Marine societies began to appear in America during the mid-eighteenth century, with the Boston Marine Society (1742) and the Salem Marine Society (1766) being among the oldest. By 1860 these organizations were prominent in many port cities of the United States. They were comprised of seamen or mariners who applied and met various requirements for membership. The primary objective was to provide relief and assistance for aged or disabled members and their families. Most societies, however, also sought to establish lighthouses and other navigational aids for their local waterways. In a broader context, marine societies often promoted maritime education and safety, while extending economic or social assistance to their membership and their community.
Membership Certificate No. 407, from the Salem Marine Society to John B. Knight, 31 January 1839. Detailed nautical engravings frequently appear on these documents, in addition to the society’s seal and the signatures of the appropriate officers. (Mss Coll., Peabody Museum, Salem, MA. Photo by Mark Sexton.)