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Department of the Navy Civil War
Civilian Employee Loyalty Oaths at the Washington Navy Yard
By : John Sharp ©

Loyalty Oath
Washington Navy Yard Blacksmith
Edward Wayson
dated 7 December 1863

      In 1861, the nation found itself deeply divided over the issues of slavery and the right of states to leave the Union. When hostilities got underway 322 naval officers chose to "go south" including a significant number from the Naval Ship Yards.1 On Tuesday, April 23 then Commandant Captain Franklin Buchanan asked Commander John Dahlgren to assemble the men by the flag pole and since he wanted to address them on the current situation, he asked them to remain loyal to the federal government while in its service and then revealed to them that he was had submitted his resignation. Commandant Buchanan then told the men that Commander Dahlgren would take charge of the Navy Yard and asked them to give him their full support (Franklin Buchanan would later take service with the new Confederate Navy where he rose to the rank of Admiral. In addition to Buchanan, every officer of southern birth attached to the yard, with one exception resigned their commissions). Many of the employees were sorry to see their old Commandant depart but Commander Dahlgren was quick to reassure them that he would guard the interest of the government and its employees. 2

      With the large number of naval officers going south At the beginning of the Civil War some officials in the new Lincoln government expressed doubt regarding the loyalty of the remaining officers and workers at the various navy yards most especially Washington Navy Yard. At WNY they feared that many of the civilian employees had sympathy toward the South. WNY Commandant John A. Dahlgren soon received orders to: "discharge all suspected persons upon satisfactory evidence of their disloyalty to the government and place the yard in the best possible state of defense".3 On June 4th 1861, William Clark, a Federal judge, was sent to administer a loyalty oath. All Yard workers were required to take the oath. The oath was as follows:

I do solemnly swear that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully without any mental reservations against all enemies or opposers whatsoever, that I will observe and obey orders of the President of the United States and the officer appointed over me; according to the rules and articles for government of the United States.
      In all over 400 Yard workers swore allegiance while thirty seven employees chose not to take the oath and were dismissed.4 Michael Shiner, a freeman working at the Yard, recalled in his diary, (spelling and punctuation is that of the original):
on the first Day of June 1861 on Satturday Justice Clark was sent Down to the Washington navy yard For to administer the oath of allegiance to the mechanics and the Labouring Class of working men With out DistincSion of Colour for them to Stand by the Stars and Stripes and defend for the union and Captain Dalgrren Present and I believe at that time I michael Shiner was the first Colered man that had taken the oath in washington DC and that oath Still Remains in my heart and when I had taken that oath I Taken It in the presence of God without prejudice or enmity to any man And I intend to Sustain That oath with The assistance of the Almighty God until I die for when a man takes an oath For a Just cause it is more then taking a Drink of water Sitting Down to his Breakfast5
      Later in 1862 because of fears that Yard workers with Confederate sympathy might have somehow quietly transferred their allegiance to the new government in Richmond Virginia, the oath was revised to stress that allegiance to the United States was paramount. The new oath was to be signed by each employee and notarized. The oath read as follows:

									District of Columbia 

		Washington County, 
	I do solemnly swear               that I  will support, protect and defend the Constitution
 and Government of the United States against all enemies, whether domestic or foreign; and that I 
will bear true faith, allegiance, and loyalty to the same , any ordnance , resolution or law of any 
State convention or legislature, or order or organization secret  or otherwise, to the contrary  not 
with standing; and further I do this with a  full determination , pledge, and purpose, without 
mental reservation or evasion whatsoever; and further that I have always been loyal and true to 
the Government of the United States. So help me god.  
						Edward Wayson
Sworn and subscribed this     7th     day of  December 1863
			Before me,        Jas. Call 
					Justice of the Peace 

      All the Yard civilian employees were required to sign this allegiance oath or be dismissed. After signature the oath was then notarized by a federal magistrate. Blacksmith, Edward Wayson circa 1774 - December 13, 1863, signed his oath (transcribed above) on December 7, 1863 six days before his death at age eighty nine. At the time of his death Edward Wayson had over a half century of service to his country. Today these records of civilian loyally oaths are housed in the National Archives and Records Administration Washington D.C. Record Group 45.

John G. Sharp
Stockton CA
January 5, 2009

End Notes

1. William S. Dudley, Going South: U.S. Navy Officer Resignations & Dismissal on the Eve of the Civil War. Washington: Naval Historical Foundation,
This volume is now online at the Naval Historical Center

2. Taylor Peck, Round Shot to Rockets: A History of the Washington Navy Yard and the Naval Gun Factory. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1949. 118.

3. Craig L. Symonds, Confederate Admiral The Life and Wars of Franklin Buchanan Naval Institute Press Annapolis Maryland, 1999, 18.1

4. Henry B. Hibben, Navy Yard Washington: History From Organization, 1799, to the Present Day. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1899.
[online at ].

5. Michael Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner Relating to the History of the Washington Navy Yard 1813-1869.Transcribed With Introduction and Notes by John G. Sharp
Available online

6.. National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 45:175

7. See also : Biography and Last Will and testament of Edward Wayson

For additional information on the effects of the Civil War on WNY workers, see
John G. Sharp, History of the Washington Navy Yard Civilian Workforce 1799-1962.
Stockton, CA: Vindolanda Press, 2005.
[This volume has full bibliography for most of the works cited.
[Available online at ]

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