Alexander J. Rice papers  1847-1851
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The papers of Alexander J. Rice consist of 31 letters, all but one of which were written by Rice to members of his family, and nearly all of which were written during his service in the Mexican War. These letters, addressed to his father, John (a cashier at the Bank of New Hampshire), sisters Lizzie (d. 1850) and Augusta, and a brother (who was eventually disowned as a wastrel) form a small, but nearly complete record of a little known facet of the war, the naval operations off the Gulf Coast, and they make for captivating reading. Rice's intelligence, his fascination with the country and people, and his aptitude for close description and a good story make the collection a particularly rich resource for study of the activities of an average naval ship in a distant theater, and for American attitudes toward the war, Mexico, and Mexicans.

Other than a constant concern for the unhealthy climate, the prevalence of chills, fevers, and pestering insects, there is very little specific information on Rice's duties as a medical officer. The group of 13 letters written from the Coatzacoalco River include fascinating discussions of the hardship of being the only medical officer aboard ship, and document Rice's frustration in attempting to get the Navy to alleviate the poor sanitary conditions aboard ship, and the problems with the ship's officers, poor provisions, and inadequate medical supplies. The letter of July 22-26, 1847, is a particularly long and extraordinary account of the effect of the harsh conditions and poor sanitation in tropical waters and its effects upon the crew. These letters, too, document the frustration and inactivity of blockade duty in a stagnant backwater, but at the same time, Rice's continuing fascination with the country and people.

A series of seven letters written from Ciudad del Carmen (Camp.), Campeche (Camp.) and Sisal (Yuc.) document Rice's experiences as witness to the Caste War in Yucatán. Before being sent to Campeche to protect white refugees, Rice's sympathies clearly lay with the white population, but he and his shipmates came to sympathize with the Indians, arguing that not only had the whites provoked the crisis, but they were lazy, selfish, and ungrateful even for the protection the Navy afforded. Rice's opinions were strengthened upon receiving news of atrocities committed by whites upon the Indian population, the first when an armed force slaughtered a group of women and children, the second when Indians were killed by poisoned food left in deserted villages.

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