American rajah on Borneo 1865-66

I am looking for info on one specific event, a U.S. Navy ship's arrival in Manila harbor in 1865 or 1866. It is how the navy learned an American had been installed as the "Rajah of Ambong and Marudu" to start a colony on north coast of Borneo. I read about this some years ago but can't find the source now. As I remember it, a ship of the new Asiatic Squadron went to Manila to fix or replace a broken water condenser. On arrival the commander was confronted by Spanish imperial officials, civilian and military, asking if the U.S. meant to annex the Philippines. I already have info about the colony-to-be and people it. Would like to know the date, ship involved and circumstances of its arrival at Manila and the encounter with Spanish officialdom. Annual reports of the secretary of the navy list ports called on by Asiatic Squadron but no details of this event. National Archives records of naval operating forces (NARA Record Group 313.2.1, Records of the Asiatic Squadron) don't go back that far according to the summary posted online. Old writings about different events aroiund that time cite "Asiatic Squadron Letters" but I don't know where those are housed or how to access them. Squadron commander was Rear-Admiral Henry H. Bell. Ships included the Hartford (flagship), Monocacy, Wachusett, Palos and Ashuelot overlapping with Wyoming, Iroquois, Yorktown, maybe others. Sultan of Brunei who gave the commission and lease for an American colony was Abdul Momim. American consul to Borneo was Charles Lee Moses. The American rajah was Joseph W. Torrey. Any help you can give greatly appreciated.


    Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!

    To start your research we would recommend you looking into Record Group 45: Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library. The National Archives at Washington D.C. holds custody of microfilm publication: Letters Received from Commanding Officers of Squadrons, February 16, 1841–November 11, 1886 (RG 45, Entry 45, NAID: 1789369). These records are arranged for the most part by squadron and then chronologically and found on Microfilm Publication M89. They have also been digitized and can be found on our online catalog at: To review the records researchers can click the blue "Search Within This Series" icon on the page.

    - In particular we would recommend looking through rolls 251 "Asiatic Squadron: Volume 258: August 1, 1865 - December 31, 1866" (Rear-Admiral Henry H. Bell - USS Hartford)

    Additionally, there is a records series: Area File of the Naval Records Collection, 1775-1910 (Entry 517). These records can be found in Record Group 45: Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library and are arranged by geographical area, and thereunder chronologically. These records consist of letters, telegrams, radio messages and maps removed or copied from the Office of the Secretary of the Navy, Bureau of Navigation, Office of Naval Intelligence, and other Naval Departments. These records have been digitized and are available online. For information about these resources, please consult our webpage Please note that researchers can access these online resources free of charge from any NARA facility.

    We invite you to continue the conversation with community members on History Hub, but should you have follow-up questions for the staff at Archives 1 related to the records, please email us at so that we can assist you further.

    We hope this assists you with your research!

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  • Very helpful. Thank you. On my own I found out about the "Squadron Letters 1841-1886" collection on microfilm. I did not know about the second collection you mentioned, "Area Files of the Naval Records Collection, 1775-1810, Entry 517. So thanks again for that. I have contacted a NARA researcher to have a look at the microfilm reels for me. --Gary Wesman, Erie, PA

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