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Item:  BSL - JQ Adams Totten Appointment

of the 10th Graduate of the First Class at West Point

President John Quincy Adams Appoints Joseph G. Totten, later Chief Engineer of the US, Head of the Corps of Engineers, Chief Inspector of West Point, Founder of Smithsonian Institute & National Academy of Sciences and a noted Conchologist - a Lieutenant Colonel in the Corps of Engineers

John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams (1767 - 1848)
Sixth President (1825-1829)

Joseph Totten

Joseph Gilbert Totten was fourteen when he entered West Point's first Class in 1802. Sixty-two years later his distinguished military career found him a Major General. He was the longest serving Chief Engineer of the United States Army and Chief Inspector of West Point. He was a founder of the Smithsonian, the National Academy of Sciences and the Lighthouse Board; his fundamental principles for the defense of the country's seacoast are still studied today. Several times decorated and promoted for meritorious conduct, Totten served 14 Presidents. Here is his Very Fine Appointment as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Corps of Engineers.

John Quincy Adams (1767 - 1848)

John Quincy Adams was the first President who was the son of a President, and in many respects paralleled the career as well as the temperament and viewpoints of his illustrious father. Born in Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1767, he watched the Battle of Bunker Hill from the top of Penn's Hill above the family farm. As secretary to his father in Europe, he became an accomplished linguist and assiduous diarist. After graduating from Harvard College, he became a lawyer. At age 26 he was appointed Minister to the Netherlands, then promoted to the Berlin Legation. In 1802 he was elected to the United States Senate. Six years later President Madison appointed him Minister to Russia. Serving under President Monroe, Adams was one of America's great Secretaries of State, arranging with England for the joint occupation of the Oregon country, obtaining from Spain the cession of the Florida's, and formulating with the President the Monroe Doctrine. In a spirited and ultimately divisive campaign in 1824, Adam's representatives brokered a deal with Henry Clay then Secretary of State to throw the election away from Andrew Jackson who led in  the popular vote.  Here is a very fine document from the twilight of his Presidential term.

Joseph Gilbert Totten (1788 -1864) Biographical Note

Born in New Haven, Connecticut 23 August, 1788; died in Washington, D.C., 22 April, 1864. Totten received his earliest education under the direction of his maternal uncle, Jared Mansfield, by whom he was brought up after the death of his mother. With his uncle's occupation of the First Chair of Mathematics at the United States Military Academy the boy received an appointment from Connecticut as cadet. In 1802 Totten was only fourteen when he entered the United State Military Academy in its opening year, He was commissioned a second lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, on July 1, 1805 being the tenth graduate (Cullum #10) of the Academy. Including his attendance at West Point, his military career spanned sixty-two years; for the last twenty-six of which he was Chief Engineer of the Army and Inspector General of West Point.

Totten was engaged in the construction of Castle William and Fort Clinton in New York harbor, 1808-1812, and promoted to first lieutenant in July 1810. With the outbreak of the War of 1812 he advanced to Captain in July 1812, served as Chief Engineer of the Army on the Niagara frontier, winning a Brevet promotion to Major in June 1813 and Lieutenant Colonel in September 1814 for his distinguished service at Queenstown and the Battle of Plattsburgh. Totten was a Captain of Engineers before most of the Civil War generals were born. He advanced to full Major in 1818 and to full Lieutenant Colonel in 1828. With his promotion to full Colonel in December 1838, Joseph Totten became Chief Engineer of the Army and Chief Inspector at West Point. He held both of these posts until his death in 1864, a period far longer than any predecessor or successor. In the Mexican War he operated as Winfield Scott’s chief engineer during the siege of Vera Cruz and was brevetted Brigadier General, U.S. Army, for gallant and meritorious conduct on March 29, 1847.

From its establishment in 1851 until 1858, and again in 1860-1864, Totten was a member of the Lighthouse Board; he contributed signally to the solution of several difficult problems of lighthouse construction, notably for those at Seven-Foot Knoll near Baltimore and Minot's Ledge near Cohasset, Massachusetts. During the years before the Civil War, Totten was a prominent contributor to a number of areas of scientific advancement, including the lighting of the navigational hazards of the eastern seaboard, the investigation of the effect of the firing of newly perfected heavy ordnance, and the study of harbors and defenses in New York, Boston, and San Francisco. His reports laid out the fundamental principles on the defense of the country’s entire seaboard. In addition to his regular duties of maintaining harbor channels and defenses and lighthouses, he was responsible for providing engineering officers to the armies in the field and providing special supervision for such projects as the massive Civil War defensive ring around the nation’s capital which was never really challenged by the Confederacy because of its strength. On March 3, 1863 the Corps of Topographical Engineers was merged into the Corps of Engineers and Totten was promoted to brigadier general and made the first overall Chief Engineer of the United States.

Totten was a founding regent of the Smithsonian Institution in 1846, a founding Incorporator of the National Academy of Science in 1863 and a member of many scientific associations, to some of which he made valuable contributions. He was interested in natural science and was an authority on the conchology of the northern coast conch of the United States, publishing occasional papers, in which he described hitherto unknown species. The Gemma Tottenii and the Succinea Tottenii were so named in his honor. He also published papers on mineralogy. The degree of A. M. was conferred on him by Brown University in 1829.

Following his sudden death from pneumonia while still on active duty in Washington on April 22, 1864, Totten was posthumously brevetted Major General, posted to the day before his death. General Totten was buried in the Congressional Cemetery and there are at least three Fort Totten’s named after him in Queens, New York City; Washington, D.C.; and North Dakota. Here is a major appointment signed by President John Quincy Adams, a fascinating, presidentially documented record of a Founding Father of the Corps of Engineers, the Smithsonian Institute, the National Academy of Sciences and a Steward of West Point.

1 page Document – Signed and Dated: February 1, 1829
Text as Follows:


Know Ye, That reposing special trust and confidence in the patriotism, valor, fidelity, and abilities of Joseph G. Totten, I have nominated, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, do appoint him Lieutenant Colonel in the Corps of Engineers in the service of the UNITED STATES to rank as such from the twenty-fourth day of May eight hundred and twenty-eight. He is therefore carefully and diligently to discharge the duty of Lieutenant Colonel by doing and performing all manner of things thereunto belonging. I do strictly charge and require all officers and soldiers under his command, to be obedient to his orders as Lieutenant Colonel. And he is to observe and follow such orders and directions, from time to time, as he shall receive from me, or the future President of the United States of America, or the General, or other Superior officers set over him, according to the rules and discipline of War. This commission to continue in force during the pleasure of the President of the United States for the time being.

Given under my hand at the City of Washington, this first day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty-nine and in the fifty-third year of the Independence of the United States.

 J. Q. Adams [signed]
 B. Porter [signed] Secretary of War.

Document Specifications:  Presidential Appointment signed by "J. Q. Adams" as President and "P.B. Porter" as Secretary of War, 1 page folio on parchment measuring 15˝" wide x 11˝" tall (390mm x 290mm). Embossed with the pressed paper-over-wax seal of the War Department of the United States and dated February 1, 1829. Very Fine bold dark signature of Adams (with some trivial ink wear) and Porter. A few very minor stains and foxing (spotting due to the age of the document). Some docketing notes on edge and on reverse.

Peter Buell Porter served as Secretary of War in the Cabinet of President John Quincy Adams only from May 16, 1828 to March 9, 1829. His signature as Secretary of War is scarce.

Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd.

End of Item - BSL - Millard Fillmore

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