Leonard Briggs Brownson (AM0701)

Notwithstanding the specificity of his name, no records could be found about him or his family. His name appears in crew lists for ships of which he was a master but no information is given in those lists about his age or place of birth. His name does not appear in New London Crew Lists or lists of Seamen’s Protection Certificates, often sources of information about age and birth place. AOWV shows his wife as Ann Cook but no record could be found of her. As noted below, he was married and had a daughter. Otherwise, Leonard remains somewhat of a mystery.

Leonard served as replacement master for voyages of two ships with a home port of New London.

DROMO  (AS1232): (ship, 307 tons, built in Plymouth MA, withdrawn and sold in 1860). She sailed October 3, 1850 for the North Pacific, with Norman Starr (AM4687) as the original master, returned May 21, 1844. Leonard was the second of three replacement masters after Capt. Starr left the ship under unknown circumstances. Thomas Fitch II was the agent. AV03866.

HARMONY (AS1541): (bark, 316 tons, built New York NY in 1840, condemned and broken up in Honolulu in 1863). She sailed in 1852 for the Pacific under William M. Baker (AM0269) as original master, returned in 1856. Leonard was the first replacement master after Capt. Baker died at sea on August 15, 1853. Two other replacement masters followed Leonard. Why Leonard left the ship is not known. Starbuck does not show this voyage. The log(Log 854) for this voyage, held at Mystic Seaport Museum, has only one page for HARMONY. That page shows only weather and position information for a one month period, year not shown. AV06204.

Colby does not show any voyages under Leonard. Decker shows “Gardiner” as master of DROMO and no master for HARMONY.

Leonard served as master for four voyages on four ships with New Bedford as home port. JAVA (AS0317) for her 1845-1848 voyage; BALTIC (AS0073) for her 1855-1859 voyage, BARNSTABLE (AS0718) for her 1860-1864 voyage, and SPARTAN (AS0633) for her 1864-1865 voyage.

Leonard served as first mate on ALICE FRAZIER (AS0032) for part of her 1851-1855 voyage. Druett’s She Was a Sister Sailor quotes Sarah Taber, the master’s wife: “Today Mr and Mrs B[rownson, first officer and his wife] have left the ship he said he wished to be discharged for he was dissatisfied that I did not treat her well when I was on board.” Druett continues, ”Actually, Mr. Brownson, as mate, was extremely fortunate to have his wife aboard at all. Few mates were allowed such a privilege.” (p. 305). She quotes in another place “Capt. And Mrs. Brownson and daughter” staying with whaling families at a house in Hilo, Hawaii (p.127). A crew member aboard BALTIC wrote of Leonard: “The Captain expects to find his wife in Oahu consequently is looking as smiling as a basket of Chips all hands myself included hope he will [be] disappointed….it is no place for a woman aboard a whaleship” [quoted in Druett, p.150].

Sources used: see sidebar and sources cited in text.

George Shaw (Mystic Seaport Museum) June 2024