navy: Sailors Returning from Drill to the Kearsarge (1908)
    • Admiral Evans, Commander-in-Chief (1908)
    • Tropic jungle on Hawaii near Honolulu (1908)
    • Hawaiian girl - Honolulu (1908)
    • Greetings from Auckland (1908)
    • Lake Rotorua, New Zealand (2 cards - 1908)
    • Lake Taupo, New Zealand (1908)
    • Australia greets America - crossed flags (1908)
    • Princes Bridge on Yarra River, Melbourne (1908)
    • South African Soldiers’ Monument, Ballarat (1908)
    • Town Hall, City of Melbourne (1908)
    • State Education, Victoria Cadet Bands (1908)
    • State Education, Victoria Infant School (1908)
    • Auckland Harbour from Glenalvon, N.Z. (1908)
    • Drink Resch’s Lager & Ales - Australia Unites in Greeting America (1908)
  17. Postcards
    • Forest scenery, slopes of Baw Baw Mountains, Australia (1908)
    • City of Bendigo, Victoria, Australia (1908)
    • Raspberry vines (1908)
    • Scheme of state settlement, Victoria, type of clerk’s home (1908)
    • The Bosc pear (1908)
    • Quartz crushing battery, city of Bendigo, Victoria (1908)
    • View of Collins Street, Melbourne (1908)
    • Visit of the United States Fleet to Sydney, Australia (1908)
    • Kangaroo hunting, Australia #1 (Singer Sewing Machines, 1908)
    • Kangaroo hunting, Australia #2 (Singer Sewing Machines, 1908)
    • Kangaroo hunting, Australia #7 (Singer Sewing Machines, 1908)
    • Kangaroo hunting, Australia #8 (Singer Sewing Machines, 1908)
    • Pasig River, Pasig, Philippines (1908)
    • Presbyterian Church, Manila (1908)
    • Mayon Volcano, Manila, Philippines (1908)
    • Igorote and dogs, Prov. Bengnet, Philippines (1908)
    • Pagsajan Rapids, Manila, Philippines (1908)
    • Shipping scene in Pasig River, Manila, Philippines (1908)
    • “Spud Murphy”, Manila, Philippines (1908)
    • Side view, Ayala Bridge, Manila, Philippines (1908)
    • Mouth of Pagsanjan River, Manila, Philippines (1908)
  18. Postcards
    • View of Yamazaki, Hakone (1908)
    • Smiling Japanese woman (1908)
    • Waving Japanese woman (1908)
    • Welcome American Fleet (2 cards - Oct. 1908)
    • Imperial Japanese Railways special ticket issued in honor of the American Fleet (Oct. 1908)
    • 20 Yen note
    • Ceylon elephant (1908)
    • No. 10 River Transport, Ceylon (1909)
    • Panadure, Ceylon (1909)
    • General view of Cairo (1909)
    • Port Said, Canal de Suez (1909)
    • Cairo, the opened bridge - United States Atlantic Fleet, our travels in Egypt on January 1909
    • Grande Pyramide de Cheops - United States Atlantic Fleet, our travels in Egypt on January 1909
    • Cairo, Citadelle and Mamelouk Tombs (1909)
    • Road to the Pyramids (1909)
    • Homeward Bound, Meet me at Hampton Roads, Feb 21, 1909
    • Gibraltar, Panorama Margate Eastern Beach (1909)
    • Malta, view of Citta Vittoriosa (1909)
    • Battle between the Monitor and Merrimac (1909)
    • Opera House and Treasury Building, Soldiers’ Home, Hampton, Va. (1909)
    • Thomas Circle, Washington, D.C. (1909)
    • Ruins of Ambler House, Jamestown, Va. (1909)
  19. Postcards
    • Happy New Year - Globe (1910?)
    • Happy New Year - Flowers (1910?)
    • Tattoo covered man, Bruxelles-Exposition, 1910
    • U.S. Battleship Virginia (1910)
    • Oil tank explosion scene, U.S.S. North Dakota, Sep. 8, 1910
    • Small boat and crew from U.S.S. North Dakota (1910)
    • Unidentified ship and freighter (1910)
    • L’Eglise Notre-Dame du Voeu, Cherbourg, France (1910)
    • Sailors in camp, U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay (1911)
    • Grant’s Tomb, Riverside Drive, New York (1911)
  20. Subject - Fleet map and route information
  21. Biography - Joseph Carl Spratt’s Tour of Duty, U.S. Navy, 1908-1912
  22. Around the World with the Battleships, Protectors of Nation and Home (1908)
  23. The Argus (U.S.S. North Dakota), v.1, no. 1, January 20, 1911
  24. Photographs, 1907-1909

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