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Litchfield, Electus D. and Lieutenant William S. Cox Papers 


Dates: 1904-1952

Collection Number: 216

Finding aid (Word)

Biographical Note

Electus D. Litchfield was born in New York City on 25 April 1872. A life-long resident of the city, Litchfield attended the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, graduating in 1899, and the M.E. Stevens Institute, where he earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1892.

Well known in the field of architecture, Litchfield began his career at the firm of Carrere and Hastings, where he worked until 1908. Over the following 42 years he worked at a number of firms as well as founding his own, Litchfield and Rogers, but spent most of his career in private practice. A versatile designer, Litchfield was responsible for numerous public buildings, monuments, and private residences. Throughout his career he advocated historic preservation and urged the construction of parks and playgrounds. In addition to his design work, Litchfield served on several of New York's city planning commissions.

Historical Note

The materials in this collection relate to Litchfield's nearly 20-year campaign to overturn the conviction of his great-grandfather, William S. Cox. Cox, a 21-year-old Acting Third Lieutenant, was serving on USS Chesapeake during the War of 1812. On 1 June 1813, Chesapeake, under Captain James Lawrence, engaged the British frigate HMS Shannon. With an inexperienced and under-trained crew, Chesapeake was little match for Shannon. In a 15-minute battle, Chesapeake's rigging was cut away and many of the crew injured or killed. Lawrence, mortally wounded, was taken below. Not realizing that all of the senior officers had become casualties and that command of the ship had fallen to him, Cox helped carry the dying Lawrence below.

By the time he returned to the deck, British sailors had boarded Chesapeake and overwhelmed her crew. After repairs in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Chesapeake was taken into the Royal Navy. Cox, found guilty by a court-martial on charges of neglect of duty and unofficer-like conduct, was cashiered from the Navy.

Scope and Content Note

Electus Litchfield spent some 18 years on his work to reverse Lieutenant Cox's conviction and restore his rank. He corresponded with a number of Navy and government officials, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The correspondence is arranged chronologically.

Litchfield prepared a series of "exhibits," identified by alphabet letters, that he sent to Roosevelt. These contain photocopies of historic documents, many of them dating from 1814. Both the photocopies and a set of typewritten transcripts are included. The exhibits are arranged alphabetically by the letter that Litchfield assigned to them.

In 1952, Congress passed a private bill authorizing the restoration of Lieutenant Cox's rank. The Congressional Documents folder holds copies of the Congressional report and the Joint Resolution regarding Cox, as well as a 1942 Report and Joint Resolution restoring William L. Mitchell to the rank of Brigadier General.

Completing the collection are a number of photographs and photographic reproductions, including images of Chesapeake and Shannon, Cox's grave and new commission, and Captain James Lawrence.

Three items from this collection have been transferred to the Curator Branch.

Preferred Citation

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

Subject Headings (LCSH)

Cox, William S. (William Sitgreaves), 1790-1874.
Chesapeake (Frigate)
United States. Navy--History--War of 1812.


Published: Tue Aug 03 14:56:05 EDT 2021