Sam Eakins

Samuel Eakins was the last commander of the "Submarine Battery" Alligator. What we have learned about Eakins shows him to have been easily as interesting a fellow as Brutus de Villeroi. Born in Pennsylvania about 1810, Sam (as well as other members of the Eakins family) shuttled between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the years 1840-1860. The men of the family worked mostly in trades relating to the jewelry industry. The first certain mention we have of Samuel Eakins is from the Philadelphia Public Ledger of 27 August 1842, which told of the passing of his infant daughter and lists his wife Christiana's name as well. Significantly, the piece specifically requests that "Pittsburgh papers please copy"--evidence of friends and/or family in the western part of the state. The Federal census of 1840 probably also captured him but, since only the head of the household was listed by name, we can't be sure.

Four years later, in 1846, the name "Samuel Eakins" appears on a real estate transaction in Pittsburgh. In 1847  a Samuel Eakins is listed in a Pittsburgh street directory as a silversmith. The following year, 1848, Samuel and Christina Eakins were signatories of a deed in Pittsburgh. And both Sam and Christiana appear in the 1850 Federal census living in Pittsburgh, PA; although his last name is misspelled as "Aikens," the names and ages of his wife and children suggest this is him. During this period, Sam served in Ordnance in the Army, stationed in Pittsburgh during the Mexican War (April 1846-February 1848), as per his 1890 declaration for a disability pension. Some time before June of 1854, Sam and Christina moved their family back to Philadelphia. Here Sam received patent 13125 for an improved ice pitcher, as reported in the January 1855 issue of Scientific American. When Eakins switched or expanded his interests to include submarine salvage is unknown; certainly his experience in the Ordnance department would have been an asset. As a jeweler, he was perhaps familiar with the process of electro-plating, as he is described a decade later as a "practical electrician," and this may have led him into demolition. However or whenever he acquired his expertise, by 1857 he was sufficiently experienced to be included in a major salvage operation in Europe, working with the Philadelphia Submarine Mining Company on an expedition to raise the ships of the Russian fleet that had been scuttled and sunk during the siege of that city in the recent Crimean War. In November 1857 we find him mentioned in a report filed from Sebastopol, Russia in August. The name of Morris S. Wickersham appears with that of Eakins; we do not presently know as much about the Sebastopol operation as we would like, but it seems that these two were good friends or at least business partners, based on their subsequent activities. (Newspaper reports on the work at Sebastopol are on a separate page.)

Sam Eakins returned from the Crimea at some point before 1859, as he and Wickersham filed a patent for an underwater cannon in January of that year. Whether Sam continued in his earlier trade of jeweler or devoted his energies entirely to submarine operations once back in Philadelphia is unknown. The 1860 census records the family in the 18th ward of Philadelphia.

Wickersham continued to design explosives, as evidenced by an 1862 patent he received for a new style of cannon ball. What, if any, relationship Wickersham had with William Hirst is unknown. As a lawyer and a "gentleman," they may have known each other socially. More probably, they had a mutual interest in submarine operations--Hirst had been involved with Villeroi's boat before the war and Wickersham was part of the Sebastopol project. Whatever their relationship, when Wickersham recommended Samuel Eakins as "superintendent" of the submarine battery on 12 May 1862, Hirst passed the suggestion along to Commodore Smith (see Letters). According to Hirst, "Mr Wickersham, who was on the Expedition to Sebastopol to raise the sunken ships, warmly recommends Mr Samuel Eakins, who was 18 months at that submarine work . . . Mr E. is a practical electrician and perfectly experienced in submarine explosions." Eakins' address at this time was at 754 South 3rd Street (ref. Philadelphia map).

Samuel Eakins served in several capacities in the US Navy between 14 May 1862 until 15 April 1863, when his temporary commission was revoked. For the period when he was in Philadelphia, his name appears on the rolls of the USS Princeton as "Superintendent Submarine Battery"  (1-18 June 1862); he is recorded as stationed at the Washington Navy Yard from 19 June 1862 - 9 March 1863. The correspondence relating to his service appears in the Letters section of the site, but mention should be made of his injuries suffered during the storm that claimed Alligator. While Eakins' report is almost bare of any description of the storm, that of the Sumpter's captain, John Winchester, is very specific. That report describes a four-day storm, during which Sam Eakins suffered what he later described in his 1893 disability application as "facial neuralgia and inguinal hernia"--injuries that plagued him for the rest of his life. The pension was granted.  Sam passed away in 1894 (obituary)

Federal Census, 1840
Kensington Ward 5, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Roll 488, Page 134

Name: Sam'l Eakins Males Females
Number of persons
in household: 7
< 5


Philadelphia Public Ledger
Vol. XIII, No.137 , Saturday, August 27, 1842 , page 2, column 4.

On the 25th inst., after a lingering illness, Elizabeth, infant daughter of Samuel and Christiana Eakins, aged 10 months and 12 days.  Pittsburg papers will please copy. The relatives & friends of the family are respectfully invited to attend her funeral, from the residence of her father, Queen Street, opposite the Union Glass Works, Kensington, to-morrow afternoon, at 4 o’clock without further notice.


Federal Census, 1850
8th Ward, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


Name Age Occupation Birth place
Samuel Aikens 40 Jeweler England*
Christina 40 England
Edward 17 Pennsylvania
George 16 Pennsylvania
Catherine 12 Pennsylvania
Mary 10 Pennsylvania
Henry 8 Pennsylvania
Margaret 6 Pennsylvania
Anna 4/12 Pennsylvania

*probably an error on the part of the census official, as Sam consistently reports his birthplace as "Pennsylvania" in every other instance.


Scientific American, January 1855

Improved Ice Pitcher

The accompanying figures represent an improvement in Ice Pitchers, for which a patent was granted to Samuel Eakins, of Philadelphia, Pa., on the 26th of June last.

Figure 1 is a side elevation of the improved pitcher. Figure 2 is a vertical section of it; and figure 3 is a detached section of the spout.

The improvement consists in the arrangement of the spout and its lid, the latter being self-acting.

The pitcher has an outer case, A B C D, and an inner case, E F G H, with a space, a a, of about three-eights of an inch between them, all round; this is filled with melted resin, or resign and plaster mixed together. The lid is made in the same way, and the space, b, is filled with a non-conducting substance in the same manner.

The main lid, J R L M, of the pitcher, is not hinged, but has a flange, f, extending down, which slides into the top of the pitcher, as shown in fig. 2; this effectually excludes the air at this point. O is the spout; P Q, fig. 3 is a small lid, covering the spout, and hinged to the outer shell of the pitcher at Q. From the lower side of this spout lid, two bent arms p p' and q q', made of wire, proceed and form a lever in connection with the spout lid. A small piece of metal, S, is soldered to the extremity of the wires. The position of these arms and the weight is such, that when the pitcher is tipped over, the weight and lid assume the position in fig. 3, thus allowing the water to flow out; and when the pitcher is restored to its vertical position, the lid returns to its seat-as shown in fig. 2, closing the opening of the spout. -It is very convenient sometimes to pour out water from an ice pitcher with one hand; the old plan of operating the lid to do this was by a chain attached to the lid and handle. The method of operating the lid, represented in these figures, is a great improvement over the old plan. The pitcher may be made of any suitable material.

More information may be obtained by letter addressed to the patentee at Philadelphia.





New York Times, 13 November 1857

Americans at Sebastopol

Correspondence of the Philadelphia Press

Sebastopol, Saturday, August 29, 1857


We make up parties of pleasure every Sunday, (Wiscrusiana in Russia,) and either go sailing or on horseback to the different places around and about Sebastopol—such as Inkermann, Redan, Malakoff, Balaklava, Backstorie, &c. A description of these places may form the basis of a future letter.

On the first of July we commenced diving. “An old practical diver,” as he represented himself to be, from Boston, was the first to begin operations, but he made such a bungling attempt that an Englishman, who had been in the employment of the Russians as diver for eight months previous, and was engaged by our company, insisted that this must have been the very first time the Bostonian had ever been in the water. He also satisfied Billy McL___ that diving “was not what it was cracked up to be.” He has never been with us since, though Billy says he will try it yet.

The next day I descended in the Submarine armor, with nerves unshaken and heart as fearless as it is at this moment. Upon my second descent I made up to a large anchor, which was pulled up, and was truly a great haul. Since then I have been diving every week-day, in the morning or the afternoon, and some days both before and after dinner. For the last week I have not been down, as we are breaking in a Greek, who will make an expert diver. He cannot speak a word of English except what I have taught him.

We have had very little rain since our arrival. Most of what we had came in the night, rendering the water very cold—especially when the diver has to go into the holds of sunken vessels. There is no tide whatever, and but little current, in Sebastopol harbor, and as the water lies dormant in the holds, is very cold to the diver.

Our dresses leak very much. On two or three occasions I have taken off my dress with no less than tow or three buckets of water in it, and not I alone have been in this plight, so comfortless and dangerous. It has been the same with all the rest. We have six of these dresses at present, and must have sixteen to eighteen more to do the necessary diving, there being one hundred and seventy-two vessels of various sizes, sunk in this harbor. Many of them still have to be blown up. One, called the Sagodell, Mr. S. Eakins commenced operations upon to-day, the 30th August. He succeeded in blowing her nearly all to pieces. It required over 3,000 pounds of gunpowder, and will take 2,000 more to demolish her entirely.

Col. Gowen commenced on the Paris, but did not make much headway with her, as the batteries would not work in his hands. However, Eaking [sic] astonished the natives to-day, as not a single pontoon missed fire. A great number of Russians lined the shores to witness the explosions, which made a truly splendid sight, the water being thrown up full 30 feet high.

The bark Our Union arrive here on the 21st of August, being 74 days coming. As I understood from the sailors, she sailed on June 5, and stopped five days at Constantinople. Her procrastination was one reason why I did not write, as I expected Mr. Eakins and Bill Hiller in her. The passengers (only four) and crew were all. The crew are now engaged in discharging cargo.

We have one of our caissons nearly completed and as it needs four, we shall not be able to raise any vessels until Spring. The work goes slowly on. However, now that Mr. Wickersham and Mr. Pierce (the chief engineer) have arrived, they may be able to hurry up the cakes.

Mr. Wickersham and Mr. Eakins arrived here last Friday evening, in the Farakote steamer, from Odessa, which is distant some 300 miles. They were detained there by the Russian officials for three weeks. Mr. Wickersham was not allowed to bring his family to Sebastopol, until Colonel Gowan interfered. The Colonel had to communicate with the Powers that be in this tyrannical country before they would allow him to proceed.

The mails go only once in every ten days from Sebastopol to Odessa, so you may see how time is lost in communication—especially as Odessa is the headquarters of this part of the Russian dominions.

Not a single one of our men, if they had to ship over again, would sign articles to come to this poverty stricken hole. You cannot purchase a decent pair of boots in Sebastopol. What they term Sap o yals and Bas-makers, (that is boot and shoemakers,) you would not give a dollar for in the United States. For a pair of boots they ask five or six rubles, (each ruble is eighty cents, as I mentioned before,) and for a pair of gaiter shoes, which lasted me only three weeks, I paid four rubles. I wore them out, mind you, in three weeks, putting them on only on Sundays and sometimes in the evenings.

Ready made clothing cannot be purchased in Sebastopol, except overalls and calico shirts. For one of the latter they demand Pottarina Rupe Cedubra, which means a ruble and a half in silver. A common black cloth or satinet cap costs two rubles; a pair of pantaloons ten or twelve rubles, and fifteen rubles if made of fine black cloth. No kind of a hat can be obtained in Sebastopol, for any money. Of cap makers I found no lack, but not a single hatter. Tailors are plentiful; but there is one boot maker, a German. Nearly every storekeepers and tailor is a German Jew.

In the whole of Sebastopol there are only two hotels, each of which can accommodate forty persons. These hotels are only one story high, and I am informed, and can readily believe, that the accommodations are of the very worst description.

That you may understand the Russian currency, and estimate it by ours, I must tell you that a ruble is estimated at eighty cents, (though not worth seventy-five,) and that one hundred kopeks—pronounced kopeeks—are in each ruble. A kopeck is three-fourths of our cent.


Scientific American, January 1859
(PDF file of actual patent)


Samuel Eakins, assignor to himself and M. S. Wickersham, of Philadelphia, Pa.: I claim the combination with a piece of ordnance to be employed under water for the removal of rocks or other bodies by the operation described of a series of adjustable legs, applied and operating substantially as and for the purpose specified.

[In this method of blasting or removing submarine bodies, a very heavy cannon, loaded with powder and ball, is sunk with its muzzle in contact with, or as close as possible to the face of the rock or other body to be removed, and fired by a galvanic battery, to pro­ject the ball against the rock. The weight of the column of water above the cannon, added to the weight of the cannon itself, prevents recoil, and causes the ball to be projected with immense force. The cannon has adjustable legs, which support it or attach it to the body to be removed, and enable it to be set at such angle as might be desirable to split off a ledge of rock. When the cannon has been fired, it is raised by chain tackles attached to it. Experiments show this to be a very effective method of blasting.]


Federal Census, 1860
18th Ward, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
(Post office: Kensington)


Name Age Occupation Birth place
Samuel Aikens 49 ??? Pennsylvania
Christa 49 Pennsylvania
Mary 16 Pennsylvania
Harry (Henry ) 14 Pennsylvania
David 13 Pennsylvania
Anna 10 Pennsylvania
Next door are:
Edward Akens 21 Silver plater
Christiana 21
Mary 2
Henry 9/12
And in the 19th Ward:
George Akens 24 Case maker
Elizabeth 21
Walter* 10/12
*Family tree provided by descendant states Walter is grandson of Samuel.


20 September1893


Printed for the exclusive use of R. McALLISTER & CO., of Washington, D.C.




To be  executed only by the Claimant.


State of North Carolina, County of Wake, ss:


            In matter of Samuel Eakins Pension Claim No. 11628 U.S. Navy on this thirtieth day of August A.D. 1893, personally appeared before me Clerk of the Superior Court in and for the County of Wake and State of North Carolina whose Post Office address is Raleigh N.C. well known to me to be reputable and entitled to credit, and who, being duly sworn, declares in relation to aforesaid case as follows:  That he is unable to comply with the requirements of the Pension Office as to providing evidence showing clearly origin in the service of rupture and neuralgia and continuance of neuralgia from date of discharge to 1890 for the reason that the rupture and neuralgia was caused by injuries received on the torpedo boat “Alligator” lost off Cape Hatteras and the only other man on said boat Henry Moser, is now dead.  That after the “Alligator” was lost he was taken on board the U.S.S. Sumpter and landed at New York.  That he had no personal acquaintance with any one on the U.S.S. Sumpter.  The “Alligator” was lost in a storm and the U.S.S. Sumpter was badly damaged in the storm & returned to N.Y. in a crippled condition.

That he is unable to prove his condition from date of discharge up to the year 1890 by medical testimony for the reason that on return to N.Y. his Commission was revoked and he left the U.S. Navy.  Soon after that ?, being a man of means, went to Italy hoping to recover his health and remained in Italy until 1886, when he came to Raleigh N.C. That before going to Italy as stated he was treated by Dr Paul Buck Goddard and Dr A. B. Campbell of Phila Pa. both of whom are dead.  In Italy he was treated by Dr M.S. Wickersham , (formerly of Phil.) who is also dead.  That since his return to the U.S. he has been treated by James McKee of Raleigh N.C. whose testimony he has filed .

He respectfully requests that the testimony of Dr James McKee, Dr R.B. Ellis & others be accepted in lieu of evidence required – the evidence asked to be accepted was, (some of it, filed in affiants – application for pension under the Act of 1890.



Samuel Eakins

(Signature of Affiants.)


VOL. 36, NO. 137


Death of Mr. Samuel Eakins.

Yesterday afternoon at 1 o’clock Mr. Samuel Eakins died at his home on Smithfield street , in the south eastern part of the city.  He was born in Philadelphia in 1812, but lived some years in Italy , where he married.  He leaves a wife and several children.  At one time he was quite wealthy.  He was a man who had traveled widely and read much, and was once a member of the Masonic fraternity, but did not belong to it at the time of his death.  During his long life he had fought in various wars in many parts of the world.  He lived some years in Arizona and was in some desperate battles with Indians in the far West.  He has a son in Philadelphia .  He has resided here about eight years.  The funeral will take place today at 5 o’clock p. m. at the Sacred Heart Church .


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