Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles


Gideon Welles (1802‒78) was secretary of the navy in the cabinet of President Abraham Lincoln.  Born in Glastonbury, Connecticut, the son of a merchant and shipbuilder, Welles studied law but never practiced.  He worked as a journalist for the Hartford Times and Weekly Advertizer and in 1825 he was elected to the Connecticut General Assembly. A longtime Democrat, he broke with his party over the issue of slavery and helped to found the Hartford Evening Press to promote the Republican Party and its principles.  When Welles took office in March 1861, the U.S. Navy consisted of a mere 45 ships, of which only 12 were ready for service. Over the course of the next four years the navy purchased or had constructed 313 vessels, and bought or leased another 184 ships. By blockading the Confederate coast, cooperating with the army to capture New Orleans, and working with the army to gain control of such important inland waterways as the Cumberland, Tennessee, and ultimately the Mississippi rivers, the Navy under Welles made a major contribution to winning the war for the North. The image is from an album of mostly Civil War-era portraits by the famous American photographer Matthew Brady (circa 1823‒96) that belonged to Emperor Pedro II of Brazil (1825‒91), a collector of photography as well as a photographer himself. The album was a gift to the emperor from Edward Anthony (1818‒88), another early American photographer who, in partnership with his brother, owned a company that in the 1850s became the leading seller of photographic supplies in the United States. Dom Pedro may have acquired the album during a trip to the United States in 1876 when he, along with President Ulysses S. Grant, opened the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Brady was born in upstate New York, the son of immigrants from Ireland. Best known for his photographs documenting the battles of the American Civil War, he began his career in 1844 when he opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Streets in New York City. Over the course of the next several decades, Brady produced portraits of leading American public figures, many of which were published as engravings in magazines and newspapers. In 1858 he opened a branch in Washington, DC. The album, which also contains a small number of non-photographic prints, is part of the Thereza Christina Maria Collection at the National Library of Brazil. The collection is composed of 21,742 photos assembled by Emperor Pedro II throughout his life and donated by him to the national library. The collection covers a wide variety of subjects. It documents the achievements of Brazil and Brazilians in the 19th century and also includes many photographs of Europe, Africa, and North America.

Last updated: January 8, 2018