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Presented is an excellent, post Civil War-dated 1866 naval officer’s commission presented to William Reynolds of Lancaster, PA. William was the older brother of General John F. Reynolds of Gettysburg fame.  He was born in Lancaster and enlisted in the navy in 1831 when he was 16 years old.   His commission document is a high-grade, cream-colored vellum paper and bears the handwritten signature in ink of Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States.  This original unframed vellum artifact is William Reynolds’ actual naval commission appointing him as a Commander on the Active List in the U.S. Navy.  The document is signed by the President and dated May 5, 1866.   Very clean and bright, the document measures 19¼” long x 15 ¾” wide and has a slight fold-over at the top right edge.   

Across the upper third portion of the commission is the spreadwinged eagle above the title “Andrew Johnson / President of the United States of America” in a curved line.  Document body is pre-printed and the pertinent details of the appointment written in by a clerk then later hand signed in black ink on the lower right side by President Andrew Johnson on the 5th of May, 1862 at Washington, D.C.  Johnson’s signature at the lower right side is clear and sharp.  On the commission’s lower left side is the signature of the Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles.  Welles signature is light.  Found in the lower left corner of the commission is a handwritten note completed in black ink that officially registers this document in the Assistant Adjutant General’s office and is signed by W. P. Moran.   Lower portion of document has a large pictorial that shows an allegorical naval motif featuring Neptune and other sea figures. A large 3”, orange-colored, serrated-edged embossed seal of the Department of the Navy is centered on the lower portion of the document.  

Evident on the cream-colored document are a series of light paper folds or creases, the result from storage of this commission and somewhat common on high profile documents.  The entire vellum piece appears to have been lightly re-folded some time ago and exhibits faint residual folds. No perforations or crease tears on the vellum.  This unframed document in excellent condition is a highly desirable, identified artifact from William Reynolds, brother of General John F. Reynolds and signed by President Andrew Johnson.


William Reynolds was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and joined the Navy in 1831. His first assignment was to the Boxer, where he toured Africa, Brazil, and the Malay archipelago. In 1837, he was promoted to passed midshipman and then to lieutenant in 1841. From 1838 to 1842, he served with the U.S. Exploring Expedition, and was among the first to sight the Antarctic mainland. In 1842, he was assigned to the Cumberland.

In 1862, he was promoted to commander and given his first ship, the Vermont, a receiving ship at Port Royal, South Carolina. (When that ship was replaced by the New Hampshire, he was transferred to command it.) He was subsequently given command of the depot there.

In 1865, Reynolds was promoted to captain and given command of the screw sloop Lackawanna after the American Civil War, assigned to the Pacific. In 1867, he was the officer to formally claim the Midway Atoll for the United States, after its discovery by a sealing ship in 1859. In 1870, he was made a commodore and was made the Chief of the Bureau of Equipment. In 1873, he was promoted to rear admiral[1] and given command of the Asiatic Squadron from his flagship, the steam frigate Tennessee. Reynolds served as the acting Secretary of the United States Navy in 1874.

His last foreign tour included an official visit to China. Reynolds' wife, Rebecca Krug Reynolds, became the first American woman to walk on the Great Wall of China.

In 1877, due to failing health, he retired from active service. Reynolds died in Washington, D.C. on November 5, 1879, and is buried next to his younger brother, John F. Reynolds, in the cemetery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 

Biographical timeline. 

1831 November 17: appointed Midshipman/U.S. Navy. In his post he travels extensively.
1836-1837: attended naval school, Norfolk, VA
1837 June 15: became a passed Midshipman.
1838: worked at the U.S. Navy's Depot of Charts & Instruments in Washington, D.C. This office is a pre-cursor to the U.S. Naval Observatory.
1838-1842: served as an officer on the U.S. Exploring Expedition (a.k.a. the Wilkes Expedition.)
1841 September: received commission as Lieutenant.
1842 August 16: married Rebecca Krug in Lancaster, PA
1852-1861: resided in Kauai and Honolulu, Hawaii during leave of absence from Navy; placed on Reserve list.
1855 September 24: placed on reserved list due to ill health.
1857 February 23: appointed Naval Store Keeper at Honolulu.
1862 June 9: appointed Commander of U.S.S. Vermont, South Atlantic Blockading Station, Port Royal, South Carolina.
1866 July 25: promoted to Captain. Stationed on the U.S.S. Lackawanna to Hawaii.
1867: took possession of Midway Island for the U.S.
1870: appointed Commodore.
1870-1875: appointed Chief of the Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting.
1873 and 1874: served as Acting Secretary of the Navy (two occasions).
1873 December 12: appointed Rear Admiral.
1875: appointed Commander of the naval forces bases at the "Asiatic Station" (Japan, China, Siam), Flagship U.S.S. Tennessee.
1877 December 10: placed on Retired List.
1879 November 5: died in Washington, D.C.

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