After taking possession of Louisiana in December, 1803, the United States began a long process of establishing sovereignty over the formerly colonial territory. Securing the Gulf Coast and commerce through New Orleans through military power became of paramount importance. The United States Navy, especially, established a series of bases around New Orleans from which to launch offensive and defensive voyages throughout the Caribbean Sea.

As the number of sailors in New Orleans increased, so too did the need for adequate medical care for sailors. In 1811, the United States Congress passed a resolution to establish official Naval Hospitals at several ports. A dispute about the slavery and commercial practices boiled over into a bureaucratic spat on the occasion of the establishment of a United States Naval Hospital in New Orleans.

The documents in this archive center around that dispute and its key players - Dr. Lewis Heermann, Robert Morrell, the enslaved men and/or women whose labor made the hospital function, and Daniel T. Patterson, commanding officer of the New Orleans station. The digital infrastructure enables the collection of sources from geographically distant archives into a single collection of sources dedicated to the same historical account.