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James Russell Soley (1 October 1850 – 11 September 1911) was a lawyer and Naval historian and in the Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the U.S. Navy.


Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Soley graduated from Harvard College in 1870. He was appointed Assistant Professor of Ethics and English at the United States Naval Academy on 1 October 1871. Only two years later, he became Head of the Department of English Studies, History, and Law.

On 9 June 1882, Soley was assigned to the Bureau of Navigation. He served as Superintendent of the naval war records office and he headed the Navy Department Library: Office of Naval Records and Library. During this duty, Soley began the collection of the naval documents of the American Civil War and started the editorial work which culminated in the publication of the 31-volume collection, The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. These years also saw the publication of several of Soley's books and articles on American naval history.

In 1884, Commodore Stephen B. Luce appointed Soley instructor in International Law at the newly established United States Naval War College, thereby becoming that institution's first civilian faculty member.

While serving in Washington, D.C., Soley studied law at Columbian University (now called George Washington University) and received his law degree in 1890. On 16 July 1899, he resigned his commission so that he would be free to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

After retiring from public service in March 1893, Soley practiced law in New York City, specializing in international law. In this field, he won renown as counsel for Venezuela, in 1899 during the arbitration at Paris with the United Kingdom over the Venezuelan boundary dispute which had culminated in the Venezuela Crisis of 1895.

Soley died in New York City on 11 September 1911.[1]


USS Soley (DD-707) was named for him.



This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Naval History & Heritage Command.

Government offices
Preceded by
William Faxon
Assistant Secretary of the Navy
July 18, 1890 – March 19, 1893
Succeeded by
William McAdoo

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