Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

(Color) "Awful Explosion of the 'Peace-Maker' on board the U.S. Steam Frigate Princeton, on Wednesday, 28th Feby. 1844"
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Upshur, Abel P.

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(1790-1844). Secretary of the Navy, 1841-1843

Abel P. Upshur (1790-1844) --

13th Secretary of the Navy, 11 October 1841 - 23 July 1843


Abel Parker Upshur was born on 17 June 1790 in Northampton County, Virginia. He had an inconclusive formal higher education at Yale and Princeton, following which he studied law in Virginia and was admitted to the bar in 1810. After a brief time at Baltimore, Maryland, Upshur developed a thriving law practice in Richmond and was an active participant in state politics. He was elected to a term in the House of Delegates in 1812, was Commonwealth Attorney for Richmond, ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress, returned to the legislature in 1825, was an influential delegate to the State Constitutional Convention in 1829-30 and was elected to the Virginia General Court.


Upshur's political reach became national when John Tyler became President in 1841 and selected him to become Secretary of the Navy in October of that year. His time with the Navy was marked by a strong emphasis on reform and reorganization and efforts to expand and modernize the service. Among his achievements were the replacement of the old Board of Navy Commissioners with the bureau system, regularization of the officer corps, increased Navy appropriations, construction of new sailing and steam warships, and the establishment of the Naval Observatory and Hydrographic Office.


In July 1843, President Tyler appointed Upshur as Secretary of State. On 28 February 1844, while joining the President and many other dignitaries for a Potomac River cruise on the new steamship USS Princeton, Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur and several others were killed when one of the ship's guns exploded.


USS Abel P. Upshur (DD-193), 1920-1940, was named in honor of Secretary of the Navy Upshur.


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