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
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,
National Archives, Washington, D.C.
National Personnel Records Center, St.
U.S. Consul Dispatch Files
U.S. Pension Files