From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall
James Wight '71

Date of birth: July 31, 1851

Date of death: November 24, 1877

Age: 26

Naval Academy Register

James Marshall Wight was admitted to the Naval Academy from Chicago, Illinois on June 29, 1867 at age 15 years 10 months.


James was lost on November 24, 1877 when USS Huron (1875) went aground and then wrecked in heavy weather off Nags Head, North Carolina. Ninety-seven other officers and men were also lost.


From “Class of ’71,” a book published in 1902:

JAMES MADISON WIGHT was born in Chicago, Illinois, on July 31, 1851. His parents were Jay Ambrose Wight and Caroline Adams Wight. He received his earlier education in the public schools of Chicago and Bay City, Michigan. He was appointed to the Naval Academy from Bay City, Michigan, by the Hon. John F. Driggs, representing that Congressional District, and entering the institution in 1867, graduated with his class on June 6, 1871.

His first duty after graduation was aboard the U. S. S. Iroquois, forming part of the Reception Fleet appointed to receive the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia. After this squadron was dispersed he was ordered to the U. S. S. Canandaigua, on the North Atlantic Station, and on this vessel went to the Gulf of Mexico. Yellow fever broke out on the vessel and she was ordered north. Wight was ordered home, and after a short leave of absence was ordered to the U.S. S. Hartford, and proceeded in 1872 to the Asiatic Station, via the Suez Canal, arriving in Japan in the latter part of 1872. He was in 1878 transferred to the U. S. S. Lackawanna (March, 1878) and served aboard that vessel until April, 1874, when he was transferred to the U. S. S. Palos.

In the fall of 1874 he was detached from the Palos and ordered to return to the United States. He passed his examination for promotion to Ensign, and was in December, 1874, ordered to duty in the U. S. Coast Survey, being assigned to the Bache, under command of Lieutenant J. M. Hawley, U. S. Navy. While in the Bache he was engaged in surveying the Savannah River. In the autumn of 1875 he returned to the regular naval service and was ordered to the U. S. Monitor Saugus, where he continued until February, 1877, when he was detached and ordered to the Receiving-ship Colorado. In May, 1877, he was transferred to the Training-ship Supply, and after a short cruise on that vessel was ordered to the U. S. S. Huron, which ship was wrecked on Nag’s Head, North Carolina, on the 24th of November, 1877.

He was unmarried at the time of his death. He has one sister living, Mrs. Julia W. Cooke, of Bay City, Michigan.

From Army & Navy Journal on December 15, 1877:

James M. Wight, Master, U.S.N, who perished in the Huron, was the third son of Rev. J. Ambrose Wight, D.D., pastor for twelve and more years, of the Presbyterian Church, of Bay City, Michigan. He was born in Chicago, Ill., July 31, 1851; and remained there till the removal of the family to Bay City, April, 1865. His early education was in the excellent Public Schools of Chicago; and he was prepared for the High School at the time of his removal. After a year in Wisconsin, he joined his family in Bay City, and attended school there till June, 1867, when he was recommended to the Naval Academy, at Annapolis, by Hon. John F. Driggs, M.C., after a competitive examination, by which he was unanimously selected. His appearance before this committee was as a stranger and alone. He made his way also alone to Annapolis, where he was accepted. The Navy was his own choice, and the way into it was singularly and unexpectedly opened to him.

He graduated in 1871, and was assigned to the Iroquois, while that vessel was acting as convoy to the Grand Duke Alexis into New York. From the Iroquois he went to the Canandaigua, and served the season with the Gulf Squadron. The following year he was sent to Chinese waters, on the Hartford; and was there about two years, first on the Lackawanna and then on the Palon. He returned in 1874 for examination and promotion, and became an ensign, his commission dating back one year. He spent the '75 in the coast survey on the schooner Bache, in a survey of the Savannah River and up the coast of Maine. His eyes being weak for that service, he was detached to the monitor Saugus, upon which he made the passage from Pensacola to Port Royal around the Florida Capes. He became master in 1875.

The summer and autumn of '76 were spent at home "waiting orders;" but in Feb., '77, he was ordered to the Receiving ship Colorado, and from that to the Supply, upon which summer was spent. His assignment to the Huron was in September. He was 26 years and four months of age, and his service to the Government, counting time at the Academy, about ten years.

Officers associated with him in the Navy know of his official standing and value better than anybody else. His friends at home know him as a young man of rare integrity of character; free from the vices which beset young men; self-governing and conscientious, and devoted to duty. His attachment to the naval service was intense. He knew the dangers of it as well as anybody, for he had been several times near to death; and notedly at the Isle of Socotra, on the voyage of the Hartford, where going ashore with a party, on their return they found the surf high, and the boat waiting outside it, unable to get in. They were forced to swim, and young Wight was caught and tumbled about among the rocks; and, after going to the vessel, came near dying from the effects. His friends would bear the loss now with more content, did they feel that it was a necessity.

He has Find A Grave entries here and here.


From the Naval History and Heritage Command:

Midshipman, 1 July, 1867. Graduated 6 June, 1871. Ensign, 14 July, 1872. Master, 30 June, 1873. Lost on Huron, 24 November, 1877.

Related Articles

George Ryan '61, Sydney Simons '67, Lambert Palmer '68, Walter French '71, Frederick Danner '74, and Edmund Loomis '75 were also lost when Huron was wrecked.

Navy Directories & Officer Registers

The "Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps" was published annually from 1815 through at least the 1970s; it provided rank, command or station, and occasionally billet until the beginning of World War II when command/station was no longer included. Scanned copies were reviewed and data entered from the mid-1840s through 1922, when more-frequent Navy Directories were available.

The Navy Directory was a publication that provided information on the command, billet, and rank of every active and retired naval officer. Single editions have been found online from January 1915 and March 1918, and then from three to six editions per year from 1923 through 1940; the final edition is from April 1941.

The entries in both series of documents are sometimes cryptic and confusing. They are often inconsistent, even within an edition, with the name of commands; this is especially true for aviation squadrons in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Alumni listed at the same command may or may not have had significant interactions; they could have shared a stateroom or workspace, stood many hours of watch together… or, especially at the larger commands, they might not have known each other at all. The information provides the opportunity to draw connections that are otherwise invisible, though, and gives a fuller view of the professional experiences of these alumni in Memorial Hall.

January 1871
Cadet Midshipman, First Class, Naval Academy

January 1872
Midshipman, Canandaigua
January 1873
Midshipman, Hartford
January 1874
Midshipman, Palos
January 1875
Ensign, Coast Survey
January 1876
Ensign, Saugus
July 1877
Master, Supply

Others at this command:

Class of 1871

James is one of 3 members of the Class of 1871 on Virtual Memorial Hall.

The "category" links below lead to lists of related Honorees; use them to explore further the service and sacrifice of alumni in Memorial Hall.