Ungentle Goodnights

Life in a Home for Elderly and Disabled Naval Sailors and Marines and the Perilous Seafaring Careers that Brought Them There

  • Subject: Clear the Decks Up to 80% OFF
  • Format:
  • Pages:
  • Published:
    October 1, 2018
  • ISBN-10:
  • ISBN-13:
  • Product Dimensions:
    9.25 × 6.125 × 1 in
  • Product Weight:
    24 oz
Hardcover $11.68
Book: Cover Type


Ungentle Goodnights uses the records of the United States Naval Asylum (later the United States Naval Home), a residence for disabled and elderly sailors and Marines established by the U.S. government, to describe the lives of the 541 men who were admitted there as lifetime residents between 1831 and 1866. The records of the Naval Asylum are an especially rich source for discovering these lower-deck lives because would-be residents were required to submit summaries of their naval careers as part of the admission process. Using these and related records, published and manuscript, it is possible to reconstruct the veterans’ lives from their teenage years (and sometimes earlier) until their deaths. Previous historians who have written about the pre-Civil War naval enlisted force have depended on published nineteenth-century sailor and Marine autobiographies, which may not accurately reflect the realities of enlisted life. Ungentle Goodnights seeks to discover the life experiences of real Marines and naval sailors, not a few of whom were misbehaving, crafty, and engaging individuals who feature prominently in the book.

About the Author

Editorial Reviews

Ungentle Goodnights provides the readers with rare insight into the 19th century American Navy by focusing on its enlisted sailors and Marines in the twilight of their lives…. Ungentle Goodnights belongs on the bookshelves of all who are interested in sea service history.”—Naval Historical Foundation
"The author has done a superb job of culling through the records of the sailors and Marines who were admitted to the Naval Asylum during its early days. Their personal stories underscore the many dangers that were inherent in their lives at sea, especially during wartime, and those who were elderly and/or disabled were fortunate to be able to end their days in the relative comfort of that institution." —The Journal of America's Military Past
Christopher McKee, author of the seminal work on the early U.S. naval officer corps (1798-1815), has provided us a magisterial slice about 541 U.S. naval enlisted men before 1865. Using the records of Philadelphia's United States Naval Asylum, which served as a refuge for retired sailors from 1834-1976, he teases out a rich story about their livesùfrom teenage years to deathùand about the place they called home. This impressive book sheds important light on antebellum U.S. naval enlisted men. ùGene Allen Smith, author of Thomas ap Catesby Jones: Commodore of Manifest Destiny, professor of early American history, Texas Christian University
Ungentle Goodnights is the masterpiece by Christopher McKee that we have been awaiting for two decades. In brilliantly mixed vernaculars of scholars and seamen, he tells the story of the nineteenth century American sailor through the focal point of the Naval Asylum in Philadelphia. Read and rejoice at eloquent erudition. ùKenneth Hagan, Professor and Museum Director Emeritus, U.S. Naval Academy, Captain, USNR (Ret.)
Christopher McKee has written another splendid book on the military personnel in the nineteenth-century U.S. Navy. With the skillful use papers of the U.S. Naval Home that cared for disabled and aged sailors and Marines, he is able to give us a rare glimpse into the enlisted world and their post-service difficulties. Chock full of fascinating anecdotes and character sketches, this is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the United States Navy. ùJoseph T. Glatthaar, Stephenson Distinguished Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of American Military: A Concise History
Ungentle Goodnights it is a superb piece of scholarship.” —Argonauta
"[An] important and elegantly written book." —The Nothern Mariner
“McKee draws from unique documentary sources to provide a fresh perspective on a subject widely overlooked by historians…. Ungentle Goodnights is a much needed study contributing to research on nineteenth-century asylums, naval medicine, and veteran’s benefits.” —The Mariner’s Mirror
“Christopher McKee has written another great book about sailors and Marines during the 19th century and their latter days as veterans and residents (called beneficiaries) in the U.S. Naval Asylum located on the banks of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.” —Civil War Navy
“This handsome book is highly recommended for all who have an interest in the enlisted personnel of the early US Navy, the environment in which they worked, and what happened to some of them afterward. McKee’s research is exhaustive in exploring all conceivable sources to inform this study. A bibliographical essay provides ample assistance to any who wish to follow McKee’s path.” —Sea History
“McKee’s work is a fine addition to nineteenth-century US navy historiography. It pairs well with other works focusing on crew perspectives both during service and post-career for navies around the world. Brian Lavery’s Able Seamen: The Lower Deck of the Royal Navy, 1850–1939 (Naval Institute 2012), and William M. Fowler Jr.’s Under Two Flags: The American Navy in the Civil War (Naval Institute 2012) are good works to consider, along with McKee, in addition to the ones mentioned earlier. Academic audiences will find Ungentle Goodnights a treasure trove of source material and anecdotal evidence about the nineteenth-century US Navy. General readers will enjoy the adventurous accounts of how the beneficiaries came to the asylum, the triumphs and tragedies that occurred while the veterans lived at the facility, and the end stages for all concerned.” —History: Reviews of New Books