Old Dartmouth Historical Sketch No. 33 - New Bedford Whaling Museum


Number 33

Being the proceedings of the Meeting of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, Water Street, New Bedford, Massachusetts, on September 29, 1911.

by Edmund Wood

by William A. Wing

[Note.—The “Old Dartmouth Historical Sketches” will be published by the Society quarterly and may be purchased for ten cents each on application to the Secretary and also at Hutchinson’s Book Store.]

Proceedings of the Meeting of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society
New Bedford, Massachusetts
September 29, 1911

Address — Benjamin Russell
By Edmund Wood

One of the most reliable sources of historical material to the student of our earliest Colonial Days has always been the land records. Old Dartmouth is notably rich in the possession of a perfect treasure-house of this invaluable material.

It is most remarkable that the original field notes of the surveys of Benjamin Crane, first surveyor to the Dartmouth Proprietors, have been preserved in good condition for two hundred years. Not a map or a platting of a survey made by him has ever been found although innumerable ones must have been made. But the note books containing courses, distances and areas and generally the location have come down to us in good condition.

These books are eleven in number and date from 1710 to 1721. Supplementing these are two similar books by Benjamin Hammond, Crane’s successor as surveyor to the proprietors from 1723 to 1741, and one book by Samuel Smith who followed at a later date, from 1768 to 1793.

All these records of the original surveys came into the possession of the New Bedford Free Public Library a few years ago.

In one of the early meetings of this society, one of our members, A. McL.-Goodspeed, read an erudite paper on the subject of these books, their interest and their value.

In it he expressed the hope that some way would be found to more surely preserve these treasures, either by printing or photographically reproducing them.

It is noteworthy and commendable that the trustees of our city library have done both and with rare good taste. The large volume recently published shows half tone pictures of every page and opposite, the text in printed form.

We acknowledge with pleasure the receipt of a copy of this book from the library trustees and it has been added to our growing collection.


Since our last meeting a life member of this society has died–Charles Austin Mendall Taber.

He was born in Acushnet and married a Miss Lund of that town.

In his will he bequeathed to this society the sum of $150–and this bequest has already been paid.

Although his later life was spent in Wakefield in this state he always showed a sincere attachment for this society and the past life and achievements of the locality which this society seeks to commemorate.

In 1873 he published a volume of verse entitled Rhymes from a Sailors’ Journal and we have found a copy in the Millicent library.

This shows a facility at rhyming and many of the subjects have a decidedly local flavor—’The Whaleman’s Return,’ ‘Written Soon After Watching Whales in a Storm.’

The author was at one time during his life the captain of the whaleship Millinocket.

One of the longer poems entitled ‘The Old Puritanic Burial Ground,’ describes the historic cemetery at Acushnet, and contains one or two bits of description which revive details which have been almost forgotten. ‘The old horseblocks’ that in his later years he wrote and published several books on scientific subjects: The Ice Age, Past and Coming; Our Periodical World; Our Periodic Earth; Cause of Geologic Periods.

The bequest from an appreciative Son of Old Dartmouth, for which we are very grateful, nourishes the hope that there are many patriotic members of this society who plan to bestow upon it some generous memorials of their affectionate regard.


“The society has received from William W. Crapo, its first president, a valuable gift. Four of the original cartoons of Arctic Whaling Scenes, drawn by Benjamin Russell. These drawings delineate with faithfulness the catastrophe to our whaling fleet in the Arctic Ocean in 1871. These are the originals from which the lithographs were made, which were published and had quite a sale at the time. Many New Bedford homes had these pictures framed hanging on the wall. This disaster was the greatest which had ever befallen our chief industry. The loss of property involved, directly or indirectly, nearly every inhabitant of Old Dartmouth, and in those days of fewer works of fiction and no theatres with thrilling moving pictures the exciting tales of miraculous escape and heroic struggles, brought real romances intimately into hundreds of households. Mr. Crapo a few years ago purchased and presented to this society one of the original drawings of this artist, and with the four new ones just received, we are indebted to him for an extremely valuable collection, which with the decline of whaling has an ever increasing historical value.


Benjamin Russell

The historian of any epoch, in his researches for new material is always attracted by what seems to be notes taken on the spot. These are considered more valuable, because of their crispness and frankness. They are generally written for a very limited number of eyes to see, and they record the honest first impressions. There has been no time to calculate on the possible results of saying what one really thinks, and trimming the real belief to please other peoples, or to agree with the view of other observers.

It is this which makes the diary one of the best corroborative records.

The publication of Pepys’ diary gave a truer insight and a more intimate view of the interesting details of English life at the time of the Restoration than any state paper or contemporaneous history.

This observation is also true of sketches made on the spot. These bring back to us the past as it really appeared at the time to the artist. It is unfortunate that when we go back beyond the discovery of photography we find so little of this valuable historical material.

Stop and think a little of how different the future historian is going to view the period in which we now live. Not only are we flooded with the printed word on every phase of thought and action, but we are surrounded by cameras to perpetuate every view.

Nor are these laborious sketches of scenes drawn slovenly, and omitting more or less of the detail—but photography is instantaneous and greedily grasps every detail. And now we have the moving picture, which gives us action as well as position.

It is evident the future will know us to the life, as we lived, and moved and had our being.

Old Dartmouth has been fortunate in that it possessed artists as well as historians to jot down impressions and mirror for us the past.

At previous meetings I have taken up the work of William Bradford and also of William A. Wall. Tonight we are being reminded of another of our last century artists because we have received from Mr. Crapo five valuable original drawings of Benjamin Russell.

In 1830 we had in New Bedford two commercial houses which at the time overshadowed all others, on the one hand were the Rotches carrying on both foreign commerce and whaling with long continued success, on the other hand were Seth and Charles Russell, who had recently increased the prestige of that family and were rich and powerful. Some of their foreign ventures in commerce were brilliant, they carried a large bank balance in London, they owned many merchant ships and whaleships, and they had also acquired a large amount of real estate within the town. The two brothers were the sons of Seth Russell senior, who was grandson of Joseph Russell 2nd, and the nephew of Joseph Russell 3rd and of Caleb Russell 1st.

There was some rivalry between some of the older merchants and these two brothers, Seth and Charles Russell. The later were called progressive, they took long chances and with uniform success. But soon there came reverses, then the tide seemed to turn against them and finally came the crash when the brothers failed, and much property and real estate in the city changed hands.

Benjamin Russell, the artist was the son of Seth, the older of these two merchants. He was brought up while the fortunes of the house were booming. He loved sketching, generally in black and white, most often in lead pencil, but later washed in with India ink and finished with a fine brush point and with a pen. He sketched much about the wharves and on the ships, and must have been an industrious draughtsman. It was here that he first gained his intimate knowledge of the sails and ropes and ships tackle. His drawings are noted for their exhibitions of an exact knowledge of the rigging of a ship. He knew the ropes. In this respect many of his pictures are more accurate than they are artistic. He has drawn finely penciled lines of running rigging which never could have been seen by the naked eye from the point of view of the observer. Although he couldn’t really see them at that distance he knew they were there and so he drew them in and ran them along where they should be.

I have not been able to learn how much teaching he had in art. He certainly had considerable talent for drawing and some skill in composition, but he had ability with color.

The great disaster in the Arctic in 1871 when so many of our ships were lost gave him his greatest subjects and on these pictures his reputation will chiefly rest.

I will not attempt to enumerate the different works of this artist which are now known to exist. It will be sufficient to say that this society now owns six of his originals and five of the reproductions by lithography.

Benjamin Russell was at one time in the ship chandlery business, but he does not seem to have been prominent as a business man. He was, I believe, at one time a director of the Old Marine Bank.

There is a story that he drew an interesting caricature of one of the directors’ meetings, which was remarkably true to the life. In it the almost life-long president of that institution was represented as seated at the head of the table on a cake of ice. This picture was said to be exceedingly popular with certain disappointed applicants for discount, who had been chilled by the presidential atmosphere.

Benjamin Russell’s largest and most ambitious work was the execution of a panoramic series of pictures of a whaling voyage done on a large scale. Some of these pictures had exceeding merit and much spirit. This panorama was exhibited several times in local halls and at an exhibition of this society and also in many other cities, and now belongs to one of our members, Benjamin Cummings. It will always have great historic interest, and it is to be hoped that the present owner of it will decide that the only fitting repository for it is the treasure house of this historical society.

The Early Poetry of Old Dartmouth
By William A. Wing

Old Dartmouth had early some poetic affiliations even if a hit farfetched.

Mary Holder, the wife of Peleg Slocum, was a kinswoman of Edmund Spenser and ’tis said some of his poems were written at her ancestral home “Canons Ashby” in a room known to this day as “Spenser’s Chamber.”

A close relative was Sir John Dryden—Poet Laureate of England. Now ’tis very probable that Good wife Slocum, never read any of her distinguished relatives’ poems and would undoubtedly have been mightily shocked if she had. The Friends frowned on “Rhymes and Rhymsters.” The good folk of Old Dartmouth had the incomparable poetry of their Bibles. Their children also, such poetry as there was in the New England Primer, that “Little Bible of New England” as it has been called. Perhaps they too, learned the Elizabeth Isles in rhyme and their alphabet in “sing-song” as in our own childhood.

There were quaint bits of poetry in the early almanacs and occasional poems in the likewise occasional newspapers. There were doleful hymns in the old Psalm and Hymn Tune-Book used in the ancient church at the “Head-of-The-River” as early as 1789.

The ministers of this same old church were scholars “college-bred” with meager libraries but in their day so much attention and opinion were given to the Greek and Latin poets that those writing in English received comparatively scant consideration.

Such was the condition of the Muse of Poetry in Old Dartmouth previous to the middle of the seventeen hundreds. So, cleverly she made some attacks upon the place from without.


William Chandler of Connecticut, a surveyor, (father of the famous Colonial clergyman, Rev. Dr. Thomas Bradbury Chandler of New Jersey), brought out a poetic effusion in the form of a broadside, entitled: “A Journal of a Survey by Order of Royal Commissioners, 1741.” It begins -—

These lines below describe a full survey
Of all the coasts along the ‘Gansett Bay,
Therefore attend and quickly you shall know
Where it begins and how far it doth go.

* * *

   But stop my muse let’s haste on our survey
And stretch our coast along the eastward Bay.
So then from thence we measured by the sands
An eastward course along these pleasant lands.
And we came to Dartmouth, a most liberal town,
Whose liquid treats their generous actions crown.
Here is the place where we did end our work.
Here we left, off (and did it with a jerk)
And then retired our field-book for to scan.
And of this large survey to make a plan.

This tribute shows that evidently New Bedford of today is no worse than Old Dartmouth of the past. We wonder if the son, the ponderous clergyman, was like his father or indifferent to “liquid treats.”


Mary Tallman, (a daughter of William) in 1769 at the age of 10, (so says a descendant), wrote little rhyming-notes to her neighbor and playmate, Hannah Pope. The post office was a hollow tree that overhung the brook separating their homesteads. It is to be regretted that those little lyric letters have disappeared.

Captain James Cushing of Boston (appearing on the muster rolls as “Cushin” and “Cushion”) from Colonel Paul Revere’s Regiment, was sent to Dartmouth just before the British Raid in 1778 in command of a company of artillery consisting of about eighty privates. A bit of poetical History probably concerning him follows—


In Newport there’s been found of late
A grand, important, full debate.
The Council met—and all agree
That rebels must be made to flee
But to what place, pray can we go,
Where’s the least danger of the foe?
And bravely forth for stealing stand?
The man is found, here is brave Gray,
Ready to lead to such a fray.
Quick, quick your light horse then prepare,
Embark you men with utmost care.
To Dartmouth quickly then set sail
And burn and plunder without fail.
Then men embark without delay
And soon they pass the mighty Bay
Forthwith they land on Dartmouth shore.
With soldiers, Tories, many score.
They soon advance without a fright.
For Friends and Quakers will not fight.
Bolder they grow and nothing fear.
Then men advance from front to rear.
No opposition do they meet
Till they approach the second street,
And now begins the mighty fray,
A Cushion there obstructs the way.
They all draw up the battle line
With caution, prudence vast design.
With vigor too the attacks they make
To kill or wound or prisoners take.
Push on brave boys, your pointed steel
Will make the mighty tyrant reel.
We’ll bring the haughty tyrant down
That dares usurp a lady’s crown.
The action’s warm; the battle strong;
The Cushion could not stand it long.
No reinforcement coming in
The Cushion’s number being thin,
The battle’s won by gallant Gray
Who now pursues without delay
His grand design to burn and steal
Fat sheep and oxen, lamb and veal.
These are the wondrous feats they do.
With all their grand parade and shew.
Go sneaking home and tell your king
His folly doth through Europe ring.


Silas Delano of that part of Old Dartmouth (now known as Fairhaven,) just after the Revolution tells of his runaway servant thus-—


A handsome premium can be had
By him who will convey
To me a light-haired, slim-shanked lad
Who lately run away.
Whose name is Dudley Williams called.
He’s major, sir, and squire,
And won the title he’s held
Of swindler, knave and liar.
And coward for it is a fact
He will not fight a feather
For which a cowhide strip’d his back
And tanned the rascals leather.
He left his creditors behind
Their losses to bewail.
Being determined in his mind
To give them all Leg Bail.
He stole two horses from the reels
As he run from Dartmouth town
Mounted them quick took to heels
And has not since been found.
Two hundred dollars I’ll give quick
To any clever fellers
That will the scoundrel convict
And bring him to the gallows.
Whether any “clever fellers” received the $200 reward research does not show.


On May 13, 1793, “Mr. Charles Church senior, of (what is now Fairhaven), attempting to cross the harbor in an open boat to the eastern shore, was overset by a whirlwind and drowned, age 53.” This elegy appeared, “Written in the Evening” by “Philander,” in faint imitation of the poet Gray.


What time pale Cynthia holds her feeble sway,
And waning cheers the solitary plain.
Say Misery, feels’t thou one reviving ray?
Or does the silence but augment thy pain?

The weeping muse has heard the mournful tale;
His soul is summoned to eternity!
O’er life’s gay scene Death spreads his shadowy veil
And Church, that cypress is entwin’d for thee!

Tranquil the deep soft zephyrs fan’d the wave.
But fatal prov’d that inauspicious hour,
High Heaven ordained for thee a Watery Grave;
Nor could’st thou fly the unrelenting Power.


To add to the general gloom of the little community three days later, the “amiable and truly virtuous” Miss Betsey Tripp deceased of a “consumptive disorder,” age 25. “With a comely person were such graces as endeared her to all.” The following elegiac lines written by “A Friend” were spoken of as “apt on the sad occasion.”

O! Betsey, how transient is the dream of life
And every care-felt comfort we enjoy,
And [fraught] with care, solicitude and strife,
Each hour attempts our blessings to destroy.
All human scenes are subject to decay,
And time asserts an all prevailing power
Expanding beauties to the morning’s ray
We bloom to wither as this tender flower.
A Friend.


At least one “sighing swain” in old Dartmouth invoked the Muse generally to “Pella” and signed “L”. His identity if ever disclosed, is today unknown. The following written in 1793 is perhaps as worthy a “taste of his quality” as any:


With Pella at eve thro the grove
I’ll innocently walk;
And all the way of kindest love
In friendly converse talk.

While towns are chok’d with dust and noise,
Here I and Pella stray;
No rattling chariots harm our joys,
But round us lamkins play.

Or else by Quishnett’s peaceful stream
We wander hand in hand;
See, oe’r his face the zephyrs skim
And drive the waves aland.

Look! Pella cries. Boat following boat
They blacken all the flood!
One all careen! The oars afloat
Alas! that e’er I viewed.

Some luckless squall not felt ashore
May cause a tear at sea;
How soon the joyful scene is oe’r,
How frail our pleasures be.

One sigh when generous pity calls
Shall in my breast have room.
I weep when e’er a good man falls
She said. We wander’d home.


These early poetic efforts, humble, crude and even absurd, have interest and value for us today, in that they cast a glimmering light on certain phases of their time, as does nothing else.

The Muse in Old Dartmouth strove not all in vain. Surely she has a rightful place in the History of Early American Poetry.