With the recent thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba, I was reminded of a letter we have in our collection. The letter was written by a surgeon in the US Navy serving on the U.S.S. New York during the Battle of Santiago de Cuba (1898).
Dr. Raymond Spear’s father, John C. Spear, was also a naval surgeon. Dr. John C. Spear was a veteran of the Civil War, and he settled in Norristown with his family when he retired in 1888. Raymond Spear (who was born in Nice, France) graduated from Norristown High School in 1890 and went on to study at the University of Pennsylvania and Jefferson Medical College.
When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Dr. Spear was assigned to the U.S.S. New York, an armed cruiser. The U.S.S. New York was taking Admiral William T. Sampson to a meeting with Major General William Shafter, when the Spanish fleet attempted to break through the American blockade. In the following battle, the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, the U.S. Navy destroyed most of the Spanish fleet.
In his letter to a friend in Norristown, written about two weeks later on July 18th, Spear covers the battle with the phrase, “Our work around Santiago is justly well finished.” He goes on to speculate on where they might be sent next.
“If we have our own pick we would make a straight line for the coast of Spain and raise thunder over there.”
Spear continued to serve in the Navy until his retirement in 1930. He settled in California where he died in 1937.