New MORGAN-related Acquisition

In October of 1859 Captain James Hamilton took over command of the CHARLES W. MORGAN for a voyage to the Pacific and the Arctic Oceans. Along the way the MORGAN made stops in Chile, Hawaii and Japan among other places. The MORGAN left New Bedford a few weeks before John Brown’s famous raid on Harper’s Ferry and returned home, surprisingly safely, during the midst of the Civil War in 1863, nearly four years after departing. When she left, James Buchanan was president. When she returned, Abraham Lincoln was dealing with the recent defeat of Union forces at Chancellorsville where total casualties for both sides totaled more than 30,000 men.

Prices had escalated during the war and the MORGAN’s return grossed over $165,000, making it the MORGAN’s most successful voyage of her career. The MORGAN, however, did have a few casualties of her own during the voyage. A journal kept on board by Hamilton notes that seaman Francis Lacock drowned after being dragged out of a whaleboat, the second mate had a finger amputated by the captain after a whale gun exploded, and a boatsteerer, M.A. Brady, fell from the mast top and broke his jaw in multiple places.

The image here represents one of the ship’s papers for the 1859-63 voyage. The G.W. Blunt White Library also holds Hamilton’s journal of the voyage. This paper, a four-language sea letter (17″ by 22″) was recently purchased at auction and carries the signatures of President Buchanan, Secretary of State Lewis Cass and Deputy Director of Customs, James Taylor, listed as the Notary Public. The seal of the United States can be clearly seen in the detail image.

(click image to enlarge)

The following description of a sea letter is excerpted from Doug Stein’s American Maritime Documents:

“The term ‘Sea Letter’ has been used to describe any document issued by a government or monarch to one of its merchant fleet, which established proof of nationality and guaranteed protection for the vessel and her owners. However, it is the Sea Letter used by the United States after 1789 that is of particular interest here.

The 1822 edition of The Merchants and Shipmaster’s Assistant described the Sea Letter as a document which ‘specifies the nature of the cargo and the place of destination,’ and says that is was only required for vessels bound to the Southern Hemisphere… In 1859 the document was defined as part of the ship’s papers when bound on a foreign voyage, ‘…it is written in four languages, the French, Spanish, English, and Dutch, and is only necessary for vessels bound round Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope.’

The statement within the document conveys in part that the vessel described is owned entirely by American citizens, and requests that all ‘Prudent Lords, Kings, Republics, Princes, Dukes, Earls, Barons, Lord, Burgomasters, Schepens, Consullors…’ etc., treat the vessel and her crew with fairness and respect. The signatures of the President of the United Stated, the Secretary of State, and the customs collector appear, usually in the middle portion of the document. Sea Letters are mentioned in the formative maritime legislation forged by the new Federal governments. Like passports, they provided additional evidence of ownership an nationality, but the criteria by which a shipmaster utilized one document over the other is not completely clear. It was explained at the time that both documents were ‘rendered necessary of expedient by reason of treaties with foreign powers,’ a statement which suggests that certain nations required a particular document because of existing agreements with the United States.

In any case the Sea Letter was valid for only a single voyage, and a bond does not seem to have been required. Neither was it to be returned to the collector when the voyage was completed. Indications are that, as the years progressed, Sea Letters were being used more often by whaling ships than by merchant vessels, perhaps because American whalers fished in areas where this document was preferred as proof of national origin.”

Mystic Seaport continues to collect such documents through purchase and gift on a regular basis. This particular paper was a nice find for the collection and we look forward to making additional discoveries in the future.

Mark Twain and the Whaling Captain

Captain James Smith left whaling to become a packet captain and a foil for Mark Twain.

The painting seen below depicts Captain James F. Smith of New London, one of five brothers who were whaling captains out of that port. All had successful careers and their combined return on all their voyages grossed over 1.2 million dollars. Quite an accomplishment for the mid-19th century.

Captain James F. Smith. Mystic Seaport Accession Number 1939.1295

To get ahead and succeed in such a business obviously took a bit of spunk and our man James seems to certainly have had a surfeit of it.  The whaleships he commanded, beginning in 1824, were the COMMODORE PERRY, the PHOENIX, the BINGHAM, the COLUMBIA and the HIBERNIA. According to former Mystic Seaport Curator Edouard Stackpole, Smith had quite a reputation as a rough and tumble captain with one story having him “beating the tar” out of a rival British whaling master while ashore in some foreign port.

After leaving whaling, Smith sailed packets for some years between San Francisco and Hawaii. It was on a trip to Hawaii as a passenger that Smith achieved the dubious honor of becoming a character in not one, but two different stories written by Mark Twain. It seems that on the passage to Hawaii on board the ship AJAX in 1866 Twain met Smith (alias “Captain Cuttle” per Twain) who was accompanied by two New London whaling captains, Asa Fish (“Captain Fitch”) and W.H. Phillips (“Captain Phelps”). In a spate of writing that launched his career, Twain wrote a series of letters from Hawaii  for the Sacramento Union in 1866. In them he writes about all three captains and their boisterous card games where they engaged in nautical repartee and drank copious amounts of whiskey (nineteen gallons according to Twain).  Smith also appears as the “Old Admiral” in Twain’s Roughing It. The introduction of Smith in the book is as follows: “And then there was “the old Admiral” – a retired whaleman.  He was a roaring, terrific combination of wind and lightning and thunder, and earnest, whole-hearted profanity. But nevertheless he was tender-hearted as a girl. He was a raving, deafening, devastating typhoon, laying waste the cowering seas, but with an unvexed refuge in the center where all comers were safe at rest.”

It is difficult to imagine that the serene person in the painting  with one of his whaleships in the background could be a “roaring, terrific combination of wind and lightning and thunder,” but then again, looks can be deceiving.


America Enters WWI 100 Years Ago

American artists created dramatic works to support the war effort in 1917-18.

One hundred years ago this month, in November of 1917, America suffered its first casualties on the battlefields of Europe. During the one year that the United States would be engaged in the war, over 100,000 Americans would lose their lives with nearly twice as many being wounded. The war to end all wars required a  tremendous amount of ships to get those American troops and wartime supplies to the allies on the continent.

The U.S. Shipping Board, organized in 1916 to regulate U.S. merchant shipping, created the Emergency Fleet Corporation in 1917 once the U.S entered the war. The EFC was created specifically to oversee the vast shipbuilding programs that would be needed during the war. In its early stages, the EFC was managed by General George Goethals of Panama Canal fame. However, infighting, corruption and other problems plagued the organization and millionaire Edward Hurley was eventually brought in as chairman to create some stability.

In addition to building ships for the war effort, one thing the U.S. Shipping Board and Emergency Fleet Corporation did very well was to hire artists to create dramatic propaganda posters to raise money to support U.S endeavors. The poster seen below was produced by artist James Henry Daugherty who trained at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. Interestingly enough, Daugherty became best known for writing and illustrating children’s books, winning both the Caldecott and Newbury awards during his lifetime.

The Ships Are Coming. Mystic Seaport Accession Number 1971.234.9

Other heroic posters showing shipbuilders, soldiers and sailors created for the period included titles such as “Rivets are Bayonets, Drive Them Home!”; “Teamwork Builds Ships”; “On the Job for Victory”; “Make Every Minute Count for Pershing.” And many more.

While the EFC and the Shipping Board continued to have managerial problems after the war, many of the artists went on to bigger and better things as evidenced by Daugherty’s success.

Artistic Inspiration at Sea

A new book about illustrations by whalemen has connections to Mystic Seaport collection.

Michael P. Dyer is the Senior Maritime Historian at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. He recently wrote a book entitled “O’er the Wide and Tractless Sea: Original Art of the Yankee Whale Hunt.” In the book are a myriad of illustrations created by whalemen in logbooks and journals depicting the hunt and much more. In a New York Times interview Dyer notes that he had “not yet been able to connect a whaling scene drawn in a journal with a whaling scene engraved on a whale’s tooth.” However, a number of other interesting connections can be made between ships, sailors, illustrations and objects.

Published 2017, Old Dartmouth Historical Society, New Bedford, MA.

The following image is taken from a journal in the New Bedford collection. Sailing out of Mystic, Connecticut in 1843, seaman Washington Foster kept this finely illustrated journal during a voyage to the Indian Ocean in search of elephant seals, more commonly known to sailors as sea elephants. Like whales, sea elephants were killed for their blubber which could be boiled down into oil that could be used for lubrication and lighting.

Washington Foster Journal. From Dyer’s “O’er the Wide and Tractless Sea” , page 101.

Mystic Seaport has an object directly related to the journal kept by Foster and while it was supposedly used as a club in the killing of the giant seals that can range between 3 and 4 tons in weight and 15 to 20 feet in length, it is likely that it was kept more as a showpiece than a killing tool. A heavy sperm whale tooth with a handle bound in rope, the carver’s name and ship and date appear on one side, while the other side has this unusual and imaginative scene probably dreamed up after reading one of the many books on pirates and shipwrecks of the period.

Sea Elephant Club by Washington Foster. MSM accession number 1939.2077

The scantily clad woman bound to the ship awaits a savior while crying out, “Help, Help, Help. Is there nowon to save the fair damsle from the freebooters lewd embrase.” It’s clear that Foster, like so many other whalers and sealers of the time, had an active artistic streak and kept himself occupied during the long sailing days with pen, ink, paints and scimshanding tools. Michael Dyer’s book is a tremendous resource for examining the art of the whaleman and is a great jumping-off point to make other connections to the creative side of these roamers of the world’s oceans.

New MORGAN Model Gift

Mystic Seaport receives a new gift in the form of a miniature ship model of the CHARLES W. MORGAN.

Literally thousands of people over the years have built models of the CHARLES W. MORGAN. Some makers used kits to build full-rigged models of the whaler, including at least one kit that was made for a “MORGAN in the bottle” model. We have one kit in our collection that was originally produced in 1939. MORGAN plans are one of our hottest sellers in the Ships Plans collection and many have used the lines from here to make their own hand-crafted version of the pride of our Museum. We field calls weekly from people who want to donate their, or their family member’s, home-made model. Unfortunately, the Museum only has so much space to house models and if we accepted every MORGAN model offered to us we’d have no room for any other model, and we have nearly a thousand. Any MORGAN model we accept has to be truly exceptional. For example, we have one that was given to us a number of years ago that was made by master model maker Lloyd McCaffrey.

Lloyd’s miniature cutaway model is extraordinary, with exposed interior accommodations and a center section of built-up frames all of which are treenail fastened. The mid-ship section shows interior ceiling planks installed and authentic stowage of gear and whale oil casks.  On deck includes all appropriate furniture, fittings and details (binnacle, skylights, anchors, companionways, windlass, hatches, tryworks, cooper’s bench, etc). It is a truly magnificent piece and any maritime museum would be thrilled to have it.

We feel the same way about a new MORGAN model that just came in to us from a California collector and member. This model is more than a model. The creator of this model was highlighted in an article in the Fall/Winter issue of Mystic Seaport Magazine by Curator Fred Calabretta. In the article Fred quotes the model maker, Alexander Law, as stating that he feels his models are more akin to marine fine arts because of the detail he puts into the map making that graces the base under the model; the research that goes into creating the model and the scene; the cabinetry work to create the base and more. We have a fine collection of Law models that came to the Museum in 1961, so it is very satisfying to add one of the Museum’s flagship, the CHARLES W. MORGAN, this year.

Model of the CHARLES W. MORGAN by Alexander Law. A 2017 donation.

Dozens of museums around the globe have exquisite models of the MORGAN, making her one of the best-known vessels in the world. Go to the website for the 38th voyage of the MORGAN and you can see why so many people remain excited about this icon of American sea voyaging, and why we are excited to have such a fine representation of the whaler in miniature.

The Map and Chart Collection at Mystic Seaport

Two grants from private foundations helped to arrange, describe and create a database of the chart and map collection at Mystic Seaport, a heretofore underutilized collection.

Beginning in the early 1930’s, Mystic Seaport began collecting, among many other things, charts and maps of the entire world. Many of the charts we received came as parts of larger gifts that included logbooks and business papers of ships from ports up and down the east coast. Many of the charts were used aboard ship and show the wear and tear of numerous sea journeys as well as the penciled tracks that the ships folowed on their trek around the globe. One such chart in our possession belonged to Mystic captain Joseph Warren Holmes, someone who spent almost his entire life at sea. Indeed, Holmes holds the record for any sailing ship captain going around Cape Horn on journeys between the east and west coast. 84 times around the Horn.

Captain Joseph Warren Holmes of Mystic, CT. Photograph accession number 1937.63

And we have the charts he used on many of those trips. One such chart shows the penciled markings of numerous trips around the Horn with many separate lines converging at the tip of South America to form one thick, black line that looks as if the good captain was using fat-tipped magic markers instead of a pencil.

Some incredible people represented in our collection of well over 10,000 charts and maps include Irving and Exy Johnson, the husband and wife team that began taking young adults around the world on adventures in the 1930’s. We have hundreds of the charts used by the Johnsons as  they made there way to Tahiti, New Guinea and other exotic areas both before and after World War II.

Other charts express the American spirit of enterprise and exploration. The whalers of the early to mid-1800’s who ventured into the unknown in search of their quarry whose oil would light the lamps of the world. Below is an advertising label that appears on one of those charts used by a whaler out of New Bedford.

Most of the charts and maps date from the 19th and 20th centuries, but there are a number that predate the period as well, such as the collection of charts from 1671 called the English Pilot and published by John Seller. As the world experiences rising sea levels, accurate charts such as the Atlantic Neptune, a series of detailed charts of the American coastline published by the British Admiralty in the late 18th century, can be used to compare the current coastal outlines to those of centuries past.

Two grants over the last three years from the Acorn Foundation and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, gave us the resources to hire an expert to both assess and catalog the collection to make it more readily accessible to our research community.

Title page from The English Pilot, 1671.

The chart and map collection is one of many truly extraordinary collections at Mystic Seaport. You can see the description of the entire collection and the list of charts here.

21st Century Drone Meets a 19th Century Clock

Museum staff use a drone to understand conservation issues on a 19th- century tower clock.

Back in February, volunteer Jim Anderson was interviewed for an article about the work he and another volunteer, Bill Michael, were doing on the Museum’s 1857 tower clock located in the Greenmanville Church. You can see that article here. In it, Jim talks of the challenges the two men faced in repairing the mechanism that runs the four separate clock faces, one for each face of the tower. While Jim and Bill have worked wonders with the clock, they still face a few challenges to keep the clock running regularly.

One issue that raises its ugly head on occasion is the fact that the clock stops before the regular rewinding because of a problem with hands on one of the faces binding. Because the problem seems to be on the exterior of the building, and the building is quite high, the two decided to contact our Film and Video crew to help troubleshoot the matter. That’s right, film and video. You see, Dan Harvison and Brandon Morgan, the creative team that shoots and produces much of the Museum’s programs, have been trained in operating a drone for their work. In order to get some good shots of the clock hands to see how they are attached on the outside of the building, Dan was asked to pilot the mosquito-sounding drone close enough to the tower to try and get appropriately detailed images to analyze the problem. Once the issues are identified, someone will still need to get in a lift and take their tools up to do the job, but our hope is that we will only need to employ the bucket lift once, rather than twice. See some images of the shooting below.

Dan Harvison operates the drone under the watchful eyes of Anderson, Michael and O’Pecko.
The drone moves in for a close-up of the east clock face.

A Packet Ship’s Demise and a Book’s Salvation

When the Packet Ship Leeds wrecked in 1828, Mate George Kurtz rescued one of the ship’s library books.

In 1828 George Kurtz left New York City as the mate of the ship LEEDS on its last voyage as an American packet ship. Kurtz, born in Philadelphia in 1803, had received his seaman’s protection certificate in the port of New York in January of the previous year. The LEEDS had been a Liverpool packet from 1823 until 1828, beginning her career about 5 years after the commencement of the American packet trade. Packet ships were vessels that sailed on a regular schedule, whether they had a full cargo hold and passenger contingent or not.

According to Robert G. Albion in his book Square Riggers on Schedule about the packet trade, the LEEDS lasted only 6 years in packet service after some unusual happenings over the years. Early in her career she was grounded in the Mersey River at Liverpool and only survived because she was so strongly built. Another episode had her Captain discharged for trying to smuggle contraband in a bale of hay. Her final indignity was suffered on Christmas Eve of 1828, soon after she became a London packet. She ran aground in the Thames and was “bilged” according to the Shipping and Commercial List and New York Price Current for February 14, 1829. The March 11 issue of the same paper noted that Captain Sprague had to sell her after the vessel was condemned on January 21st.

The image above is taken from the inside cover of a book from the LEEDS’ ship’s library. The penmanship belongs to our friend George Kurtz who must have rescued the book the day before the vessel was condemned. There are two unusual things about the image. The first being Kurtz’ use of the word “police” after the phrase “lost on the Thames.” The second is the unusual ship’s stamp on the right hand side. This coat of arms, if you will, of the ship says “Packet Ship Leeds New York and L’pool.” In addition to the triumvirate of owls shown, the shield seems to bear the image of some form of livestock (cow or pig) being carried by a bird of some sort.

Captain Benjamin Sprague of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, had been a packet ship captain for about 5 years prior to his losing the LEEDS. He does not appear as a packet captain afterwards. George Kurtz, however, appears at least once as a captain in 1839 aboard the ship OHIO trading between New York and New Orleans. The book that was saved by George is The Percy Anecdotes, by Sholto and Reuben Percy, published in New York in 1822.

The name at the top of the page, James Brown Bach, is a bit of a mystery. He may have been another crew member, but that is unknown at this point. However, it seems likely that he is the James Brown Bach who was born in 1808 and died when he was only 33 years old. His name appears on a passenger list returning to New York from London in October of 1829. His son, James Brown Bach, would go on to be a pioneer in American baseball in forming the Niagara Club in Buffalo, New York, in the mid-1850’s according to the book Base Ball Pioneers, 1850-1870.

The Percy Anecdotes was brought to the G.W. Blunt White Library by one of our many dedicated volunteers.

Early Lithograph at Mystic Seaport

The CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON is a fine example of an early American lithograph.

The lithograph of the steamer CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON is a fine example of an early black and white lithograph at Mystic Seaport. A group of print aficionados recently visited Curator Fred Calabretta for a look at some of the Museum’s finer prints and the print seen below was pointed out as a fine example from one of the earliest lithography companies in America.

Lithograph, CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON, Accession Number 1961.43, Mystic Seaport

Lithography in the United States started coming into its own in the 1820’s and the firm of William and John Pendleton in Boston was one of the premier producers of lithographs at the time, employing and training a host of young artists, including Fitz Hugh (now known as Fitz Henry) Lane, Moses Swett, Benjamin Nutting and others. Nathaniel Currier of Currier and Ives got his early training there beginning at the age of 15.

The steamboat CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON was built in New York in 1816 and was used on the Hudson River route from New York to Albany and in 1825 headed the procession of boats to New York from Albany after the official opening of the Erie Canal. In 1827 she was sold to go into service on Long Island Sound, but needed to be rebuilt first, giving her the appearance that you see above.

We can date this print pretty accurately to the spring of 1828 for two reasons. The print shows her going into Newport, Rhode Island and it was in the spring of that year that she began her New York to Providence run. Also, the artist that produced the image for the lithograph was Moses Swett who left Pendleton’s that year to join the Senefelder Lithographic Co. His first lithograph for the company appeared in June of 1828, so it seems to be a pretty tight window in which this print would have been published.

The Museum boasts a remarkable print collection pertaining to the American maritime experience and this one is certainly one of the pioneering pieces.

When Trophies Were Trophies!

The Palladium trophy is a magnificent reminder of late 19th-century yacht races.

During the 1880’s and 1890’s, silver yachting trophies were often presented to clubs by influential members. There were Goelet Cups named for New York land baron Ogden Goelet. The famous Astor cups were contributed by John Jacob Astor. As time went on, the trophies seemed to get more ornate, gaudy and expensive. The bigger clubs obviously seemed to have some of the more elaborate silver pieces.

However, one of our most lavishly decorated trophies belonged to a club that did not have the reputation or membership numbers of clubs such as the New York Yacht Club. The Palladium Trophy seen here was not for a transatlantic race or a race of major schooners, but for a race among sandbaggers. The sandbagger STRANGER, at 27 feet in length with a two foot draft, won the trophy in 1887, 1888 and 1889. Not a bad piece of hardware for the owner of a small racing boat.

Palladium Trophy. Mystic Seaport accession number 1957.291

This sandbagger trophy was originally donated by the “Palladium”, the forerunner of the “New Haven Register”. When the New Haven Yacht Club closed in the 1940’s, this trophy was given to the club’s last commodore, William G. Newton. It was then donated to Mystic Seaport in 1957 and accepted by then-curator Edouard Stackpole. This magnificent piece is inscribed “New Haven Yacht Club/ Fall Regatta, Oct. 6th 1887/ Won by Sloop “Stranger”/ 7th Annual Spring Regatta June 12th 1888/ Won by Sloop “Stranger”/ 8th Annual Regatta (Re-sailed) July 18th 1889/ Won by Sloop “Stranger”.

It is gold-lined, on 4 feet, each with a dolphin-tailed figure of a boy blowing a horn. The bowl measures 17-1/4″ from foot to foot and is 14-1/4″ in diameter. It has an overall height of 26-1/4″. Atop the piece is a 9-1/2″ high figure of Neptune with a raised trident standing in a gold-lined shell atop the cover. He has an armor skirt and shoulder scarf which are gold. Both the base and the bowl have borders of sailboats and the cover is even more ornate with a floral design. The hallmark for the trophy reads “Rogers Smith/ & Co/ Meriden/ Quadruple/ 2000.” It is truly a sight to behold.

Shipwreck! Starvation! And What Follows…..

Sensationalism in print sold just as well in the early 19th century as it does now. Fine young cannibals, indeed!

Who knew what tales of woe could hide in a little rare book from the 1830’s? A new addition to the collection at the G.W. Blunt White Library is only about 18 pages long and measures, in size, about 3 inches by 5 inches. But in it are three tales of shipwreck, the most gruesome of which is illustrated here. The book is so tender that we decided to photograph it immediately to make it available digitally, since the binding is so tight that just opening it can do damage to it. Thankfully, not the kind of damage that has been done to a few of the shipmates in the picture. This particular story recounts the hardships of the crew of the ship ANNE and MARY of Galway in 1750 and is somewhat reminiscent of the story of the whaleship ESSEX in that crew members drew lots to see who would become the first supper for the rest of the gang. Whether the story is true (fake news anyone?) has yet to be determined, although it, and the two other stories of shipwrecks bound along with it, seems to have been lifted verbatim from the Mariners Chronicle, another book of shipwreck stories, from 1826.

Incas, Guano and Clipper Ships

In 1860 Captain George Blunt Wendell was engaged in hauling guano from Peru to the United States. In addition to the fertilizer he carried, he brought home a piece of Incan history.

As a young man George Blunt Wendell joined a counting house in Portsmouth, New Hampshire as an apprentice. However, in 1847 he commenced his seafaring career as a cabin boy and 3 years later became first mate on a voyage. Wendell’s first command was in 1853 and by 1860 he commanded the clipper GALATEA. It was often that a ship master was found to be a thorough seaman and smart navigator, but a poor merchant. Wendell however, used his mercantile knowledge obtained in the counting house to good advantage, and his voyages usually proved profitable for the vessel’s owners and himself.

Clipper GALATEA, owned by WIlliam Weld. George B. Wendell, master. MSM acc. # 1943.1156

Some of his last voyages were involved in carrying cargoes of guano from the Chincha Islands on the coast of Peru. Hundreds of American ships were among the multi-national fleets that hauled guano in the mid-19th century. Sea-bird guano was a valuable commodity, especially as a fertilizer, and the Chincha Islands near Callao, Peru were the best source. In a collection of Wendell’s papers in the G.W. Blunt White Library, given to the Museum by Wendell’s son, there is a note from October of 1860 to Capt. Wendell from a Commodore Jones. While it is unclear as to who Jones was, there is speculation that he was part of the Peruvian navy and involved in administration of the port at the Chinchas by the tone of his note. It states: “Dear Sir, I send you by the bearer two small jugs taken out from 300 feet under the guano.” He then follows it with “You must not fire any more guns, as you did last night. It is contrary to the orders of the port and also a fine of $25 for each gun. Yours truly, F.D. Jones.”

Pottery found on Chincha Islands, buried in Guano. The common Incan aribalo had many uses. MSM acc.# 1943.1174

The pre-Columbian Incan vessel seen here, an aribalo, was a very common long-necked vessel used for carrying liquids, among other uses, and was one of  the subjects of Jones’ letter to Captain Wendell. Incas were known to use guano as a fertilizer in their terraced fields, so it is not unusual that this particular artifact might be left behind on one of the islands. Unearthing such an object from beneath tons of such caustic waste centuries later was a side note to the brutal endeavor of mining there. Most laborers in the 19th century were shipped to the islands and coerced by one manner or other to work there, many until they succumbed from the conditions. How he came by it and why Commodore Jones thought to give this particular object to Captain Wendell is unknown, but it is now a unique object within the collection of Mystic Seaport. Other objects, manuscripts and images from Mystic Seaport have been instrumental in publications and exhibits about this odoriferous subject. Current exhibits on guano include the Smithsonian’s The Norie Atlas and the Guano Trade and one section of the new exhibit Sea Change in the brand new Thompson Exhibition Building at Mystic Seaport.




An Arctic Journey and Photographic Legacy

Jonathan Wright was a photographer who accompanied archaeologist and ethnologist John Bockstoce on a 1,600 mile journey across the Arctic in a walrus-skin boat.

If you are like so many other museum goers of a certain age, you have a stash of National Geographic magazines tucked away in a closet, basement or attic. If such is the case, dig through that pile and find the July, 1983 issue. In it you will find an article by former New Bedford Whaling Museum curator (and former Mystic Seaport trustee), John Bockstoce. The article, entitled “Arctic Odyssey”, documents a journey by Bockstoce and associates in a walrus-hide covered umiak across the Canadian Arctic in the late 1970’s. A record of this 1,600 mile journey was also caught with camera lens by photographer Jonathan Wright.

This umiak is now on exhibit at Mystic Seaport.

The current exhibit in the new Thompson Exhibition Building at Mystic Seaport has as one of its “tent pole” objects that very umiak, hanging from the rafters for all to see. Its story is shown in text, stills and taped interviews. A handful of the images that Jonathan Wright took as part of the expedition accompany the exhibit. The beauty of the images taken in such a stark setting speaks to his artist’s eye.

His family was kind enough to loan us the images for the exhibit. Jonathan unfortunately met a tragic end in 1980 on another adventure. A mountaineering accident in an an avalanche in the Tibetan Himalayas cut his time short. He did a number of projects for National Geographic and we are glad that he was one of the crew along for the ride in this umiak.

German Submarine in New London 1916

The German submarine DEUTSCHLAND visited the Unite States in 1916 to promote trans-Atlantic undersea trading during wartime. During this visit she collided with a tug in New London, killing 5 crew members.

There have been a number of news items locally about the anniversary of the visit of the German cargo submarine DEUTSCHLAND to New London in the Fall of 1916. You can read the story from The Day of New London here. The arrival of the sub caused excitement up and down the east coast as she also made her way to Baltimore earlier during the same visit.

A major part of the story in New London, beyond the fact that Americans were warmly welcoming a representative of a combatant in a war that had already claimed American lives, was the loss of five lives in the accidental sinking by the U-boat of a tugboat that was assisting it.

The Museum holds a number of documents pertaining to the sinking of the tug in its collection of papers from the T.A. Scott Company. The T.A. Scott Company was a salvage and wrecking company that owned the tug in question. One of their lawyers felt that the captain of the U-boat, Paul Koenig, should be charged with manslaughter because of the circumstances following the loss of five crew members in the collision.

This postcard from the Museum’s collection shows Koenig and the DEUTSCHLAND

Deutschland Postcard

The following letter was sent by Koenig to the T.A. Scott company expressing his regrets over the sinking.

Koenig Letter

In addition to newspaper stories about the visit to New London, boating magazines of all types also followed the visit of the submarine to America, witness the page from an issue of MotorBoat magazine in 1916.

Deutschland Motorboat

Koenig went on to play a role as an officer in the German Navy in World War I and died in 1933 after returning to his civilian career with the shipping line North German Lloyd.

New Collections and Research Website

For a number of years, many of you have been accustomed to visiting the research pages at If you have had that site bookmarked, you will notice that it now takes you to a completely re-vamped website. The reasons for making the change are many, not least of which was an urgency to save all the organized data which was in danger due to failing hardware. Rather than living on the Museum’s internal servers as has always been the case, our site is now moved to the ever-expanding “cloud”.

The other main reason for the change is the fact that the old site was looking a bit disheveled, having grown like Topsy over the last couple decades. The new site is cleaner and better organized, using pull-down menus to display the multiple elements included on the pages as you can see in the image below.


As with any new venture, the updated site is not without its hiccups, and we invite you to use the “Contact Us” link to let us know about anything that is untoward. Because there are well over a million links in the associated pages (including just under a million in the ship register index alone), we expect individual problems to arise. Also, some elements from the old site are still being converted, but we felt it prudent to switch to the update before any major problems arose.

The new format makes it easier to add new content to the research pages, so stop back in on a regular basis to see what new digital images or databases might be available. Many thanks to David Caldwell for his creativity and knowledge in converting the old site to the new.

A New Look at Greenmanville

This picture, an exceptional photographic panorama of Greenmanville, the area of Mystic in which Mystic Seaport is found, was taken in 1874 by Everett Augustus Scholfield.

With the opening of the new Thompson Exhibition Building at Mystic Seaport, a new era in exhibiting has certainly dawned on the Museum. The 5,000 square foot exhibition space will play host to some extraordinary displays for years to come. However, the gallery space is currently a blank slate waiting for its first installation. In the meantime, new Senior VP for Curatorial Affairs, Nicholas Bell, worked closely with the Exhibitions and Collections Departments to make a bit of a splash in two areas of the new building. The first is in the lobby where a 59-foot-wide mural by artist Nikki McClure graces the space above the entry to the new Collins Gallery. The second, pictured below, is located in the new Masin Conference Room, overlooking the Mystic River and is an exceptional photographic panorama of Greenmanville, the area of Mystic in which Mystic Seaport is found.

Greenmanville. Photo by Everett Scholfield in collection of MSM.
Greenmanville. Photo by Everett Scholfield in collection of MSM.

This picture was taken by a gentleman named Everett Augustus Scholfield, a photographer from Mystic, CT in business from 1865 to 1913. By the time this picture was taken in 1874, Scholfield was a well-established photographer in the area, specializing in portraiture, landscapes, architecture and maritime vessels.

Scholfield was innovative and artistic and used various processes to produce his images over time. The image above was made from a large glass negative in the collection of the Museum. The negative was produced using the collodion process, a method that had many advantages including being able to produce multiple images from the same negative, unlike a daguerreotype. The detail achieved through the use of this process, and the extended exposure time, is quite impressive. The absence of people in the photograph is explained by that exposure time. In a few areas, “ghosts” can be seen as people move in and out of camera view while the glass plate is being exposed.

Achieving a “clean” picture to print in such a large format was achieved through the magic of Photoshop and the diligence of one of our photographers, Joe Michael, removing every imperfection in the plate that has deteriorated over time. It is a nice touch to ring in the new with a reflection of the past.

Female Slavers, A Prize Article Winner

The Morris prize this year was given to Maria Vann for her article in the Volume 5, Number 1, 2015 issue entitled Sirens of the Sea: Female Slave Ship Owners of the Atlantic World, 1650-1870.

Each year, the Fellows of the G.W. Blunt White bestow a prize upon the author of the best article written in CORIOLIS: the Interdisciplinary Journal of Maritime Studies. This $1,000 prize is named in memory of the former Director of the library and head of publications, Gerald E. Morris. The Morris prize this year was given to Maria Vann for her article in the Volume 5, Number 1, 2015 issue entitled Sirens of the Sea: Female Slave Ship Owners of the Atlantic World, 1650-1870.

Detail showing an early 18th-century ship on the coast of Benin, Africa.
Detail showing an early 18th-century ship on the coast of Benin, Africa, site of a slave-trading operation. From Thomas Astley’s A New General Colection of Voyages and Travels. 1745.

A graduate of the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies, Ms. Vann is currently the Director of the Marine Museum in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Ms. Vann notes that throughout the active years of the transatlantic slave trade, some European and American women gained economic and social influence by involvement as participants in the slave trade. They challenge the dominant narrative that the slave trade was practiced exclusively by white men. Her article focuses on female slave traders from Britain and American colonies during the period of 1650-1760, with a concentration on New York, the former Dutch colony that fell under English rule after 1764.

Her research is largely based on review of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, slave ship records, newspapers, journals, court records and diaries. Sources were evaluated with intentional focus on women who were previously overlooked. Their existence during the early years of the transatlantic trade challenges common notions about both gender and the slave trade and additionally raises important questions about the role of women slavers in other times and places.

A fascinating study, this article is a well-deserving winner of the Morris Prize Article Contest.

The Art of the Sea (and Harbors)

The Little Sea Torch, published in London in 1801, was a translation of a French book of sailing directions entitled Le Petit Flambeau de la Mer. The author of the translation, John Thomas Serres, was the son of marine artist Dominic Serres and a very accomplished marine artist in his own right.

The Little Sea TorchSerres the younger dedicated the volume to The Right Honorable Earl Spencer, then the First Lord of the Admiralty and one of a number of influential patrons he would have, including both HRH King George III as well as his son the Duke of Clarence. The book, as can be seen from the title page, described the coastal waters and ports of England, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and the Mediterranean region. In addition to the text, Serres illustrated many of the ports in multiple views. Below are just two illustrations among many, these showing a view of the harbor of Naples along with a chart of the Bay of Naples, both executed by Serres.

This book in the collection of the G.W. Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport is just one of many illustrated works on charts, maps and sailing directions, some dating to the mid-17th century. We are fortunate to have had our own patrons over the years to donate such items to our collection and we look forward to adding more such treasures in the future for use by the many researchers who make their way to our collections.

Shake, Rattle and Roll. The Ship IDA in Valparaiso, 1822.

While sailing from Boston towards the Northwest Coast beginning in 1821, the IDA was standing a mile or so off of Valparaiso on the 20th of November 1822, when : “At 11 P.M. We was suddenly alarmed by a violent shock that effected the ship as if she had struck the bottom, all hands sprung on deck and cried out the ship ashore…

The Museum recently acquired a logbook of the Boston ship IDA from 1821 to 1823. The IDA was built in Amesbury, Massachusetts in 1816, and at 115 feet in length and 28 in breadth, she was almost the exact size of the Museum’s own CHARLES W. MORGAN. The following events in Valparaiso, Chile in November of 1822 were the last recorded for the ship, except for a note in the back saying the ship was sold in March of 1823. The customs house in Boston lists the documents for the ship as being returned after the vessel was sold in Buenos Aires in November of 1823.

While sailing from Boston towards the Northwest Coast beginning in 1821, the IDA  was standing a mile or so off of Valparaiso on the 20th of November 1822, when : “At 11 P.M. We was suddenly alarmed by a violent shock that effected the ship as if she had struck the bottom, all hands sprung on deck and cried out the ship ashore, we tried the pumps and hove the deep sea lead, found no water in the ship, nor bottom with 50 fathoms of line, it so much resembled a ship drawing over a coral bank that I was induced to heave the lead, but on reflection knew it was impossible for her to have struck any bottom in so heavy a sea as was on at the time without bilging the bottom in. I then thought of a wreck of a vessel but lastly I imputed it to an earth quake.” Prior to the earthquake, on November 18, the captain had sent a boat ashore at the mouth of the River Maipo at San Antonio, and with much relief  brought the boat back aboard on November 22. “They got on board and informed us that there had been a heavy shock of an earth quake on shore and that Valparaiso had been nearly destroyed and had lost 23 lives in the fall of a Castle.  St. Jago & several of the towns in the interior had suffered severely the inhabitants about the sea coast fled to the mountains for safety fearing that the sea would flow in upon them, animals of every kind on shore appeared to be affected by the shock.”

Valparaiso 1850
A view of Valparaiso circa 1850 from Deck and Port, or Incidents of a Cruise in the U.S. Frigate Congress.

Maria Graham, the wife of a British naval officer residing in Valparaiso during 1822 wrote of the same earthquake and its stressful effects on animals as well in her published journal. “The house received a violent shock, with a noise like the explosion of a mine. I sat still; and Mr. Bennet, starting up, ran out, exclaiming, “An earthquake, an earthquake! For God’s sake follow me!”…The vibration still increasing, the chimneys fell, and I saw the walls of the house fall open.” She continued, “The motion of the earth changed from a quick vibration to a rolling like that of a ship at sea.” As to the animals, “Amid the noise of the destruction before and around us, I heard the lowings of the cattle all the night through; and I heard, too, the screamings of the sea-fowl, which ceased not until the morning.”

While this was one of a number of major earthquakes in the same exact area over the last 200 years, there are few recollections in English of the quake, so this particular view by a sea captain may very well be unique.

This area of Chile is regularly wracked by earthquakes and has seen some of the strongest in history. Thirteen years after the earthquake described above, another earthquake to the south of Valparaiso in Chile was described by Charles Darwin. He arrived in Talcahuano about two weeks after the earthquake and visited Concepcion, the site of the quake. The chart of Valparaiso Bay below was surveyed and drawn by officers of H.M.S. BEAGLE at that time in 1835.

Valparaiso Bay
Chart of Valparaiso Bay surveyed in 1835 by the officers of HMS BEAGLE. Published in London in 1840.

Photo Gramma What??

No, this has nothing to do with sweet ol’ granny sitting for her family portrait. Rather it has everything to do with taking advantage of new technologies in imaging to give virtual (and actual) visitors a more complete view of an object than they could get seeing it laying in a traditional museum display case.

MSM Accession number 1941.430
MSM Accession number 1941.430

Photogrammetry is the term. Photogrammetry is a photographic technique used in measuring distances with cameras, oftentimes for aerial maps and the like, but many museums are using the process (in concert with other scanning procedures) to create visual virtual 3-D models of objects.

If you click on the image it will take you to a 3-D model created by the Rhode Island company named The Digital Ark. The Digital Ark did some tests using a photogrammetric method to create the image you see. They used well over two hundred images of the piece of scrimshaw and stitched them together with software to make a 3-D version of the tooth that can be spun in space and viewed from all sides, giving us the opportunity to display things in an entirely new fashion.

View the tooth in full screen mode by clicking on the two diagonal arrows. Rotate it in space by manipulating the image with your computer mouse or touchpad.

Given to the Museum in 1941 by trustee and collector H.H. Kynett, the tooth in question has on one side patriotic symbols including an American eagle, a shield and cannons with the motto “E Pluribus Unum” and some stylized roses. The other side has an anchor, a 3-masted ship with guns, and a banner displaying the words “Success to our Navy.”

While we are just in the test stages of working with this time-consuming process and technology, we feel it offers tremendous opportunities to show visitors many different types of objects in their entirety that they would not otherwise be able to experience. Wish us luck!

Music Anyone?

Growing up in a small town and attending a two-room schoolhouse as a child, I was fortunate to have some interesting, and interested, teachers. One such was an older woman born a decade or so before World War I who, along with teaching English, Math, Spelling and Geography, inspired her pint-sized students with her avid interest in music.

Having obviously learned her repertoire at her parents’ knees, she animatedly played the piano to accompany her singing of a host of songs from the Gay ‘90’s. All of which we learned as well (and sing to this day). Our Miss Gliha would have loved the collection of sheet music housed in the Collections Research Center at Mystic Seaport.

There are over 1,500 pieces of sheet music at Mystic Seaport, ranging in date from the War of 1812’s The Fearless Tar to the Little Mermaid TV series in 1993. Most have been collected for their nautical content, either in the lyrics of the song or the content of the illustrations on the cover or both. Shown here are a few representations of themes included in the collection. Click on the images to get a better view.

MSM Accession # 1993.35.5
MSM Accession # 1993.35.5

The Three Bells Polka was written in honor of Capt. Creighton of the Glasgow Ship THREE BELLS. In 1854, the THREE BELLS was one of three ships that rescued 500 passengers from the steamer SAN FRANCISCO. Unfortunately, another 200 passengers were lost. Creighton received a medal and $7,500 in cash from the U. S. Government for his efforts in rescuing the people that he managed to take aboard. A polka seems an odd musical form to commemorate such an incident, but Capt. Creighton (or at least his remembrance on paper) now lives on in the museum’s temperature and humidity-controlled Collections Research Center.

MSM Accession # 2002.7.8
MSM Accession # 2002.7.8

Music for Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat was written by William Jerome and Jean Schwartz, popular collaborators in the 1900’s and 1910’s. The song title, best known for the song of the same name in the Broadway musical, Guys and Dolls, is a completely different song, except for the refrain “Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down you’re rocking the boat!” The 1913 version seen here has to do with a young woman fending off the advances of her sailor suitor.

MSM Accession # 2002.103.11
MSM Accession # 2002.103.11

A very colorful cover appears on the music for The Ship I Love, written in 1893 by Felix McGlennon and, as can be seen on the cover, “Sung with immense success by Tom Costello.” The heroic Captain intones from the deck of his sinking ship, “I’ll stick to the ship lads, you save your lives, I’ve no one to love me, you’ve children and wives.”  He finishes the chorus with “But I’ll go down in the angry deep, with the ship I love.”

The number of pieces in the collection attests to the popularity over time of sea-related emotions to either tug at the heart strings of the public, or to entertain them with the farce and silliness. Either way, we have been diligently scanning the collection and hope to have it online in the near future if you wish to try your hand at playing and singing such greats as The Midshipman’s Farewell or The Mermaid’s Cave.

A Tale of Two Launchings

A recent inquiry into the life of Massachusetts mariner Isaac Hinckley once again brought to light his charming watercolor of the launch of his first command, the Brig REAPER.

Launch of Brig REAPER, 1808, by Isaac Hinckley. Manuscript Collection 184, G.W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport.
Launch of Brig REAPER, 1808, by Isaac Hinckley.
Manuscript Collection 184, G.W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport.

The REAPER was built by Thatcher Magoun in Medford, Massachusetts in 1808. Hinckley, at the ripe old age of 25, became her master and part owner. Hinckley says of the painting, “An attempt to show the Brig Reaper as she appeared on the stocks at Medford-but it is past my Art; therefore here I leave it- Launching Day-.” The painting is part of Manuscript Collection 184, the Isaac Hinckley Papers, at Mystic Seaport. From the written description of the collection: “Isaac Hinckley, born in 1783, was a shipmaster from Hingham, Massachusetts who had gone to sea as a young boy, and acquired his first command at an early age. These papers indicate that during the years 1809-1810 he was master of the brig REAPER for a trading voyage from Boston to Aden and Calcutta. He was then master of the ship TARTER, 1812-1813, for another voyage to Calcutta, and then commanded the ship CANTON for three voyages from Boston to Canton, China between 1815-1818. It was during the homeward passage of this last voyage that Issac Hinckley died (58 days out of Macao), leaving a widow in Hingham and six children, 2 to 11 years of age.” Hinckley was 35 years of age at the time.

Launching of the CHARLES W. MORGAN, by Geoff Hunt. Mystic Seaport accession number 2014.54
Launching of the CHARLES W. MORGAN, by Geoff Hunt. Mystic Seaport accession number 2014.54

Thirty-three years later, in 1841, and again 205 years later, in 2013, another ship was launched. The site of the first launch was also in Massachusetts. The CHARLES W. MORGAN, now the last remaining wooden whaleship, must have looked very similar to the REAPER as she slipped into the water at the shipyard of the brothers Zacharia and Jethro Hillman in New Bedford. Then, in 2013, under the watchful eyes of many hundreds of attendees, she gently dipped her hull into the waters of the Mystic River to commemorate her arduous and successful  restoration. This ceremony was the culmination of years of planning and hard work and the preamble to a successful voyage the following year that would see the last of the New England whaling fleet make a peaceful visit to the whaling grounds off Massachusetts. The painting below by celebrated marine artist Geoff Hunt captured the excitment of the moment on July 21, 2013.

A Whaling Odyssey

For the last five years or so, Mystic Seaport has been the temporary home for one of the most amazing murals ever painted. When Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington finished their masterpiece in the late 1840’s, the result, known as the Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World, was celebrated as a realistic depiction of the whaleman’s life in pursuit of the leviathan.

Just recently, Mystic Seaport staff members assisted New Bedford staff in removing the second of seven rolls from our Collections Research Center for its trip back to New Bedford where it will undergo long-anticipated conservation work. The first roll was retrieved last year and the first phase of its conservation is nearing an end in public view at New Bedford under the watchful eye of the half-scale whaling bark LAGODA. This oversized painting stands nearly eight and one half feet tall and if opened up to its full length it would stretch for approximately a quarter of a mile. It may very well be the longest painting in the world.  When it was completed it was displayed in New Bedford and then went on a tour throughout the United States. Each roll stood vertically on a spindle on a stage with a take-up reel positioned some feet away. As the panels stretched and rolled between the two spindles, a narrator would describe to the seated viewers just what it was they were observing as they vicariously traveled around the world on a whaleship. You can learn more about the panorama and view a video production about it at the following link: Panorama History. Mystic Seaport is happy to have been of service to our fellow maritime museum while they endeavored to raise funds for the conservation work.