Monday, December 21, 2015

A Hero's Award

On March 12th, 1904, Andrew Carnegie signed a Deed of Trust in New York City to create the Carnegie Hero Fund to recognize deeds of civilian heroism. Carnegie was inspired by a mine accident near Pittsburgh to create this fund with a beginning corpus of five million dollars. One of the stipulations in the deed of trust states, “A medal shall be given to the hero, or widow, or next of kin, which shall recite the heroic deed it commemorates, that descendants may know and be proud of their descent. The medal shall be given for the heroic act, even if the doer be uninjured, and also a sum of money if the Commission deem such gift desirable.”

A recent inquiry to the Museum brought to light once again that there is a Carnegie Hero Medal in the collection at Mystic Seaport.  There are countless acts of heroism associated with sea rescues over the years, and the Museum has quite a number of lifesaving medals in its collection attesting to that fact. However, the Carnegie Hero Commission was established expressly to recognize such acts and the Commission must agree that the act recognized is worthy, making this medal of particular interest.

“Woman Lashed to the Mast in Schooner Wreck,”; “Lashed in Rigging Seven Hours, 15 Owe Lives to Brave Fishermen,”; “The Heroic Fishermen.” These are a few of the headlines in January of 1910 after the Captain, his wife and crew of 12 (not 13 as reported) of the six-masted schooner MERTIE B. CROWLEY wrecked on the south coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The captain of the CROWLEY sealed the schooner’s fate when he mistook the Edgartown light for the Block Island light and ran the vessel aground. Captain Levi Jackson and his crew of four of the fishing sloop PRISCILLA set out from shore and managed to brave the storm and the waves for 13 miles and then retrieve the imperiled group from the schooner using the sloop’s dories before the CROWLEY completely broke up.

The medal, as can be seen here, has a likeness of Andrew Carnegie on the front and the following appears on the back: "AWARDED TO LEVI JACKSON WHO HELPED TO SAVE WILLIAM H. AND IDA M. HASKELL AND TWELVE OTHERS FROM DROWNING  EDGARTOWN, MASS. JANUARY 23, 1910."

To see a more detailed account of the rescue, see the account by Levi’s great-grandson on the Carnegie Hero Foundation site at

Carnegie Medal Awarded to Captain Levi Jackson in 1910.
Mystic Seaport Accession # 1984.48.3

Monday, November 30, 2015

Washington Irving and the U.S. Navy

Quite a number of years ago the Museum was given a collection of naval papers pertaining to the Newman family. William D. Newman (ca. 1800-1844) and his sons, Langford Howard Newman (1830-1866) and William Bogert Newman (1834-1912) were all U.S. Navy officers. William met a tragic death in 1844, but his sons went on to follow him into naval service. Last year a second gift of papers was given to bolster the collection, adding new information about the family. Additionally, the Museum was able to purchase a letter written by Washington Irving in 1847asking New York Congressman Moses H. Grinnell to arrange an appointment to midshipman for seventeen-year old Langford. Irving had previously attained the same appointment from Grinnell for Langford’s father, William. In a snippet from his letter to Grinnell, Irving points out the specifics of the matter regarding William and his son:

His [William’s] melancholy end you may recollect when in command of the UStates Brig Bainbridge at MonteVideo. It is supposed he drowned himself from a too morbid sensibility to his professional reputation; apprehending he might incur popular reproach for his conduct in a transaction in which his superior officer acquitted him of all blame.  He left a family with, I apprehend, but very moderate means; I heard there were, I believe, three or four boys, who when I visited him some few years since appeared to be in excellent training. I now come to the point of this long story.  It is to interest you in favor of his eldest son, about seventeen years of age, apparently a very fine lad, who had recently finished his studies and is bent upon a sea faring life.  I have applied for a midshipmans appointment for him; but as vacancies are rare and applications many, and as in nine months he will be past the limits as to age (18 years) exacted in such appointments, I fear his chance as to success is but small.

The Museum also owns the letter from Langford to Irving requesting this action from the famous author. Langford did indeed get appointed and served aboard a number of ships before, during and just after the Civil War. Unfortunately, he died at an even younger age than his father while in command of the U.S.S. NYACK while the ship was patrolling the west coast of South America in 1866, protecting the interests of Americans during Spain’s conflict with Peru and Chile over the Chincha Islands. He was not yet 36 years old.

Langford Howard Newman, upper right, shown aboard the U.S.S. MONITOR
during the Civil War. From The Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Commanding Lieutenant William Bligh Comes to Mystic Seaport

The most famous mutiny in history and the extraordinary small boat voyage that resulted are retold in William Bligh’s A Narrative of the Mutiny on Board His Majesty’s Ship, Bounty and the subsequent voyage of part of the crew in the ship’s boat from Tofoa, one of the friendly islands, to Timor, a Dutch settlement in the East Indies. This account was published in London in 1790, within a year of 
the debilitating seven week open-boat voyage that covered over 3,500 nautical miles. Bligh’s narrative of the voyage includes descriptions of the privations the crew endured, including the difficulty of catching fish, necessitating the action described  in this passage after about three weeks at sea: “The weather was now serene, but unhappily we found ourselves unable to bear the sun’s heat; many of us suffering a languor and faintness, which made life indifferent. We were, however, so fortunate as to catch two boobies today; their stomachs contained several flying-fish and small cuttlefish, all of which I saved to be divided for dinner.” Yum.

Title Page of the newest addition to the G.W. Blunt White Library

This volume, as well as A Voyage to the South Sea…. ,an ensuing book written by Bligh to relay in more detail the story of the overall expedition of the Bounty and the mutiny, were recently donated to the G.W. Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport as important parts of a larger gift. These two rare examples add to the wealth of an already strong research collection and will find a new, secure home for future researchers in maritime history.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Resource for Scholarship at Mystic Seaport

Each year, hundreds of researchers visit the G.W. Blunt White Library in the Collections Research Center to take advantage of one of the finest collections of primary and secondary materials relating to American maritime history. Those that use the collection include historians, other scholars, genealogists, artists, students, teachers, history hobbyists, commercial users and more. Annually, a segment of academic users make their way to Mystic via the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium, of which the G.W. Blunt White Library is a founding member. For over a decade, NERFC, a collaboration of 21 major cultural agencies, has been awarding fellowships to scholars. The Consortium will offer at least 15 awards in 2016–2017, and each grant will provide a stipend of $5,000 for a minimum of eight weeks of research at participating institutions. Awards are open to U.S. citizens and foreign nationals who hold the necessary U.S. government documents. Grants are designed to encourage projects that draw on the resources of several agencies.
Each itinerary must:
·         be a minimum of eight weeks
·         include at least three different member institutions, and
·         include at least two weeks at each of these institutions.
The following scholars have visited, or will visit, the Library in 2015. Along with their name and affiliation, each fellow has provided a short description of their project. We are honored to have such qualified individuals take advantage of the broad collections available at Mystic Seaport.
Cynthia Bouton, Texas A & M Univ.- Subsistence, Society, Commerce, and Culture in the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution - The era of Atlantic Revolutions witnessed an acceleration in the circulation and commodification of subsistence foods, and reorganized social and political links in provisioning chains.  Revolutionary debates politicized property, production, distribution, and consumption in historically specific ways.  This book project studies staple food production, marketplace interaction, entangled trade networks, government policies, and consumer practices to understand shifting food regimes in the international Atlantic. 

Dan Du, Univ. of Georgia– This World in a Teacup: Sino-American Tea Trade in the Nineteenth Century -The Sino-American tea trade during the nineteenth century was a crucial element in Chinese-American relations and the economic transformation of global capitalism. Tea, as a key staple in the international market and one of the largest imports into the United States, illuminates multilateral economic and cultural connections and clashes among the U.S., China, Great Britain, Japan, and India. This project will explore the influence of the tea trade on American material culture. Embargo of tea during the Revolution sparked patriotism in American towns, but historians of the republic consigned tea consumption to oblivion. However, it remained prevalent. It witnessed the making of American cultural, national identity, particularly when compared with English and Chinese tea culture. Furthermore, since consumption allowed capitalism to shape social relations and instill its spirit among ordinary people, tea consumption, which was promoted by marketing and advertising, crystallized the ethos of the nineteenth-century society dissected by class, gender, and race.

Univ. of Georgia Ph.D. candidate, Dan Du, exploring logbooks in the collection.

Andrew Edwards, Princeton Univ. - Money and the American Revolution- Andrew’s research concerns two events, one well known, the other relatively obscure: the American Revolution and the currency revolution in American money.  Over the course of the Revolutionary War, money in American conception and practice changed from measure to metal. This transition, from a ‘unit of account’ to a commodity currency, defined in terms of gold and silver, has long typically gone unremarked under the assumption - shared by many historians - that money is neutral in American political history and that such development is part of the natural course of things, if not entirely uncontested. It is Andrew’s intention to challenge this assumption.

Kathryn Lasdow, Columbia Univ. – “Spirit of Improvement”: Construction, Conflict, and Community in Early-National Port Cities – From 1789 to 1830, budding capitalists advanced a vision for American cities that placed ports at the center of promise and prosperity. But Americans across the social spectrum disagreed over the designs and material realities of port construction. Some city dwellers questioned whether these projects were truly “improvements” at all, arguing they infringed on the property rights of small land- and wharf-owners and displaced entire neighborhoods. Some residents turned to lawsuits, mob violence, and the destruction of building sites to halt impending construction. This dissertation examines this dialectic between capitalist urban planning and community response in early-nineteenth-century American port cities.

Gregory Rosenthal, SUNY Stony Brook – Hawaiians who left Hawaiʻi: Work, Body, and Environment in the Pacific World, 1786-1876- For decades, historians have written of the Atlantic World as an historical arena of transoceanic exchange and the circulation of people, goods, and ideas among African, European, and American actors. But only recently have historians begun to use the same tools to reconstruct histories of other transoceanic spaces, such as the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Gregory’s project contributes to the study of the nineteenth-century Pacific World by focusing on the paths traveled within and beyond Hawaiʻi by Native Hawaiian wage workers in the transoceanic economy. For nearly a century, from the 1780s to the 1870s, Hawaiian men labored in extractive industries all across the Pacific, from China to Hawaiʻi to California and on ships at sea. Hawaiian workers extracted sea otter furs, sandalwood, bird guano, whale oil, cattle hides, gold, and other commodities. All of these trades were of global economic significance in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. By placing Hawaiian working-class actors at the center of nineteenth-century Pacific history, Gregory argues that the movement and mobility of Hawaiians across the ocean in search of work was a key component of trans-Pacific integration.

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Fish Story: New Painting for Mystic Seaport

A painting entitled “Off Block Island” by Ellery Thompson is a recent gift to the collections at Mystic Seaport. Thompson was a local fisherman, author, artist and raconteur of some note. His story-telling ability landed him in the New Yorker in 1947, subject of a profile by writer Joseph Mitchell. Afterwards, Thompson went on to write his own books about life as a Connecticut fisherman.  Draggerman’s Haul: the Personal History of a Connecticut Fishing Captain and Come Aboard the Draggers, were published in the 1950’s when Thompson was in his 50’s. 

"Off Block Island," by Ellery Thompson.

Ellery Thompson painted hundreds of pictures in a primitive style and many of these made their way into friends’ homes and not a few into local museums and historical societies. Mystic Seaport is glad to have a number of his works. Mystic Seaport owns a western-rigged dragger named FLORENCE, and one of the boats seen here is purported to be her. Thompson was born in 1899 and died in 1986, but his character lives on in his books, some oral histories and, of course, his brightly-colored paintings depicting scenes from his life experiences.

Monday, June 29, 2015

H.M.S. BURFORD Puts into Safe Harbor

The H.M.S. BURFORD model has returned to the Collections Research Center after a stint on exhibit. British Naval historian William Laird Clowes once called it one of the finest models of its type ever built. The model at Mystic Seaport was acquired in 1973 and has been one of the premier objects in the collection ever since. H.M.S. BURFORD was a 70-gun, 3rd rate ship of the British Navy built in 1722. One of her commanding officers was Admiral Edmund Vernon, after whom Mt. Vernon is named. While there is some question as to the date the model was built, it was certainly done in the first half of the 18th century, if not in 1722. It came into Admiral Vernon’s possession and stayed in his family until it was purchased at auction in London in 1929 by Junius Morgan, grandson of J.P. Morgan.

The magnificent model has a white bottom, varnish topsides and a black boot stripe. She has 4 anchors and 68 gun positions with two full gun decks, a square bow, lateen mizzen, and a two-level poop deck. There is a lion's head painted on the inside surface of each of the gunpost covers. Her poop-deck railing has a painted scene of nudes in grass on a blue background. Two quarter galleries, one stern walk, a painted decorative strip and two gunports below her lower windows on the stern also grace this model. An elaborate carving on her stern shows a bust of a king at the center framed by two gods, with a lion on each side with Neptune. Her figurehead is a crowned lion and the model is mounted on a mahogany veneer stand with 2 metal braces amidships. One can easily spend an hour picking out all the details her model makers put into her.

Curator Fred Calabretta maneuvers the model from building to van.

Until last month the BURFORD was a part of our Treasures from the Collections Exhibit in the R. J. Schaefer Building. With the advent of the new Ships, Clocks and Stars Exhibit coming this Fall, the model was moved back to the Collections Research Center, a nice safe harbor, until she next goes on display. A delicate job, she was moved from the exhibit to the CRC by our Collections Manager Chris White, our Curator of Collections seen here, Fred Calabretta, and a number of other Museum staff. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The MAYFLOWER in Lilliput

With the departure of MAYFLOWER II from Mystic Seaport in May, 2015, the Museum will not be left without any Pilgrim representation. The Museum owns a number of MAYFLOWER models and one, a model of Lilliputian proportions, was donated to the Museum in 1952 by its maker, Henry R. Stiles of New London. Mr. Stiles was born just after the Civil War and graduated from Yale in 1888. His career was that of an optical surgeon and he spent a number of years as such in the U.S. Army. He retired with a disability acquired in the line of duty with the rank of Major in 1905 but was eventually lifted to the rank of Lt. Colonel. He donated seven of his creations to Mystic Seaport in 1952 when he was 86 years old. Using his exacting skills and surgical tools, Col. Stiles spent many hours creating miniature models of sloops, schooners, brigs, sampans and more. The 5 3/8 inch MAYFLOWER alone took Col. Stiles more than 615 hours by the time he completed it in 1939. The scale of the MAYFLOWER model is 1 inch to 22.5 feet and her rigging blocks are so small that their details cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Model of MAYFLOWER. Henry R. Stiles, 1939.
Mystic Seaport accession number 1952.1573
(Click for larger view)

A long-time trustee of Mystic Seaport noted that in the early 1950's this model was one of the first things that was seen as you entered into what was then the Museum's main exhibit building. See the changes coming to Mystic Seaport in the form of the Thompson Exhibition Building and the McGraw Gallery Quadrangle, giving the Museum substantially more exhibit space than could have even been dreamt about in 1952.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Remembering Gallipoli

One hundred years ago the invasion of Gallipoli, conceived by Winston Churchill, began and became one of the low points of World War I for the Allies. When Allied troops landed on the beach at Gallipoli on April 25th, 1915 a small British minesweeper, a converted Great Eastern Railway channel packet named the CLACTON, was at the forefront of the action. The image here depicts that day’s deadly action in a fanciful sketchbook/diary kept by CLACTON’s commander, William Herbert Coates. Coates seemingly coped with the exigencies of war by depicting daily action and activities in his version of early English language and images. His minesweeper, used primarily for hauling cargo and troops while in this conflict, was portrayed as a 17th or 18th  century brig. The day’s date, “ye yeere 1915, April ye 25th,” can be seen in the lower right hand corner of the drawing. Click on the image to see the enlarged version.

From sketchbook by W.H. Coates. VFM 970. G.W Blunt White Library. Mystic Seaport

In his description of the day, Coates states, “Ye littel brigs, ye “NEWMARKET” & ye “CLACTON” closed in to land ye souldiers ____ while ye greate shyppes, ye “ALBION” & ye “CORNWALLIS”, with their gunnes at point blank range, turned EARTH into HELL.  Miseracordia twas ye dreadfulle daie.”

Coates, who was in his fifties when in command of the CLACTON, had written two books in his earlier life on shipping and trade on the Indian ocean. Unfortunately, he did not live to write another as he was killed in action on July 15, 1917 when HMS REDBREAST was torpedoed in the Mediterranean.

The image is one page of many from scrapbooks in the Manuscripts Collection in the G.W. Blunt White Library. See the article from the South African Military History Journal for an interesting account of Gallipoli and the part that the CLACTON played in the invasion.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ships Plans and the Environment:the Coast Guard Makes Use of a Unique Collection

When the call came into the shipyard at Mystic Seaport on February 26, 2015 the feeling was initially that it was a crank call. Why would the Coast Guard in San Diego be calling Mystic Seaport for help regarding a boat washed ashore after a storm in California? Once the story was told it began to make a bit more sense.

A sea-going motor yacht, the MONA MONA, grounded in the surf at a navy base in Coronado. Fearing that the fuel tanks, which can carry up to 1,200 gallons, might be breached, the Coast Guard sent in a team from their Incident Management Division in the San Diego Sector. Marine Science Technician Petty Officer 3rd class Eben Smith made a call to Nordhavn Yachts who build similar vessels, trying to determine the location of the fuel tanks in the yacht. Unable to accommodate MST3 Smith and his team with the proper technical information, they did the next best thing. They directed him to Mystic Seaport!
The MONA MONA stranded on a beach in Coronado, California.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.
The MONA MONA, built in 1972, was designed by Captain Robert Beebe, the progenitor of the long-distance trawler cruising movement. MONA MONA was one of Beebe’s early designs, meant for cruising in the Mediterranean, but with large enough fuel tanks to make an Atlantic crossing.  However, the boat, built in Costa Mesa, began and ended its life on the West Coast.

Mystic Seaport maintains the archive of Captain Beebe’s plans, so when Eben Smith called looking for the plans, our Library was able to quickly locate them, photograph the critical portion (see image) and send it via text message to him on site at the wreck. That was at 3:04 p.m. Eastern Time. AT 8:01 p.m., we received a text from an enthusiastic Smith stating, “Just want to let you know the schematics you provided helped remove over 400 gallons of fuel, without a drop in the ocean! Thank you very much to everyone I spoke to over at Mystic Seaport. You truly saved the day!” And while it is likely that such a capable young man would have eventually figured out the problem without our help, it is gratifying to know that Mystic Seaport was able to make his day a bit easier and contribute in a meaningful way.

Detail of plan showing starboard fuel tank of MONA MONA.
Coll. 125, Daniel S. Gregory Ships Plans Library, Mystic Seaport

The fate of the MONA MONA, however, does not have a happy ending. A recent news report mentioned that the boat’s owner and the U.S Navy had not yet determined what to do with the double-decked 50-foot yacht and it was filling up with sand as it sat on the beach. Late word from MST3 Smith, however, is that the yacht was demolished before it could deteriorate more in the surf. At least no petroleum from it will stain that stretch of coast line thanks to the work of the Coast Guard.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cold and Dark...NYC, January 24, 1925

The saying is usually, "If March comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb..." Well, this February has certainly come in like a lion...and this icy picture of the tugboat LION from 1925 kind of says it all regarding how most of us feel about this winter. On January 24, 1925, Morris Rosenfeld was out with his camera and took this image of the New London Ship and Engine Company tug on the East River, capturing the ice-encrusted boat and the chilly atmosphere of the day.
Tug LION. Mystic Seaport, Rosenfeld Collection.

That same day, at about 9.a.m., Morris was taking another shot with his camera. The picture of the full solar eclipse below must have been taken somewhere above 90th Street in Manhattan or up into the Bronx, because that was where the eclipse became total. It was quite an event in New York with dozens of planes and even the Navy's largest dirigible, the LOS ANGELES,  in the air to take photos of the rare happening. The 1925 eclipse was the last total one to be visible in a large U.S. metropolitan area, and Morris was able to get  a number of shots in the short time that the birds were heading back to roost at such an odd time of the day.

Click on the images to get a more detailed view.
1925 Total Eclipse, New York City. Mystic Seaport, Rosenfeld Collection.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Conservation Work in the Greenmanville Church

The picture of the elegant diners is from the Grace Line passenger steamer SANTA PAULA in the 1930’s. In the background is a large 14 by 8 foot painting of the ship W.R. GRACE by Charles Robert Patterson which eventually came to the Museum in 1961 and has hung in the Aloha Meeting House (the Greenmanville Church) since that time.
Conservators working on the GRACE

From its time aboard the ship and the intervening five decades in the church, the painting has built up quite a layer of grime. Two conservators from the Williamstown Art Conservation Center (at right) spent three days here in the Fall putting a little sparkle back into the clipper ship by stripping off some of the layers of dirt. The project was inspired by Bob Webb, a former curator at the Kendall Whaling Museum and the Maine Maritime Museum and a performer well-known in sea music circles. Bob passed away last year and one of his wishes was to see the painting conserved since, in addition to his other passions, Bob was also a writer and one of his books was a biography of Charles Robert Patterson, the artist. To help fulfill his wish, Bob’s widow Helen has been raising funds to help pay for the conservation work. Stop by and see if the painting looks a little perkier to you. And give a nod of thanks to Bob for helping to make it happen.

Detail of the W.R. GRACE (MSM accession # 1961.302)
The work is a depiction of the W.R. GRACE leaving the coast of California in the 1880’s. There were four “SANTA” ships built in the 1930’s and each one had on board a painting done by Charles Robert Patterson. There is one in the Maine Maritime Museum that went to them from the W.R. Grace offices in Boca Raton in 1999. It is also a painting of the W.R. GRACE and is entitled “Report Me All Well,” and that one was in the SANTA ELENA. When the SANTA ELENA was turned into a troop ship, the painting came out and was later trimmed down and repainted to fit in the W.R. Grace company offices. The other two SANTA ships, the SANTA ROSA and the SANTA LUCIA, carried portraits of the ship M.P. GRACE. The whereabouts of those two paintings is unknown. The one in our church is considered the masterpiece of the four and the only one kept in its original round-topped, half-moon configuration.

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