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Robert Wilson Shufeldt (naval officer)

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Robert Wilson Shufeldt
Born21 February 1822
Died7 November 1895
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Navy
Commands heldUSS Wachusett, USS Ticonderoga

Rear Admiral Robert Wilson Shufeldt (1822–1895) was a 19th-century officer in the United States Navy best known for his negotiation of the 1882 Shufeldt Treaty with Korea, the first treaty signed by that country with a Western nation.[1] He was commander of the USS Wachusett and USS Ticonderoga, and Consul-General of the United States to Cuba.

Personal life

Robert Wilson Shufeldt was born in Red Hook, New York on February 21, 1822. He was married in 1848 to Sarah Hutchins Abercrombie, daughter of Reverend James Abercrombie. Their first child, Robert Wilson Shufeldt Jr (1850-1895)[2] was a medical doctor and pioneer in the study of ancient human remains, ornithology, and an advocate of white supremacy.[3]

Naval and Diplomatic Career

Shufeldt studied at Middlebury College from 1837 until 1839, but left before graduation to join the United States Navy as a midshipman.[4] After the outbreak of the American Civil War, Shufeldt was appointed to the position of Consul-General of the United States' mission in Havana, Cuba, likely with the support of Secretary of State William Seward. As Consul-General to Cuba from 1861 to 1863, he played a role in the Trent Affair.[5]

He returned to the Navy in 1863, and commanded a ship blockading Southern ports. Following the war, he commanded USS Wachusett. In 1867, he attempted to investigate the sinking of the SS General Sherman in Korea, but was forced to turn back by bad winter weather.[6] During the 1860s and 1870s, Shufeldt became established in naval circles as an advocate of reform and the expansion of trade.[7] Between this reputation and his strong political connections, he was appointed the first head of the newly formed Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting, which eventually became the Navy's Bureau of Naval Personnel.[8]

He returned to Korea as the captain of the USS Ticonderoga during her circumnavigation of the globe in 1878, establishing relationships with Japanese and Chinese diplomats and political leaders in the region, including Li Hongzhang.[9] As a result of that interest, he was appointed the American representative to the 1882 Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce and Navigation with Korea, known in the West as the "Shufeldt Treaty," which negotiated protection for shipwrecked sailors, commerce regulations, and a most-favored nation status for the United States.[10]

USS Ticonderoga in 1863, before Shufeldt's circumnavigation of the globe.
USS Ticonderoga in 1863, before Shufeldt's circumnavigation of the globe.

Shufeldt returned to California in July 1882, and spent the next few months recuperating while the Senate ratified the treaty with Korea. He returned to Washington in 1883, where he was made the President of the Naval Advisory Board and the Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory, and was promoted to Rear Admiral. Shufeldt retired from the Navy in 1884, and visited Korea once more as a private citizen following his retirement. He died of pneumonia on November 7, 1895 in Washington D.C., and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.[11]


  • Shufeldt, Robert W. (1871). Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Practicability of a Ship-Canal between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, by the Way of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Washington: United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Naval, Affairs and Services United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Armed.
  • ---, "Secret History of the Slave Trade to Cuba Written By an American Naval Officer, Robert Wilson Schufeldt, 1861 edited by Frederick C. Drake, The Journal of Negro History 1970 55:3: 218-235 .

Further reading


  1. ^ Drake, Frederick C. (2002). "Robert W. Shufeldt". In James Matray (ed.). East Asia and the United States. Westport, CT: Greenwood. pp. 551–552.
  2. ^ Drake 1984, p. 8-10
  3. ^ Cook, Della Collins (2012). "Neglected Ancestors: Robert Wilson Shufeldt, MD (1850–1934)". In Buikstra J & C Roberts (ed.). The Global History of Paleopathology: Pioneers and Prospects. Oxford University Press. pp. 192–196.
  4. ^ Drake, Frederick C., 1937- (1984). The empire of the seas : a biography of Rear Admiral Robert Wilson Shufeldt, USN. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 5–6. ISBN 0-8248-0846-0. OCLC 10404227.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ Drake 1984, p. 29-72
  6. ^ "SS General Sherman Incident". Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  7. ^ Mobley, Scott (2018). Progressives in Navy blue : maritime strategy, American empire, and the transformation of U.S. naval identity, 1873-1898. Annapolis, Maryland. pp. 154–155. ISBN 978-1-68247-193-7. OCLC 1005489112.
  8. ^ Drake 1984, p. 156-163.
  9. ^ Drake 1984, p. 257-304
  10. ^ "Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce and Navigation" (PDF). 2016-12-26. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-12-26. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  11. ^ "Rear Admiral Robert Wilson Shufeldt, U. S. Navy, Gentleman and Diplomat". U.S. Naval Institute. 1943-01-01. Retrieved 2021-02-17.
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Robert Wilson Shufeldt (naval officer)
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