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Robert B. Drinan Correspondence

Identifier: MSN/MN 5009

Scope and Contents

The Drinan collection consists mostly of letters written by and to Robert B. Drinan during his years as an apprentice in the U. S. Navy. There are 70 letters and cards written by Drinan to his parents and siblings in Rhode Island; these range in date from 7 March 1897 to 13 May 1901, and include letters posted during his 1897 training cruise to Europe (4 items); his service aboard Columbia during the Spanish-American War (22 items, written from ports on the east coast of the U. S. and from Puerto Rico); and his service in the Pacific in 1899-1900 (11 items, written from Guam, Yokohama, and the Philippines). There are also many additional letters posted from naval stations in the U. S. While much of the content is family related, there are also accounts of Drinan's stations and ports of call, of life aboard ship and other naval news, and of Drinan's own progression in the apprentice program. The collection also includes 79 letters written to Robert Drinan; the majority of these are from his mother and other family members, but a significant number were written by friends and former shipmates (including one from China during the Boxer Uprising). The collection also contains a small amount of printed ephemera from Drinan's years in the Navy, including station billets, programs of shipboard musical entertainments, and business and tobacco cards. Also surviving are Drinan's binoculars, and his wooden naval ditty box.


  • Creation: 1897-1973
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1897-1901


Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical / Historical

Robert Barker Drinan was born on 10 August 1880 at Providence, Rhode Island, the son of John T. and Mary Drinan. At the turn of the 20th century John Drinan was self-employed, as a chaser of silver, jewelry, and other metal goods. The Drinans were Irish-American Roman Catholics; all four of Robert Drinan's grandparents were born in Ireland. In late 1896 or early 1897, Drinan enlisted in the U. S. Navy as an "apprentice boy." Under the steam-era Navy's apprentice system, qualified recruits aged 15 to 17 underwent a program of general education and naval training, ashore and at sea, before joining the crew of a cruising ship of war. Apprentices served as such until the age of 21, when they could reenlist or leave the Navy entirely. The grade Apprentice 1st Class (achieved by Drinan in May 1900) was the equivalent of Seaman 2nd Class (Ordinary Seaman). After a period of instruction at Newport, Rhode Island, Drinan was assigned to the apprentice training vessel U. S. S. Essex, on a cruise to England and the Mediterranean (summer to fall 1897). With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War Drinan joined the re-commissioned cruiser U. S. S. Columbia. Columbia patrolled the Atlantic from Delaware to Maine and, in the summer of 1898, transported troops to Cuba and Puerto Rico. On 10 May 1899 Drinan departed New York aboard the auxiliary cruiser U. S. S. Yosemite, bound for Suez and the island of Guam in the Marianas. Yosemite remained in Guamanian waters for some eight months (August 1899 to April 1900), surveying the harbor at San Luis d'Apra and serving as a station ship. While Yosemite was undergoing repairs at Yokohama Drinan was transferred to the gunboat U. S. S. Bennington, bound for patrol and escort duty in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War. After brief service in the Philippines (May to June or July 1900) Drinan fell ill, and was back in the United States, at Mare Island Navy Yard near San Francisco, by September. At Mare Island, and subsequently at Brooklyn Navy Yard, he served out his time as an apprentice, leaving the Navy on his 21st birthday, 10 August 1901. In later life Drinan worked at the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot, Hingham, Massachusetts, and at the Boston Navy Yard. By 1942 he was retired on disability.


2.87 Linear Feet (2 containers; 1 flat storage container)

Language of Materials



The correspondence and naval mementos of Robert B. Drinan, dating from his period of service as apprentice in the United States Navy (1896/7-1901).


Correspondence (folders 1 through 156) is arranged chronologically, one item per folder. Subsequent folders are dedicated to printed ephemera and clippings. Drinan's ditty box is held in its own container (Drinan Correspondence Box 3, item MSN/MN 5009-164).

Robert B. Drinan correspondence
Mairead O'Malley
July 2012
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556