New London Whaling Masters

In 2018 when I was relatively new volunteer at the Mystic Seaport Museum and just learning about its Research and Collections resources, I idly asked Paul O’Pecko, then Vice President of MSM’s Research Collections and Director of its Blunt White Library, if he had a small research project I could do for him. A few days after his “let me think about it and get back to you” response, he handed me an alphabetical list of New London Whaling Masters (over 300 of them!) and asked me to research and write a 1-2 paper about each of them. He gave me a short list of topics to be included (genealogy of the master and his family; ships commanded; references to relevant items in the MSM collection; and interesting anecdotal stories) and pointed me to the basic sources for my research. He allowed me to determine the format and flesh out the content. Having recently researched and written a paper about my family’s connection with the whaling industry in New Bedford, where I was born, the topic of exploring the whaling industry in New. London, about which I knew little, immediately appealed to me.

With a gulp about the scope of the project ahead of me, I started at the beginning with Capt. Charles Edmund Allen, completing my first papers, really a mini-biography, in the spring of 2019. The COVID pandemic interrupted my work by almost a year. As I slowly felt my way along, I found an increasing number of sources,  became more adept and efficient in the research process, and honed the format of my papers. My intent with these bios was not to provide scholarly research, impractical at best given the number of masters, but rather to provide a head start for someone interested in general information or in undertaking in-depth research relating to a particular master. As of the end of 2023 I had completed bios of 52 masters. I started transferring my completed bios to this site in February 2024.

As noted in Colby (p.8-9)(see Sources), “several ‘New London’ whalers were actually owned and commanded by Norwich or Groton men, who listed their towns as home port in the customs documents, even thou the vessel sailed from the New London waterfront.” Following Paul’s initial request, I elected to restrict my bio’s to masters of ships with New London as registered home port, noting some cases where a master may also have taken a ship with Stonington or Mystic or Norwich as home port.

The original sources have many inconsistencies and conflicting pieces of information, in part reflecting their age (as much as 200 years) and the conditions under which they were often recorded (at sea on a multi-year voyage), and some of those issues carry through to the contemporary compilations of those records. Corrections are welcomed.

—George Shaw