Book Review-‘Ungentle Goodnights: Life in a home for elderly and disabled naval sailors and marines and the perilous seafaring careers that brought them there’ by C. McKee

By Sarah Goldberger, published December 2020


‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’. The subjects of Christopher McKee’s Ungentle Goodnights, the pensioned sailors at the US Naval Asylum in Philadelphia, were an intractable population that raged well into their twilight. The asylum ‘beneficiaries’, as McKee describes them, were not passive old men, but they fought with authorities and each other, fathered children, worked as they could, and struggled with alcoholism and their declining mental and physical health within the confines of the Naval Asylum.

McKee draws from unique documentary sources to provide a fresh perspective on a subject widely overlooked by historians. For example, this work features information derived from the asylum records, which contain beneficiary applications and biographies from the 1830s to the 1860s. These sources offer unique insight into the stories and experiences of those who lived below deck before the American Civil War. The records reveal where and on what ships sailors’ served, their length of service, and also the diseases and injuries they sustained while on duty. While some of the beneficiaries may have exaggerated their length of service or disability to gain admittance, there is undoubtedly more truth than fiction in the asylum records…

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Filed under: American Civil War | Other (Nineteenth C)
Subjects include: Administration | Miscellaneous

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