From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall
Washington Totten '53

Date of birth: November 15, 1831

Date of death: December 27, 1854

Age: 23


Washington died at sea of "delirium tremens" on board Independence on December 27, 1854. The ship was on her way to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

Other Information

He was appointed to the Naval Academy from New York and has a memory marker in Washington, D.C.

From researcher Kathy Franz: "Washington was 5’6” tall, fair complexion, brown hair, and dark eyes. There were many on board sick. In fact, the ship stopped once that month to let 30 men off to the hospital."


From the Naval History and Heritage Command:

Midshipman, 8 November, 1847. Passed Midshipman, 10 June, 1853. Died 27 December, 1854.

Letter Home

From a rare book store:

USS Congress, off Montevideo (Uruguay), Brazil Station, 1853. Unbound. Very good. This four-page letter from Midshipman Washington Totten, dated April 25 1853, was sent while he was assigned to the USS Congress off the coast of Montevideo, Uruguay. It is enclosed in an envelope addressed to [William] Gaston Pearson in care of a naval officer, Lieutenant Joseph C. Walch, stationed in Washington, DC. The envelope received two handstamps ("Ship" and "7") upon receipt, probably in Washington. They, in turn, were struck-through in pen by Walch, also wrote "Paid" in the upper right corner indicating he had paid the 7 cents due. Walch also partially obliterated the name of the ship by which Totten had sent the letter and readdressed it to Pearson (who was attending Harvard College) at Cambridge, Massachusetts. He affixed a 3-cent Washington stamp (Scott Type A21 with indistinct frame lines) which was canceled with a circular Washington DC postmark. The envelope also bears an indistinct circular Massachusetts receiving stamp in red. Transcript included. Totten and Pearson, who apparently were old childhood friends, had not corresponded in several years. In this heartfelt letter, Totten humorously admonishes Pearson for not staying in contact, reflects briefly on old times, and commiserates about family deaths. However, he spends far more time providing a marvelously detailed and enchanting explanation of "navy life" to include discussing his Commodore's authority ("If the department had called him to an account . . . he would have said that the exigencies of the service required that . . . & then the question would have been settled at once"), his promotion ("Promotion is slow . . . those who wish to enlist should do so at thirteen . . . midshipmen stay two years at the school before going to sea. Then make a cruise of three years & then return to the academy for a few years more . . . a probationary term of seven years before they can pass their final examination"), and his facial hair ("an enormous beard . . . As big a beard as any man's . . . it is a beautiful beard, even though tis I that say it - I wear it all around & [until] a few months ago sported a heavy mustache besides. The new navy uniform rule however, obliges every one with mustaches to cut them off. . . .I will not enter into a description of this famous beard of mine, but you should think me vain. Suffice it to say however that it is of a dark brown and is the admiration of all the other midshipmen.") Washington was a member of the prominent Totten military family (e.g., Fort Totten, Totten Inland, Totten Key, etc.), and Gaston belonged to a wealthy political family that owned the Brentwood Estate in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, the two young men were never able to reconnect; Totten died off the coast of Rio de Janeiro and was buried at sea a year after he wrote this letter. An insightful and detailed letter about antebellum shipboard life and professional concerns of a young navy officer.

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 1848
Midshipman, Sloop Plymouth

Others at this command:
January 1849
Midshipman, Sloop Decatur
January 1850
Midshipman, leave of absence
January 1851
Midshipman, Frigate Congress

Others at this command:
January 1852
Midshipman, Frigate Congress

Others at this command:
January 1853
Midshipman, Frigate Congress

Others at this command:
January 1855
Passed Midshipman, Frigate Independence


A special thank you to Kathy Franz, a historian who located Washington's cause of death.

Class of 1853

Washington is one of 9 members of the Class of 1853 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.