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Silas Lyon Moffett was born on July 24, 1841 at New Woodstock, Madison County, New York. Moffett voluntarily enlisted in the U.S. Navy on August 23, 1864 at Little Falls, New York at the age of 23 and was mustered aboard the receiving ship USS “North Carolina”. After being mustered aboard the “North Carolina” as were most of that period, Moffett was transferred to and served as a Landsman aboard the U.S.S. “Vanderbilt”.

The “Vanderbilt” was a wooden side-wheel steamship built in 1856 at Greenpoint, Long Island, New York, for commercial trans-Atlantic passenger service. The U.S. Army chartered her for use as a transport soon after the outbreak of the Civil War and in March 1862 she was turned over to the U.S. Navy and converted into a cruiser.

Commissioned as the USS “Vanderbilt” in September 1862, she spent the last two months of 1862 and all of 1863 in the Atlantic Ocean and the West Indies looking for the Confederate cruiser “Alabama”. While it never encountered the “Alabama”, the “Vanderbilt”  did capture three merchant blockade ships running traffic with the enemy; including steamer “Peterhoff “ in February 1863, the steamer “Gertrude”  in April and the bark ”Saxon” in October 1863. 

After 1864 the “Vanderbilt” patrolled in the North Atlantic, operating out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, against blockade runners. She also served on the blockade off Wilmington, North Carolina, beginning in November 1864, and took part in the December 1864 and January 1865 attacks on Wilmington's Fort Fisher which resulted in closing that port to the Confederacy. In the spring of 1865 the “Vanderbilt” transported Sailors to the Gulf of Mexico and towed ironclads between the East Coast ports.

Aboard the “Vanderbilt” Moffett was assigned to a 100 pound forecastle rifle and participated in the attack and capture of Fort Fisher, near Wilmington, North Carolina; which began in January 1865 and lasted a full fifty days. Moffett was discharged aboard ship as it lay at anchor off Castle Sanders, New York in June, 1865.

After the war, from 1865 through 1878, Moffett lived at the towns of Chittenango and Canastota New York. It was at Canastota that he met and married Julia Tackabury in 1866. He then lived at Syracruse and Manilius, New York  before moving to Detroit, Michigan and finally to Akron, Ohio; working as an architectural draftsman and a builder. Silas and Julia had two sons, Milton James born at Lenox, New York in 1872 and Edwin Deverne born at Detroit, Michigan in 1876.

Moffett sailed for Australia around 1884, without his family, and was employed at Newcastle, New South Wales in the publishing of dictionaries, encyclopaedia’s, atlases and text books for the school system. Through that effort he earned a lot of money, which he sent back to support his family and educate his sons in America.  In February 1903 though, Moffitt ran into trouble; being accused by the C. & G. Merriam Corporation of Massachusetts of copyright and franchise infringement in his selling and distribution of Webster’s Dictionaries. They obtained a court order against him, broke into his place of business and confiscated all his possessions; including ten horses and wagons used by his agents. In addition, he had some 2000 pounds in foreign currency in the Bank of New South Wales, which was owed to him, but was protested by non-payment. As a result his credit was ruined.


According to his statement in his pension file, he forwarded a complete statement of how he was being persecuted to the Acting Secretary of State in Washington, D.C. and requested that the government compel the C. & G. Merriam Corporation to return his property and compensate him for his loss. In doing so he quoted the “5th clause of the American Constitution” as a basis for his request. Despite achieving a victory through the courts, Moffitt never had any of his property returned and was never compensated for the property or his loss. As a result, being completely bankrupt and having his health destroyed, he was forced to apply for a government pension.

Moffitt’s pension was awarded, under certificate number 33590, and he received a set amount each month. His wife Julia died in New York, in 1908, and Moffitt never returned to the states or ever again saw his two sons. He too died, of heart disease, many say brought on by the illegal actions of the Merriam Company in confiscating his property, at Camperdown, Sydney, New South Wales on December 11, 1923; and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Rookwood Cemetery, Church of England Section H, grave number 4696.


Dept. of the Navy, Naval Records, Washington, D.C.

National Archives, Washington, D.C.

 National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri

 U.S. Consul Dispatch Files

 U.S. Pension Files


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