Naval History and Heritage Command

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
(2007 and 2015)

Notes on this transcription

The holographic folio manuscript that is the Michael Shiner Diary, is now located in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division. The Shiner manuscript contains 186 numbered pages. Pages 1-119 are in Michael Shiner's unique script. The handwriting from the middle of page 119 to page 179 appears in a different hand, perhaps in the more polished style of Michael Shiner's grandson, Louis Alexander. There is some internal evidence that Louis Alexander took charge of preparing the manuscript for the purpose of selling it some years after Michael Shiner's death. Pages 180-186 of the manuscript once again resume in Michael Shiner's singular script. In addition to the transcribed diary entries Louis Alexander prepared eight more pages for a chronological index with the corresponding manuscript page numbers. These page numbers, recorded by Louis Alexander, no longer strictly correspond to the pagination of the Diary because of an apparent oversight at page 157 and as a result there are now two page 157's; each different. Additionally, there are seven unnumbered pages that were pasted into the folio by Michael Shiner or his grandson. They are: the two unnumbered pages between 52 and 53, one unnumbered page between 87 and 88, one unnumbered page between pages 99 and 100, two unnumbered pages between pp 105-106 and one unnumbered page between pp 109-110. For the most part, Shiner tried to keep his recollections in chronological order. However, for some of the earlier years (especially the 1820's), he placed material clearly in different locations on the same page because he had run out of room.


While Shiner had little or no formal education, he could write a vigorous colorful prose. His spelling, grammar, punctuation and capitalization are very much his own. Modern readers can see his pronunciation reflected in his spelling, which appears to be based on phonetics. I have done my best to transcribe his entries as he wrote them. Shiner kept his recollections in a small shop note book and to save space divided some of his pages (14-33) into two sections with a vertical line running down the middle of the page. When making entries on some occasions he wrote using alternate left-to-right and right-to-left lines or what philologists like to refer to as boustrophedon where alternate lines are read in opposite directions..


His method of writing presents significant challenges to transcribe, since Shiner rarely if ever used punctuation, paragraphs and some sentences are not always linked to his adjoining column. In transcribing I have striven to adhere as closely as possible to the original in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and abbreviation, including the retention of dashes and underlining found in the original. Words and passages that were crossed out in the diary are transcribed either as overstrikes or in notes. When a spelling is so unusual as to be misleading or confusing the correct spelling immediately follows the misspelled word in square brackets or is discussed in an endnote.


The names of ships are italicized and are linked, where possible, to other Naval Historical Center records pertaining to that vessel or person. Lastly I have added some notes to help readers identify some of the personalities and incidents mentioned.


A color photo of the original manuscript can be seen at the Library of Congress website.

Note: The Navy Department Library gratefully acknowledges John G. Sharp, former Assistant to the Director, Human Resources Office Washington, Washington Navy Yard (retired), for providing the transcription, introduction and notes to the diary of Michael Shiner.

Published:Mon Feb 23 08:15:25 EST 2015