The Lilly Library recently acquired an extraordinary new addition to our collection of military manuscript diaries. In a series of illustrated letters to his fiancée, Miss Elise Buckingham of Zanesville, Ohio, Lt. Mason Abercrombie Shufeldt documents his voyage on the U.S.S. Enterprise from Cape Henry, Virgina to Capetown, South Africa, from December 27, 1882 to March 31, 1883. Describing his travels and his devotion to his “far-off sweetheart” in depth, Shufeldt decorated each of the three volumes with an elaborately hand-drawn and colored cover with nautical themes and incorporated a series of hand-drawn maps and views throughout. Included in the archive is a small envelope dramatically labeled “The Lash.” Enclosed in the envelope is a letter from Miss Buckingham ending their engagement.
A son of Robert Wilson Shufeldt, an important naval officer who played a major role in opening trade with Korea and China in the early 1880’s, Mason Shufeldt served as an officer under his father’s command aboard the Ticonderoga during its around-the-world voyage in the late 1870’s and became deeply interested in the largely uncharted island of Madagascar during an extended stop there. After receiving news of the end of his engagement, Shufeldt received permission to explore the Madagascar interior, leading a team of men of which only 153 survived to reach the waters of Mozambique Channel. At least fifty are said to have “perished in the battles which he fought with the Sakolava slave-dealers” according to a New York Times article published October 8, 1884. Shufeldt died in Capetown in 1892 at the age of thirty-nine.
— Cherry Williams, Curator of Manuscripts
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