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Seth Ledyard Phelps

Seth Ledyard Phelps (January 31, 1824 - June 24, 1885) was an American naval officer, politician, and diplomat. He served with distinction in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War and afterward was appointed president of the Board of Commissioners of the District of Columbia and then as U.S. Minister to Peru.


Phelps was born on January 13, 1824 in Chardon, Ohio, and enlisted in the Navy shortly before his eighteenth birthday in October 1841,[1] rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Phelps was commanding the gunboat USS Conestoga. He gained command of two additional timberclad gunboats, the USS Tyler and USS Lexington, and as such was instrumental in the Union victory at the Battle of Fort Henry on the Tennessee River in 1862, in which he served as part of General Ulysses S. Grant's invasion force.

After the war, in 1875, his onetime commander Grant (now President of the United States) nominated Phelps to serve on the temporary Board of Commissioners. When Congress made it official in 1878, Phelps was elected as the permanent Board's first president. He served for one year, resigning on November 29, 1879.[2]

In 1883, President Chester A. Arthur appointed Phelps Minister to Peru, where he served until his death on June 24, 1885. He was buried in Washington at Oak Hill Cemetery.[3]

Phelps Vocational School in Northeast DC is named for Phelps. Additionally, his home at 15 Logan Circle in Washington still stands and has been designated a national Historic Landmark.

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Preceded by
William Dennison
President of the D.C. Board of Commissioners
Succeeded by
Josiah Dent
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Stephen A. Hurlbut
United States Minister to Peru
April 24, 1884 – June 24, 1885
Succeeded by
Charles W. Buck

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