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Samuel Claude Sessions Journal

Two manuscript volumes, 1901-1904, journal of S[amuel] C[laude] Sessions (1882-1969) chronicles the experiences of this South Carolina native in the U.S. Navy. Sessions enlisted at Columbia on 6 July 1901 and was sent to the U.S.S. Topeka at Port Royal, then transferred to U.S.S. Indiana for a six-month training cruise that took him to Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Colombia, Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, and other ports of call in the Caribbean.

Session's almost daily entries record details of life aboard ship, the crew's involvement in such activities as gun and life buoy practice, the problem of sickness aboard ship, his visits to various ports with liberty parties, and descriptions of native life. Sessions also comments on the military justice meted out to sailors, especially for smuggling whiskey aboard ship and overstaying shore leave. Writing on 23 March 1902, he elaborated--"When a sailor overstays his leave, there is a reward of either $10 or $20 offered to the Police authorities for his arrest and delivery on board within a specified time, usually ten days. These rewards are paid from the offender's wages as well as all incidental expenses such as Railroad or car fare, Hotel bills, etc."

In April 1902, the Indiana returned to the United States, and in May of that year Sessions was transferred to the U.S.S. Columbia before being assigned to the U.S.S. Vixen. While stationed in New York, awaiting his next tour of duty, Sessions worked as a book cataloger and received training for duty as a yeoman. On 15 May 1902, he attended the dedication of the new Naval Y.M.C.A. in New York. Entries from this period often give details of ships in dry dock. Writing on 31 May 1902, Sessions noted--"The old Vermont, for so many years the receiving ship at this yard, was towed away to some place in Maine where she is to be burned. She was a receiving ship for a half century. Her keel was laid in 1818. She was recently condemned as unfit for use and sold for $14,658.00. The Parties buying her intend to get their money out of the brass, copper and iron work about her."

After his appointment as yeoman third class, 30 July 1902, Sessions returned to the Caribbean aboard the Vixen. While there, he witnessed the ceremonies ceding Guantanamo Bay naval station from Cuba to the United States--"after the flag was raised over the Station preliminary work was begun at once in the form of surveying the grounds for a navy yard, and drilling to ascertain the character of the soil and its adaptability for foundations for various large buildings which are to be built. A Marine Guard of seventeen men was sent us from the U.S.S. Prairie and did duty as color Guard on Fisherman's Point, a small settlement of fishermen. They also cleared away the brush and undergrowth in the vicinity of the point, which greatly improved the appearance of same. The fishermen were compelled to evacuate and the Marines shifted their quarters from the ship to the houses left vacant by them." Session's accounts of races between ships are particularly compelling. Describing a race between the Illinois and the Alabama, 29 February 1904, he wrote--"The race course was about three miles in length....The whistles and sirens of the various vessels of the fleet kept an incessant blowing and screeching and the sailors cheered themselves hoarse. The Illinois got in the lead at the start off and stayed there, winning by about twenty-five boat lengths. Sailors always show their sporting blood at a boat race and will bet their last penny on their favorite boat."

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