ENTRY

John H. Aulick (1790–1873)

SUMMARY

John H. Aulick was a United States Navy officer whose appointment in 1851 to negotiate a treaty with Japan ended with his being relieved of command and replaced by Commodore Matthew C. Perry. Born in Winchester, Aulick was a veteran of the War of 1812, during which he was captured and later awarded a congressional medal, and the Mexican War (1846–1848). In 1850, Aulick was given command of the East India Squadron, and his suggestion of trade negotiations with Japan was approved by United States president Millard Fillmore. Aulick’s quarrels with his ship’s captain, however, in addition to charges filed against Aulick by one of the voyage’s diplomatic passengers, led Fillmore to replace him with Perry. Negotiations with Japan were a success and Perry became famous for the achievement. Aulick’s career was effectively over. He retired in 1861 and died in Washington in 1873.

The U.S. Brig Enterprise Captures the British Brig Boxer

John Henry Aulick was born on June 28, 1790, in Winchester, and was the son of Charles Aulick and his first wife Margaret Aulick (maiden name unknown). He entered the navy as a midshipman in November 1809 and took his first extended cruise in 1811 aboard the schooner Enterprise. He was court martialed for neglect of duty in September 1811, but was acquitted. During the War of 1812 he commanded the forecastle on the Enterprise, which captured several British vessels, one of which Aulick commanded back to port. He was later aboard the brig Rattlesnake when it surrendered to the British in the summer of 1814. After several months in captivity, he returned to duty in March 1815 aboard the frigate United States. His war service earned him a medal with the thanks of Congress, a lieutenancy, and recognition as a young naval officer of talent and promise.

After the war J. H. Aulick, as he was generally known, served at sea aboard the brig Saranac, the sloop Ontario, the frigates Constitution and Brandywine, the schooner Dolphin, of which he was temporary commander, and onshore on recruiting and ordnance duty. In 1831 he was promoted to master commandant (later redesignated commander) and was assigned to ordnance duty at the Washington Navy Yard, in Washington, D.C. There he established a permanent residence with his wife Mary Conover Aulick, whom he had married in Newton, New Jersey, on September 14, 1819, and their three sons and three daughters. In 1834 Aulick received command of his first ship, the sloop Vincennes, which was stationed in the Pacific off the coast of South America. From July 1835 to June 1836 he cruised around the world investigating trade conditions and the treatment of American citizens abroad. Returning to Washington, in 1837 he oversaw a coastline survey at the Potomac River for the possible placement of lighthouses or buoys. Aulick was second officer of the navy yard in Washington and its acting commandant from the end of August 1839 until March 1840. Later that year he was named commander of the sloop Yorktown, which was sent to assist American whalers and traders in the vicinity of the Pacific islands of Hawaii and Tonga.

Samuel Colt

Promoted to captain on September 8, 1841, Aulick returned to the Washington Navy Yard a third time, taking charge as commandant on March 7, 1843. During his tenure the yard undertook increasingly advanced ordnance experiments, particularly Samuel Colt’s research with controlled sea mines. Aulick was detached from the navy yard in February 1846 to command the frigate Potomac on Caribbean patrol. During the Mexican War the Potomac participated in the March 1847 siege of Vera Cruz, where Aulick used his ordnance experience to assist naval shore batteries.

On December 7, 1850, Aulick received orders to command the East India Squadron and later that month was assigned as his flagship the new side-wheel steamer Susquehanna. Before leaving for his new posting, Aulick suggested a plan to Secretary of State Daniel Webster to open trade negotiations with Japan. Webster presented Aulick’s proposal to President Fillmore, who designated Aulick as his envoy to negotiate a treaty of amity and commerce with the Japanese government. Aulick received his official orders to command the squadron on February 11, 1851, and sailed in June on the Susquehanna.

Gasshukoku suishi teitoku kojogaki (Oral statement by the American Navy admiral)

En route to Brazil, on the first leg of the voyage, Aulick quarreled with the Susquehanna‘s new captain, William Inman, over their respective command responsibilities, and both officers irritated Secretary of the Navy William A. Graham by preferring charges against each other. Aulick removed Inman from command on reaching Brazil. Othermisunderstandings during the voyage developed into official charges that one of the diplomatic passengers filed against Aulick with the Department of State. By the end of 1851 Aulick was ordered to be removed from command of the squadron, although he continued to lead it until his replacement arrived late in 1852. Aulick left the East Indian Squadron on February 9, 1853, at Hong Kong and returned to the United States in May. His successor, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, with a larger fleet, completed Aulick’s mission and became famous for opening Japan to the West, one of the major American diplomatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Despite the Navy Department’s official acceptance of Aulick’s denial of the charges against him, his long career effectively ended with his removal from command of the East India Squadron, a blow that devastated him. He remained on active duty as a senior captain awaiting orders until placed on the retired list on December 21, 1861. He spent much of the American Civil War (1861–1865) years touring Europe and was promoted to commodore on the retired list on March 12, 1867, after more than fifty-seven years in the navy and twenty-three years and nine months of sea duty.

Aulick died in Washington on April 27, 1873, of softening of the brain and was buried in the city’s Congressional Cemetery with his wife, who had died on September 19, 1866. The Navy named two destroyers for Aulick in the twentieth century.

MAP
TIMELINE
ca. 1791
John Henry Aulick is born in Winchester.
November 1809
John H. Aulick enters the U.S. Navy as a midshipman.
1812
John H. Aulick commands the forecastle on the schooner Enterprise during the War of 1812.
June 1814
John H. Aulick is aboard the brig Rattlesnake when it surrenders to the British during the War of 1812. He will spend eight months in captivity.
March 1815
After spending eight months in British captivity, John H. Aulick returns to duty aboard the frigate United States.
1831
John H. Aulick is promoted to master commandant (later redesignated commander) and is assigned to ordnance duty at the Washington Navy Yard, in Washington, D.C.
1834
John H. Aulick receives command of his first ship, the sloop Vincennes, which is stationed in the Pacific.
July 1835—June 1836
John H. Aulick cruises around the world investigating trade conditions and the treatment of American citizens abroad.
May 1838—September 1842
John H. Aulick returns to Washington, D.C., on a posting as a second officer of the navy yard and acting commandant.
March 7, 1843
John H. Aulick returns to Washington D.C. Navy Yard a third time, taking charge as commandant.
February 1846
John H. Aulick commands the frigate Potomac on Caribbean patrol.
March 1847
During the Mexican War, John H. Aulick commands the Potomac during the siege of Vera Cruz.
December 7, 1850
John H. Aulick receives orders to command the East India Squadron. Later that month he is assigned as his flagship the new side-wheel steamer Susquehanna.
June 1851
As commander of the East India Squadron, John H. Aulick sails to Japan on the Susquehanna to negotiate a treaty of amity and commerce with the Japanese government.
February 8, 1853
John H. Aulick leaves the East India Squadron in Hong Kong after President Milliard Fillmore orders his removal from command. His successor, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, will complete Aulick's mission and becomes famous for opening Japan to the West, one of the major American diplomatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
December 21, 1861
John H. Aulick is placed on the U.S. Navy retired list.
April 4, 1867
John H. Aulick is promoted to commodore on the retired list of the U.S. Navy after more than fifty-seven years in the navy and twenty-three years and nine months of sea duty.
April 27, 1873
John H. Aulick dies in Washington, D.C., of softening of the brain and is buried in the Congressional Cemetery in that city.
FURTHER READING
  • Melia, Tamara Moser. “Aulick, John Henry.” In The Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1, edited by John T. Kneebone, J. Jefferson Looney, Brent Tarter, and Sandra Gioia Treadway, 249–250. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998.
CITE THIS ENTRY
APA Citation:
Melia, Tamara & Dictionary of Virginia Biography. John H. Aulick (1790–1873). (2022, February 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/aulick-john-h-ca-1791-1873.
MLA Citation:
Melia, Tamara, and Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "John H. Aulick (1790–1873)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Feb. 2022). Web. 25 Sep. 2022
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