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Charles H. Bell Papers

Identifier: Mss. 65 B41

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The collection includes the correspondence, certificates, photographs, accounts, and journals of Rear Admiral Charles H. Bell. Naval journals cover Bell's service in the Mediterranean Sea from 1855-1858. The photographs are a mix of personal and souvenirs, which largely depict men and women from Peru. There is also material related to his role as executor for the estate of Samuel Swartwout. The collection also includes papers related to the Smith family, particularly Bell's executor and son-in-law, Israel Smith, Jr. Of particular note is a broadside of Thomas Jefferson's first inaugural address (given on March 4, 1801) printed on silk by W. Pechin Print.


  • Creation: 1772-1929
  • Creation: Majority of material found in 1852-1875


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access:

Collection is open to all researchers. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, such as the Virginia Public Records Act (Code of Virginia. § 42.1-76-91); and the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (Code of Virginia § 2.2-3705.5). Confidential material may include, but is not limited to, educational, medical, and personnel records. If sensitive material is found in this collection, please contact a staff member immediately. The disclosure of personally identifiable information pertaining to a living individual may have legal consequences for which the College of William and Mary assumes no responsibility.

Conditions Governing Use:

Before reproducing or quoting from any materials, in whole or in part, permission must be obtained from the Special Collections Research Center, and the holder of the copyright, if not Swem Library.

Administrative History:

Charles Heyer Bell was an officer in the United States Navy, who served from 1812-1868. He was born in New York on August 13, 1798. Bell began his naval career as a midshipman under Stephen Decatur during the War of 1812. He also served under Decatur during the Second Barbary War, in 1815. In 1820, Bell commanded a ship involved with the suppression of piracy in the West Indies. His ship capsized in a storm, and he clung to wreckage for 21 hours before being rescued.

During the early 1840s Bell, who held outspoken antislavery views, commanded the brig Dolphin to assist the suppression of the African slave trade, which had been outlawed in 1808. Bell also co-authored a report on the illegal slave trade in West Africa which influenced the antislavery provisions of the 1842 Webster-Ashburton Treaty between the United States and Great Britain. He was given command of the second U.S.S. Constellation in 1855 and led the ship on a three year cruise with the Mediterranean Squadron. Bell was in command of the Mediterranean Squadron when the Civil War broke out, but was transferred to the Pacific Squadron during the war. In 1865, Bell was placed in command of the New York (Brooklyn) Navy Yard, a position which he held for three years. He was promoted to rear admiral on the retired list in 1866, and died in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1875.

Bell was married to Elisa Smith Swartwout (1799-1890), with whom he had four children: Charles, Henrietta, Frances, and William. Bell also served as the executor for the estate of Samuel Swartwout, Elisa's uncle. In his early life, Swartwout had been involved with Aaron Burr’s conspiracies in the West. He later became a fervent supporter of Andrew Jackson, and was appointed the Collector of Customs for the Port of New York by Jackson in 1829. Swartwout was notorious for allegations that he had embezzled over $1,000,000 from the federal government during his tenure as Collector of Customs. He died in 1856.

Bell's daughter, Henrietta, was married to Israel Smith. She died in 1860, and Smith remarried Rebecca Mintern, with whom he had four children: Alice, Eliza, Edith, and Margaret. Israel Smith served as the executor for Charles Bell's estate. Smith died in 1879 in Williamsburg, VA.

Material referenced from The Civil War Naval Encyclopedia, Volume One, edited by Spencer Tucker & William E. White, and Voyage to a Thousand Cares: Master's Mate Lawrence with the African Squadron, 1844-1846, by John C. Lawrence.


2.00 Linear Feet

Acquisition Information:


Processing Information:

Minimally processed by Carter Harris and Ellen Strong in 1985. Fully processed Matt Anthony in 2015.

Guide to the Charles H. Bell Papers
Carter Harris, Ellen Strong, updated after processing by Matt Anthony.
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center Repository