John Bolles (AM0499)

John was born on September 1820 in Waterford CT. On March 26, 1845 he married Nancy Chapman of Ledyard CT (born August 4, 1825), daughter of Ichabod Chapman and Mary (Polly) Lamb. They had six children: John C., Isabel, Alice, Elizabeth, Walter, and Charles. The Federal census for Waterford in 1860 notes John as “sea captain”. The 1870 census shows both John (age 49) and son John C. (age 22) as “mariner.” That census also lists his daughters Elizabeth (age 19) and Alice (age 17) as born in Sandwich Is. (Hawaii) and shows living with the family as “servant” 18 year old Sarah Benjamin, born on St. Helena, perhaps joining the family during a stop there during one of John’s cruises. John died on February 28, 1871, Nancy on February 12, 1910. In New London. The Norwich (CT) Aurora (February 22, 1871) reported his sudden from apoplexy. It continued: “He was one of the most successful whalemen that ever claimed a residence in this county, and was celebrated for his courage, genial, jovial disposition and honesty. We believe he made his last voyage in the bark Trinity, of New London, returning about a year since.” His and presumably Nancy’s gravestonesare in Union Cemetery in Waterford.

John began his seafaring career at an early, signing on at age 14. He served on six ships before he became a master: BINGHAM (AS0986) 1834-1836, JULIUS CAESAR (AS1737) 1838-1839 and 1840-1841, HERALD (AS1586) 1841-1843, and ALERT (AS0834) 1843-1845. Stonington was home port for HERALD, New London for the other three. After his first voyage he was issued a Seamen’s Protection Certificate (#122) in New London on September 28, 1836.

John was master for six voyages on each of six ships with a home port of New London.

CANDACE (AS1029): (ship, 350 tons, length 103’, built in Boston MA in 1818, condemned in 1855). Sailed on June 2, 1845 for the Indian and NW Pacific, returned on April 26,1847. Havens & Smith were the agents. Stuart Frank in Dictionary of Scrimshaw Artists reports (p. 17) that John was relieved by W. F. Joseph so that John could take command of NORTH ATLANTIC, but the return of CANDACE several months prior to NORTH ATLANTIC’s departure raises a question about Frank’s report. AV02280.

NORTH AMERICA (AS2056): (bark, 388 tons, built Kensington PA in 1810, condemned and sold in Hobart in April 1861). Sailed on August 11, 1847, returned on March 23, 1849. Williams & Haven were the agents. AV10593.

ALERT (AS0834): (ship, 398 tons, built in Boston MA in 1828, burned by ALABAMA in 1862). Sailed on June 18, 1850 for the N Pacific, returned on May 21, 1853. Williams & Haven were the agents. AOWV shows “wife sailed on voyage”. Nancy is not mentioned in either of Joan Druett’s books on wives sailing on whaling voyages (She Was a Sister Sailor and Petticoat Whalers). MSM has the logbook for this voyage (see below). Colby (but not Decker )records this voyage as two different voyages. AV00449.

ISAAC HICKS (AS1660): (ship, 495 tons, built in New York NY in 1824, withdrawn from merchant service in Boston in 1862). Sailed on July 18, 1858 for Desolation Island, returned on August 30,1861. Lawrence & Co. were her agents. AV07143.

CHARLES COLGATE (AS1079): (schooner, 250 tons, built Patchogue NY in 1850). Sailed on June 22, 1867 for Heard Island and Desolation Island, returned on May 4,1869). Lawrence & Co. were her agents. The crew list for this voyage shows John C. Bolles, age 19, presumably John’s son, as a member of the crew. Colby (p. 93) contains an account of a crew member’s visit to Desolation Island. AV02652

TRINITY (AS2509): (bark, 419 tons, built in Gardiner ME in 1851, beached on Heard Island on October 2, 1869). Sailed on September 2, 1869, returned in 1870. Starbuck does not report this voyage. AV14049

​ ​As one can see looking at the dates above, John was at sea for much of his life from age 14 until a year before the return of his last voyage in September 1869, less than two years before his death.

The log book for ALERT covers the period from August 13, 1852 when she was off the Sakhalin Islands until a few days prior to her return to New London in May 1853; it does not cover the first two years of this voyage. The log book shows, confirmed by Wood, that she visited Maui in October 1852 and made port in Oahu on October 28, remaining there until the end of November when she headed home. The log book makes no mention of John’s wife or family, but he would have had a month to visit with his family in Hawaii during the ship’s stay there in the fall of 1852. The ages of John’s daughters Alice and Elizabeth as shown in the census are consistent with their birth in Hawaii during the almost 36 month voyage, assuming his wife had remained there during the voyage.

Sources: see sidebar and sources cited in text.

George Shaw (Mystic Seaport Museum) November 2023