Biography and History

George Willing Clymer (1804-1881), Princeton Class of 1823, and his father-in-law, William B. Shubrick (1790-1874), together served in the United States Navy for more than fifty years during the nineteenth century. Clymer served as a naval surgeon to the Mediterranean, Pacific, African, West India and South Atlantic Blockading Squadrons from 1829 to 1866 and Shubrick served as an officer and naval diplomat from the time of his entry in the United States Navy in 1806 until his retirement in 1861. Their families (Clymer, Shubrick, Wethered, and Willing) maintained close communication during frequent separations and developed a strong network of extended family bonds.

George Willing Clymer was born July 24, 1804 in Morrisville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the son of Henry Meredith Clymer and Mary McCall Willing. He attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), graduating with an A.B. in 1823. From 1826 to 1828, he studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and, later, continued his medical education in Paris from 1833 to 1834. He married Mary Shubrick (1819-1902), the daughter of Commodore William B. and Harriet Wethered Shubrick, in 1845, and they were the parents of Mary Willing Shubrick Clymer (1848-1933), Harriet Wethered Shubrick Clymer (1852-1857), William Branford Shubrick Clymer (1855-1903), and George Shubrick Clymer (1858-1860).

On July 1, 1829, he entered service in the United States Navy. Throughout his long career, spanning nearly four decades, Clymer was appointed to the Mediterranean, Pacific, African, West India, and South Atlantic Blockading Squadrons, and worked in Washington D.C., both at the Navy Yard and the Naval Observatory. As a surgeon for the Mediterranean Squadron, Clymer served as assistant surgeon on the frigate USS Constellation from 1829 to 1831, on the frigate USS Brandywine from 1831 to 1833, and on the sloop USS John Adams from 1836 to 1838. On February 30, 1838, he was appointed surgeon, and served on the frigate USS Constitution and the frigate USS St. Lawrence from 1848 to 1850. From 1841 to 1844, Clymer was assigned to the Pacific Squadron, serving on the sloop USS Cyane. He served as fleet-surgeon of the Africa Squadron from 1855 to 1857, sailing on the USS Jamestown and of the West India Squadron in 1861. During the Civil War, from 1861 to 1863, Clymer served as fleet-surgeon of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. In Washington, D.C., Clymer was appointed to the Navy Yard from 1845 to 1847 and from 1858-1860; and to special duty at the Naval Observatory from 1850 to 1855, and from 1865 to 1868.

Clymer retired from the United States Navy on July 24, 1866. During his retirement, he published The Principles of Naval Staff Rank; and its History in the United States Navy for Over Half a Century in 1869 and served as a member of the Medical Board in Washington, D.C. from 1869 to 1871. On March 3, 1871, he was made Medical Director (on retired list). Clymer died on April 14, 1881, in Washington, D.C.

Clymer's father-in-law, William Branford Shubrick (1790-1874), served as a naval officer in the War of 1812, in the Mexican War, and in the Civil War. Shubrick was born on his father's plantation, "Belvidere," Bull's Island, South Carolina. Shubrick spent a year at Harvard and then, in 1806, entered the navy as midshipman. Following a short Mediterranean cruise on the USS Wasp, he was on the American coast until 1810, serving under James Lawrence, as shipmate with James Fenimore Cooper, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship. During the War of 1812, Shubrick served aboard the USS Hornet in 1812, on the USS Constellation from 1812 to 1813, and on the USS Constitution from 1813 to 1815. In 1820, he was commissioned commander, took charge of the USS Lexington, and cruised the waters off Labrador in protection of American fishing rights. He later sailed to the Caribbean to retrieve the remains of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry from the island of Trinidad. In 1831, Shubrick was commissioned captain, and in the mid 1830s, he took up ordinance duties. In 1838, he was given command of the West India Squadron, and in 1840, he was put in charge of the Norfolk Navy Yard. With the organization of the bureau system, he was made chief of the Bureau of Provisions and clothing from 1844 to 1846. During the War with Mexico, Shubrick was ordered to the Pacific Coast, where he took charge of the U.S. forces at Monterey, California.

From 1849 to 1953, Shubrick held a variety of shore assignments, including president of the Board of Naval Examiners in 1850, commander of the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1850, inspector of ordinance and ammunition from 1851 to 1852, chief of the Bureau of Construction and Repair from 1852 to 1853, and member of the Lighthouse Board from 1853 to 1855. In 1853, Shubrick sailed aboard the USS Princeton for Nova Scotia, where he negotiated outstanding issues regarding fishing. His next five years were spent on shore duty, including service on the Lighthouse Board. In 1858, after the U.S. survey ship USS Water Witch was fired on by the armed forces of the dictator of Paraguay, Shubrick led an expedition of nineteen ships to South America, securing an apology and a cash indemnification for the attack on the USS Water Witch. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Shubrick remained in Washington and offered his services to the Union, despite efforts to recruit him to the Confederate cause. In 1861, he was placed on the retired list, then promoted to rear admiral in 1862. He continued to serve as chairman of the Lighthouse Board until 1871. He died in Washington D.C. in 1874.

Source: From the finding aid for C1417

  • George Willing Clymer Papers. 1814-1919 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C1417

    George Willing Clymer (1804-1881), Princeton Class of 1823, and his father-in-law, William B. Shubrick (1790-1874), together served in the United States Navy for more than fifty years during the nineteenth century. Clymer served as a naval surgeon to the Mediterranean, Pacific, African, West India and South Atlantic Blockading Squadrons from 1829 to 1866 and Shubrick served as an officer and naval diplomat from the time of his entry in the United States Navy in 1806 until his retirement in 1861. Their families (Clymer, Shubrick, Wethered, and Willing) maintained close communication during frequent separations and developed a strong network of extended family bonds. This collection provides documentation of the United States Navy during the early and mid nineteenth century; and in particular, naval medicine, diplomacy, and rank. In addition, the collection documents the families of naval officers, both from the perspective of the officer, and the family who remained at home, coping with typical family issues, as well as sickness and death.