Ship Chandlery

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The ship chandlery was a retail and wholesale source of supplies for both individual seamen and vessels. The chandler knew the needs of his local economy and was a specialist in meeting those needs, be they whaling, shipping, fishing, or ship building.

Contracting for provisions at the chandlery was the responsibility of the ship’s agent, a man authorized by vessel owners to manage supplies and equipment, as well as repairs, freight, towage, and the hiring of officers and crew. A chandler himself might serve as an agent for ships. His skill at being an information broker paying off in purchases at his shop.

Lack of shipboard refrigeration inhibited variety in food stuffs for voyages, but chandlers offered salt fish and meat, hardtack, molasses, potatoes, onions and other winter vegetables, spices, and flour. Rum and tobacco were also in stock. Clothing, boots, and blankets were purchased for sailors who often bought them while at sea, and supplies for the ship itself ranged from navigational instruments to lanterns, buoys, logs, and inkstands. Needles, beeswax, and canvas were available for use in repairs aboard ship as well as for the sail maker at home. In addition, marine hardware, paints, oils, and compounds were available.

Located in the first floor of the Charles Mallory Sail Loft, our ship chandlery is used as a location to display a large number of objects from the Museum’s collection. All sorts of items that would have been available in a 19th-century chandlery are on view, from anchor balls and lights to bomb lance guns, hoops, and caulking irons.