Every piece in the Library has its own unique story to tell, and we invite you to look at a few of the thousands of materials and hear their tales through the Museum’s From the Vault, a digital exhibit featuring different treasures from the Library.

Bust portrait of Charles W. Morgan, circa 1830
Accession #1991.3.1

Built in 1841 by Jethro and Zachariah Hillman of New Bedford, Massachusetts, the iconic Charles W. Morgan survives as the final living monument and testament to the prosperous American whaling industry of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While many prepare for the Morgan’s highly anticipated and momentous thirty-eighth voyage, the Museum’s Research Library affords Morgan enthusiasts the ability to glimpse first-hand into her past through an assortment of rare historical documents complemented by a myriad of unparalleled scholarly publications.    

The above photograph of the Charles W. Morgan under full sail at Round Hills is one of many housed in the Library’s Photo Archive.
Accession # 2000.100.67

The Library’s manuscript holdings consist of a broad range of primary sources and include the personal papers and business records of Charles Waln Morgan, the Quaker merchant after whom the famed whaling vessel was named. Born in Philadelphia, Morgan moved to New Bedford around 1818 and entered into business as a partner in the merchant shipping firm of William Rotch Sr. and Samuel Rodman Sr. Morgan eventually became an independent merchant and whaling agent in his own right, serving as the managing owner for the Morgan’s maiden voyage. Among the many treasures safely preserved within Morgan’s manuscript collection is a letter written by John D. Samson, captain of the Morgan’s second voyage. Captain Samson writes from the island of St. Michaels in the Azores on July 5, 1845, updating Morgan on the first twenty-four days of the voyage. This letter reflects upon the past, revealing that a great deal transpired in a short amount of time, but Captain Samson also looks to the future, informing Morgan of his lingering sickness along with news of a small pox outbreak reported in Fayal. While this one letter provides valuable insight into one voyage of the Morgan, the entire manuscript collection invites interested researchers to explore Charles W. Morgan and his various business enterprises.

Although the vessel proudly bears his moniker, Morgan only served as the managing owner during her first two voyages of 1841 and 1845. The Library also houses extensive records of J. & W. R. Wing, managing agents of the Morgan from 1863 – 1916. These records, encompassing two manuscript collections, contain an abundance of documents and range from outfitting accounts and financial records to correspondence and crew papers, with each document telling its own unique story. For example, extant crew papers from the 1906 voyage show that crewman Antone Gracia Azevedo filed a lawsuit against Captain James A. M. Earle in 1907. Records indicate that Azevedo eventually dropped his claim after his lawyer met separately with Captain Earle and J. & W. R. Wing. Unfortunately, Azevedo still owed $25 in legal fees even though he opted not to pursue reparations.

Above is an entry taken from the logbook documenting the Morgan‘s eleventh voyage off of Tristan da Cunha, a popular port of call for whalers cruising in the South Atlantic.
Logbook #ODHS 608B

In addition to the rich collection of manuscripts, the Library’s unsurpassed whaling logbook and journal collection contains several accounts penned by crewmen of the Morgan‘s past voyages. These incomparable  resources allow anyone fortunate enough to read through their entries the chance to experience every aspect of the voyage through the eyes of the keeper. Imagine giving chase to a sperm whale in the Atlantic Ocean or visiting exotic places like Tristan da Cunha, Hawaii, and the Marquesas Islands while serving aboard one of the most notable whaling vessels in recorded history. Although time’s unrelenting forward march prohibits living through any of the Morgan’s previous thirty-seven voyages, a logbook, on the other hand, will instantly transport any lucky reader back to the days when this historic vessel navigated the globe in the hunt for whales.

When the sun finally set on the Yankee whaling industry, the Morgan continued to live on, eventually falling under the ownership of Whaling Enshrined, Incorporated, an organization established in 1925 that, according to their Certificate of Incorporation, existed to “enshrine and preserve the whaleship, Charles W. Morgan.” This organization acquired the vessel and moored her on the estate of Col. Edward H. R. Green at Round Hills in South Dartmouth before she ultimately journeyed to Mystic Seaport in 1941. These sixteen years, as a result, constitute a major chapter of the Morgan’s history, and the records for Whaling Enshrined, Incorporated, allow the Library to properly narrate this pivotal story. One must never forget the instrumental role this organization played for the Morgan. The care she received at Round Hills enabled her to survive into the twenty-first century, and the properly preserved records housed in the Library will ensure that future generations always remember this South Dartmouth based organization’s vital impact.

This newspaper clipping from July 1841, reports on the Morgan‘s first voyage. Her thirty-eighth voyage, on the other hand, will undoubtedly garner more attention.
Accession #2011.7.5

Complementing the Library’s unique assortment of manuscripts, logbooks, and journals is a fine and rich collection of printed secondary sources complete with titles authored by many notable maritime historians and scholars. This printed collection contains a wealth of publications dedicated to the Morgan and all aspects of her story, including John F. Leavitt’s The Charles W. Morgan. Published by Mystic Seaport in 1973, this book provides not only a comprehensive history of the fabled whaling vessel, but includes an appendix complete with voyage summaries and crew lists for all of the Morgan’s thirty-seven voyages. A cornerstone of the Library’s collection of scholarly works dedicated to the Morgan, ardent devotees can also purchase this book through the Museum Store to further their own personal library, knowing that the next chapter of the Morgan’s celebrated story has yet to unfold. 

With thirty-seven profitable voyages recorded in the history books, the Morgan stands poised to embark on her highly-anticipated and historic thirty-eighth. The Research Library offers scholars, students, and enthusiasts alike the rare opportunity to experience the events of the Morgan’s previous voyages through a rich collection of manuscripts, logbooks, journals, and business records, in addition to a number of scholarly books and articles. If you would like to take a more detailed glance through the Library’s vast Morgan-related holdings, please contact Mark Procknik, (508) 997-0046 ext. 134, to schedule a research appointment.