Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thanksgiving Week..

The Collections Research Center will be closed to visitors Wednesday, November 26th - Friday, November 28th for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The End of the Building, but not the Name


Norman Rockwell would have loved this picture. A father and son standing side by side engaged in a patriotic scene early in the 20th century that would have sold a boatload of war bonds in later years. The father is William Porter White, a career navy man from Illinois who entered the navy in 1874 at the age of 15 and served his country for the next 52 years, ending his stint as a Captain. The boy, George William Blunt White, known to all as Blunt, is 10 years old in this picture taken in Chicago in 1905. Blunt would later serve in the U.S. Navy Aviation Corps in World War I and then spend the next four decades as a successful businessman in the Mystic area. Along the way he started sailing, eventually becoming the Commodore of the Cruising Club of America. He also took an interest in the local Marine Historical Society (Mystic Seaport), joining the Board in 1947 and serving as the Vice President from 1955 until his death from a heart attack in 1962 while doing what he loved. Sailing.

William Porter White and son, G.W. Blunt White, 1905. MSM accession# 2002.20.23
After Blunt’s passing, his good friend, Henry DuPont, was instrumental in raising and donating funds to build a new library at Mystic Seaport, and the Museum memorialized Blunt by naming it the G.W.  Blunt White Library. Completed in 1964, the Library soon had its first professional librarian at the helm in the person of Dr. Charles W. David. Dr. David was instrumental in bringing about a transformation at Mystic Seaport through his scholarly endeavors and keen understanding of institutional process from his work at the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr College and his establishment of the Library at Longwood Gardens. His expertise in libraries and fund-raising was critical to the early development of the G.W. Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport and the Library’s growth into the successful operation that it is today. He helped lift the Museum and indeed the field of maritime research and scholarship to a new level of esteem and capacity.

Sketch of the original G.W. Blunt White Library.

Over the years the Library’s collection has grown into the largest maritime research library of its kind in the country with its broad collection of books, periodicals, manuscripts, ships plans, charts and maps and more. When the Museum was considering expanding the Library building in 2000 to house the ever-growing collection, a decision was made to reconsider the expansion for a number of reasons. The two primary reasons centered on the site of the building. First, the underpinnings of the granite-clad edifice were suffering from the intrusion of both fresh and brackish water. The building had been situated in 1964 on a piece of land that not only suffered from having the ground saturated due to high tides, but also had the unfortunate happenstance of being located directly above an underground stream that magnified the watery problem during rainstorms, causing and  regular seepage into the basement of the building. Mold and mildew became an insurmountable problem. Second, the site overlooked prime real estate for future Museum expansion and any addition to the Library needed to move in the direction of the river, thereby fragmenting the space for future uses.

The decision was made to finally move the Library out of the deteriorating building in 2007. The collections and staff made the journey across the street to the Collections Research Center in the Rossie Mill after necessary monies were raised by friends and trustees to outfit a section of the CRC for Library use. Today the G.W. Blunt White Library remains a major center of maritime research and also acts as the gateway to the rest of the collections at Mystic Seaport.

Blunt’s legacy was carried on by his son, Bill, another long-time, active member of the Museum’s Board, and Bill’s son, Blunt, who also served his time as a trustee. It is sad to see the passing of an era with the razing of the former library building, but the boy in the uniform will continue to be remembered in the new G.W. Blunt White Library in the Collections Research Center at Mystic Seaport, the Museum of America and the Sea. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cruise of a Connecticut Privateer....

A logbook of a Connecticut privateer during the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years’ War, was purchased recently by the Museum. Commanded by Jesse Denison, the sloop DOLPHIN of Stonington cruised local and Caribbean waters in search of both French and Spanish prizes in 1762 and early 1763. Sanford Billings kept the logbook/journal that details some of the encounters of the DOLPHIN.



Two weeks after the Treaty of Paris was signed ending the war, the DOLPHIN’s crew (supposedly ignorant of the pact), in company with the crew of two ships from Philadelphia and Virginia, marched on a fort in Hispaniola:

“Landed 150 men all well armed and marched up to the town. 
Found two cannon, six swivels. We took the Place…..
Returned on board the DOLPHIN all hands well 
except one man wounded with a musquet ball in the shoulder.” 

The following day they learned of the truce and made sail for home. As with so many other logbooks and journals, this one went on to have another life recording such things as school attendance by local students, accounts of goods bought and sold and Billings' family genealogy. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A New C.W. MORGAN Painting


When the whaleship CHARLES W. MORGAN was launched again in Mystic in July 2013, 172 years after her original launching in New Bedford, one of the world’s premier maritime artists was on hand to document the event for Mystic Seaport. British artist Geoff Hunt, through the sponsorship of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hamm, spent the day of the launch high atop the stairway that had been used by visitors to ascend to the deck of the MORGAN while she was being restored on the Museum’s shiplift which had been rebuilt just prior to the MORGAN’s restoration project.

While Geoff has gained a lot of notoriety for the artwork he has produced for the covers of the Patrick O’Brian “Aubrey-Maturin” novels, he has long been known in the maritime art world for his exceptional depictions of, primarily, 18th and 19th century warships. His research is impeccable and his skill remarkable.



We are happy to have the painting seen here as part of the collection at Mystic Seaport. Even better, the Museum has also acquired the watercolor sketch that Geoff produced as the draft for this painting. Now that the MORGAN is home from her successful 38th voyage around New England, we expect to see many more versions of her likeness both under sail and in port.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Selling Power of Patriotism: Clipper Ship Sailing Cards

The image seen here seems appropriately patriotic for our nation’s  4th of July celebration. EAGLE WING was a 200 foot long clipper ship built in Boston in 1853. This card was an advertisement used to attract business for the ship and its owners for passages to the west coast, as the number of days listed indicates. A mere 106 and 117 days were two of the extremely fast trips she made to San Francisco. She sailed at various times out of both Boston and New York.  Other clipper ship sailing cards can be seen at:



The patriotic symbolism in this picture is not only represented by the eagle, but also by the liberty pole it carries in its beak as well as the liberty cap that surmounts the pole. Both the pole and the cap represented freedom from tyranny. The use of the liberty cap supposedly dated back to the assassination of Julius Caesar. The senators involved in the killing held aloft a pole with the red cap, worn by freed slaves in Rome, to indicate to the people of Rome that they were now free from Caesar’s tyrannical rule. Some countries, especially the United States and France, adopted the use of the cap as an icon of their political independence, and the U.S. specifically made use of the liberty pole during the infancy of the revolution.

EAGLE WING. From Collection 112, Manuscripts Collection,
G.W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Easter Island and the Voyage of La Perouse

When Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse set sail in 1785 with the blessing and assistance of Louis XVI, he was following in the wake of Captain James Cook to discover lands unknown to Europeans. He sailed in search of the Northwest Passage and eventually made his way to Botany Bay in Australia in 1788. Along the way he made a stop at Easter Island where his expedition was enchanted with the people and expressed wonder at the richness of the soil. While there, sketches were done of the monuments on the island and the way in which they were supported, as can be seen in the following images from the 1797 edition of the Atlas du Voyage de la Perouse located in the rare book collection in the G.W. Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport.


When La Perouse left Australia in 1788, his expedition was never heard from again. Luckily, he had handed over his journals up to that point to be sent back to France and they were subsequently published. Nearly 40 years later what appeared to be the remains of his ships were located on Vanikoro Island in the Santa Cruz Islands about 1,000 miles east of Australia.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

To Tucopia and Beyond!

As the 21-year-old first mate aboard YANKEE during Irving Johnson’s initial circumnavigation beginning in 1933, Fred Jackson of Providence spent much of his time as correspondent to newspapers about the activities of the young crew as they made their way from one exotic port to another.  The photograph seen here is one of many in an album that was recently given to Mystic Seaport by Fred Jackson’s son, Edward. The album also contains a number of the newspaper stories with young Jackson’s byline prominently displayed.

Tucopians aboard YANKEE. From album 2013.108. Mystic Seaport

The YANKEE’s inexperienced crew had adventures that most could only imagine. The late Francis “Biff” Bowker, long-time Captain of the Museum's sail-training schooner BRILLIANT, frequently recounted how he longed to leave home to sail with Johnson on an early voyage, but was frustrated in his attempts. If he had been on this circumnavigation, he would have met these “Tucopian wild men,” as Jackson named them. Tucopia is an island that lies midway between Papua, New Guinea and Fiji and obviously one of the many landfalls along the way.

In the grouping of photos from which this one is taken, is another that shows the crew ashore with an assembly of locals and the caption reads: “The council of war…We refused to give 100 fish hooks, two vests, three kerosene tins of tobacco, etc. The answer came – ‘We no like you. More better you go away.’ We went.” Jackson's humor and insight are remarkable for one so young.


Mystic Seaport holds a treasure trove of Johnson material from photos to logbooks to film to items collected on the seven circumnavigations done by Johnson and his wife “Exy”. A recent film narrated by world class sailor Gary Jobson was produced at Mystic Seaport using film footage taken by the Johnsons and now part of the collection at the Museum. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Unfurling the World, you can order it here.