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Papers of Fleet Surgeon William Turk,


Finding aid (PDF)

Scope and Content Note

The papers relating to the naval service of Dr. William Turk consist of biographical data, his appointments and orders, correspondence, medical data, financial data, legal data, printed material, and miscellany. The bulk of the materials spans the years 1820 through 1854.

Some of the earliest documents relate to Turk's education, his certification and licensing as a physician and surgeon, and his religious affiliations. There is also biographical data on his father, Ahasuerus Turk, and his son, John William Turk, who changed his surname to Livingston in 1843.

Turk's appointment notices, his orders from the Department of the Navy, and the official correspondence document his naval service as a surgeon. His career with the U.S. Navy, beginning with the acceptance of his appointment on 21 July 1812 and continuing into the 1830s, provides an excellent insight into the administrative workings of the nineteenth century Navy. A summation of Dr. Turk's naval service appears in his 6 June 1831 letter to the Secretary of the Navy.

The personal correspondence is also valuable because it places Dr. Turk's naval career in the context of life in the nineteenth century. In addition to his responsibilities as a U.S. Navy surgeon, he also had obligations as a son, husband and father. His relationship with his sons, John and James, and his financial responsibility for his daughter, Maria, who was confined to the Bloomingdale Asylum, add a personal dimension to his official naval career.

An extensive chronicle of Navy medicine for the 1832-1836 period is contained in Dr. Turk's medical reports to the Department of the Navy. The names and diseases of crew members on sick lists is available for U.S. Ship Brandywine, U.S. Ship Delaware, U.S. Ship John Adams, U.S. Frigate Potomac, and U.S. Schooner Shark. These reports also provide information on the cholera outbreak in 1834-1835 and the "state of health" of the U.S. Squadron in the Mediterranean for the period 1 July-30 September 1836.

The financial documents contained in the collection supply information not only on Dr. Turk's official accounts with the Department of the Navy, U.S. Frigate Constellation, U.S. Frigate United States, and U.S. Ship Delaware, but also on his personal finances. There is also a small number of legal documents that are personal in nature and include the last will and testament of Johannes Van Zeys, the great-grandfather of Dr. Turk.

The remainder of the collection is comprised of printed material and miscellany. Notable in these categories is a Bureau of Surgery and Medicine Booklet, Instructions for the Government of the Medical Officers of the Navy of the U.S., 1853, and an undated inventory for U.S. Ship United States which includes medical provisions.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as Papers of William Turk, Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, D.C.


1 cubic foot


Published: Tue Aug 03 15:06:41 EDT 2021