MSS 136:  Eliza Russell Papers, 1851-1859 - New Bedford Whaling Museum
Inventory of the Eliza Russell Papers In the New Bedford Whaling Museum Research LibraryProcessed by: Emily Esten, 2014; machine-readable finding aid created by: Emily Esten, 2014Inventory of the Eliza Russell Papers In the New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library

Table of Contents

Historical Note

Scope and Content Note

Information for Researchers

Related Materials

Administrative Information


Subject Headings

Inventory of the Eliza Russell Papers

In the New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library

Eliza Russell Papers
Date Span:
Eliza Russell, 1829-1863
Mss Number:
Mss 136
6 linear inches
Collection of letters from a Vineyard Haven wife to her whaler husband, Thomas N. Russell, 1851-1859
New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library
Phone: (508) 997-0046

Historical Note

Thomas (d. 1862) and Eliza Russell (1829-1863) were married on 3 June 1851 in her hometown of Holmes Hole, present day village of Vineyard Haven located in Tisbury, Massachusetts, on theisland of Martha's Vineyard. They had two children: Thomas Russell (1859-1861) who was born and died in Honolulu; and Katherine Russell (b. 1862), who was born on voyage of the Lancaster (Ship). The couple's third child was stillborn, and Eliza died in childbirth.

Thomas was an active New Bedford mariner for most of his life. Prior to marrying Eliza, he was a crewman of the Heroine, Isaac Howland, and Corinthian. During the course of this collection, Russell was a member of three voyages. He was the first mate of the Isaac Howland from 23 July 1851 to 24 April 1854, traveling into the North Pacific. Eliza's uncle, David P. West, served as the captain. Gustavus L. West, also mentioned several times throughout the collection, was a seaman on this voyage. Russell was then the captain of the Corinthian (Ship) from 11 October 1854 to 6 April 1858, again traveling in the North Pacific. Russell was then the captain of the Lancaster (Ship) from 26 October 1858, sailing primarily in the North Pacific until it was condemned at St. Thomas in 1861. There are no records of Thomas after 1862.

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Scope and Content Note

This collection contains a comprehensive group of correspondence from Eliza Russell, of Vineyard Haven, to her husband, Thomas N. Russell. The collection includes 32 letters to her husband while on the Isaac Howland (Ship) of New Bedford, 8 August 1851 to 14 July 1854; 17 letters to him as captain of the Corinthian (Ship) of New Bedford, 24 October 1854 to 21 September 1856; and 3 letters from Lahaina, located on the Hawaiian Island of Maui, to Russell as captain of the Lancaster (Ship), all April 1859.

Most of the original envelopes are included alongside the correspondence. The letters are all of substantial length, neatly and closely written, and are full of detail of life ashore, including family matters, religious meetings in Vineyard Haven and New Bedford, Eliza's visit to a fortune teller, and her attendance at an illustrated lecture of female sexuality.

Several times, Eliza continued a letter over a series of days, waiting for an opportunity to send letters to arrive. To send letters, Eliza repeatedly asks Thomas for vessel and captain names to which she can hand off her correspondence. This is evident by some of the envelopes, where she wrote “In Care Of” or “Given To” in order to indicate the carrier. In many cases, Eliza numbered the letters for Thomas’s benefit, in case they were to reach him out of order.

For the first voyage on the Isaac Howland (Ship), Thomas served as the first mate to Eliza's uncle, Captain David P. West. Several references are also made to Gustavus West, who served as a seaman on this voyage. For the majority of 1851, Eliza suffers from various maladies, from headaches to colds to toothaches. She mentions several pieces of gossip in Holmes Hole, such as: the marriage of Sarah Anthony and Mr. Beverly, the marriage of Sarah Jane Claghorn, and the possible elopement of Captain Clough and Charlotte Downs. Her correspondence is primarily written from Holmes Hole, although some of the letters are written in New Bedford while she is visiting the Russell family.

For the second voyage, the Corinthian (Ship), Eliza does not write nearly as often, though her letters are substantially longer. Her letters from 1854 to 1855 are written during her stay in New Bedford, in which she interacts with the Russell family - namely Hannah, Louisa, and Mary. Two of the three letters of this voyage are signed by “John” - most likely referring to Thomas’s sister's new husband. During late June or early July 1855, Eliza returns to Holmes Hole, where she continually updates Thomas on her family affairs, expressing her mother's complaint of not having a grandchild. Many of these letters are devoted to discussions of religion, as Eliza was an involved member of the religious meetings.

Throughout the first two voyages, Eliza expresses interest in joining Thomas for a voyage. She does so on the Lancaster (Ship), joining Thomas en route to the Okhotsk Sea. As she was pregnant with their first child, she stayed in Lahaina (Maui). Though her perspective during this time is limited, Eliza expresses discontent with her loneliness, as she gossips about the women and captains who live with her while waiting for Thomas to return.

The final letter of this collection, while addressed to Captain Russell, was not written by Eliza, but by a friend named “Alick.” Writing to the Corinthian (Ship), Alick discusses the difficulties of “Northern Whalemen” in comparisons to other professions, some details on the business, and wishes Thomas and family health and prosperity.

Arrangement of Collection

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Access to Collections

Unrestricted. Consult librarian for an appointment.

Preferred Citation

New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library Mss 136, [sub-group, series, sub-series, folder/volume as appropriate], [item]

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Related Logbooks

KWM 0706: Logbook kept on board the Corinthian, 1854-1857
KWM 0412: Logbook kept on board the Corinthian,1855-1856
KWM 0127: Logbook kept on board the Lancaster, 1859-1862
KWM 0727: Logbook kept on board the Isaac Howland, 1851-1854

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Materials in this collection were acquired through the Kendall Whaling Museum

Processing Information

Processed by: Emily Esten, 2014

Encoded by: Emily Esten, 25 July 2014

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Series A: Eliza Russell Correspondence, 1851-1859 11 materials
Series A contains outgoing correspondence of Eliza Russell to Thomas Russell aboard various whaling vessels.
Sub-series 1: Outgoing to Thomas Russell aboard the Isaac Howland (Ship), 1851-1853
Box 1
Folder 1
Holmes Hole, August 1851
Folder 2
Holmes Hole, September 1851
Folder 3
Holmes Hole, October 1851
Folder 4
New Bedford, November-December 1851
Folder 5
New Bedford, July 1852
Folder 6
Holmes Hole, 1853
Sub-series 2: Outgoing to Thomas Russell aboard the Corinthian (Ship), 1854/1858
Folder 1
New Bedford, October 1854
Folder 2
New Bedford, January-June 1855
Folder 3
Holmes Hole, July-September 1855
Folder 4
Holmes Hole, 1856
Sub-series 3: Outgoing to Thomas Russell aboard the Lancaster (Ship), 1859
Folder 1
Lahaina, April 1859
Series B: Additional Correspondence Addressed to Thomas Russell, 1858 1 materials
Series B contains correspondence addressed to Thomas Russell aboard the Corinthian from an individual named "Alick".
Folder 1
Honolulu, 1858

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Subject Headings

Dream interpretation
Fortune Tellers
Holmes Hole (Mass.)
Hong Kong (China)
Lahaina (Hawaii)
Mail receiving and forwarding services
Martha's Vineyard (Mass.)
New Bedford (Mass.)
North Pacific Ocean
Okhotsk, Sea of
Sippican (Mass.)
Vineyard Haven (Mass.)
Whaling masters--Wives
Whaling--History--19th century
Whaling--Massachusetts--New Bedford

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Vessel Names

Adeline (Ship)
Citizen (Ship : 1851-1852)
Corinthian (Ship)
Daniel Wood (Ship)
Euphrates (Ship)
Isaac Howland (Ship)
Lancaster (Ship)
Magnolia (Ship)
Niagara (Ship)
Nimrod (Ship)
Norman (Ship)
Pocahontas (Ship)
Rambler (Ship)
Three Brothers (Ship)

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