Research

A glimpse at our collection of ship models.

Preserving the past and ensuring a bright future.

The Collections Research Center (CRC) is the nation’s leading maritime research facility. Located across the street from Mystic Seaport, the former J. Rossie Velvet Company houses the Museum’s collections and offers safe and easy access to maritime researchers and scholars. Artifacts at the CRC include more than two million examples of maritime art, artifacts, tools, buildings, imprints and other documents, photographs, 1,000 ships registers, 600 audiotaped oral history interviews, 200 videotaped interviews, and 1.5 million feet of historic and contemporary maritime-related footage. The CRC opened in the fall of 2002 and was designed to exceed national museum standards for conservation, preservation, accessibility, and safety. The research center provides cutting-edge temperature and humidity control for the Museum’s artifacts and also boasts audio/video production suites and extensive photo processing and digitizing labs.

News From the Collections

For the last five years or so, Mystic Seaport has been the temporary home for one of the most amazing murals ever painted. When Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington finished their masterpiece in the late 1840’s, the result, known as the Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World, was celebrated as a realistic depiction of the whaleman’s life in pursuit of the leviathan. Just recently, Mystic Seaport staff members assisted New Bedford staff in removing the second of seven rolls from our Collections Research Center for its trip back to New Bedford where it will undergo long-anticipated conservation work. The first roll was retrieved last year and the first phase of its conservation is nearing an end in public view at New Bedford under the watchful eye of the half- scale whaling bark LAGODA. This oversized painting stands nearly eight and one half feet tall and if opened up to its full length it would stretch for approximately a quarter of a mile. It may very well be the longest painting in the world.  When it was completed it was displayed in New Bedford and then went on a tour throughout the United States. Each roll stood vertically on a spindle on a stage with a take-up reel positioned some feet away. As the panels stretched and rolled between the two spindles, a narrator would describe to the seated viewers just what it was they were observing as they vicariously traveled around the world on a whaleship. You can learn more about the panorama and view a video production about it at the following link. Panorama History. Mystic Seaport is happy to have been of service to our fellow maritime museum while they endeavored to raise funds for the conservation work.


Mystic Seaport and New Bedford Personnel, along with visitors from the Cape Verde Islands,
readying a section of the panorama for travel.

New Bedford Whaling Museum Historian Mike Dyer examining
the first roll in the Collections Research Center.

Author: Paul O'Pecko
Posted: January 21, 2016, 8:22 pm
On March 12th, 1904, Andrew Carnegie signed a Deed of Trust in New York City to create the Carnegie Hero Fund to recognize deeds of civilian heroism. Carnegie was inspired by a mine accident near Pittsburgh to create this fund with a beginning corpus of five million dollars. One of the stipulations in the deed of trust states, “A medal shall be given to the hero, or widow, or next of kin, which shall recite the heroic deed it commemorates, that descendants may know and be proud of their descent. The medal shall be given for the heroic act, even if the doer be uninjured, and also a sum of money if the Commission deem such gift desirable.”


A recent inquiry to the Museum brought to light once again that there is a Carnegie Hero Medal in the collection at Mystic Seaport.  There are countless acts of heroism associated with sea rescues over the years, and the Museum has quite a number of lifesaving medals in its collection attesting to that fact. However, the Carnegie Hero Commission was established expressly to recognize such acts and the Commission must agree that the act recognized is worthy, making this medal of particular interest.


“Woman Lashed to the Mast in Schooner Wreck,”; “Lashed in Rigging Seven Hours, 15 Owe Lives to Brave Fishermen,”; “The Heroic Fishermen.” These are a few of the headlines in January of 1910 after the Captain, his wife and crew of 12 (not 13 as reported) of the six-masted schooner MERTIE B. CROWLEY wrecked on the south coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The captain of the CROWLEY sealed the schooner’s fate when he mistook the Edgartown light for the Block Island light and ran the vessel aground. Captain Levi Jackson and his crew of four of the fishing sloop PRISCILLA set out from shore and managed to brave the storm and the waves for 13 miles and then retrieve the imperiled group from the schooner using the sloop’s dories before the CROWLEY completely broke up.


The medal, as can be seen here, has a likeness of Andrew Carnegie on the front and the following appears on the back: "AWARDED TO LEVI JACKSON WHO HELPED TO SAVE WILLIAM H. AND IDA M. HASKELL AND TWELVE OTHERS FROM DROWNING  EDGARTOWN, MASS. JANUARY 23, 1910."


To see a more detailed account of the rescue, see the account by Levi’s great-grandson on the Carnegie Hero Foundation site at http://www.carnegiehero.org/awardees/profiles/jackson/.


Carnegie Medal Awarded to Captain Levi Jackson in 1910.
Mystic Seaport Accession # 1984.48.3

Author: Paul O'Pecko
Posted: December 21, 2015, 8:56 pm
Quite a number of years ago the Museum was given a collection of naval papers pertaining to the Newman family. William D. Newman (ca. 1800-1844) and his sons, Langford Howard Newman (1830-1866) and William Bogert Newman (1834-1912) were all U.S. Navy officers. William met a tragic death in 1844, but his sons went on to follow him into naval service. Last year a second gift of papers was given to bolster the collection, adding new information about the family. Additionally, the Museum was able to purchase a letter written by Washington Irving in 1847asking New York Congressman Moses H. Grinnell to arrange an appointment to midshipman for seventeen-year old Langford. Irving had previously attained the same appointment from Grinnell for Langford’s father, William. In a snippet from his letter to Grinnell, Irving points out the specifics of the matter regarding William and his son:


His [William’s] melancholy end you may recollect when in command of the UStates Brig Bainbridge at MonteVideo. It is supposed he drowned himself from a too morbid sensibility to his professional reputation; apprehending he might incur popular reproach for his conduct in a transaction in which his superior officer acquitted him of all blame.  He left a family with, I apprehend, but very moderate means; I heard there were, I believe, three or four boys, who when I visited him some few years since appeared to be in excellent training. I now come to the point of this long story.  It is to interest you in favor of his eldest son, about seventeen years of age, apparently a very fine lad, who had recently finished his studies and is bent upon a sea faring life.  I have applied for a midshipmans appointment for him; but as vacancies are rare and applications many, and as in nine months he will be past the limits as to age (18 years) exacted in such appointments, I fear his chance as to success is but small.



The Museum also owns the letter from Langford to Irving requesting this action from the famous author. Langford did indeed get appointed and served aboard a number of ships before, during and just after the Civil War. Unfortunately, he died at an even younger age than his father while in command of the U.S.S. NYACK while the ship was patrolling the west coast of South America in 1866, protecting the interests of Americans during Spain’s conflict with Peru and Chile over the Chincha Islands. He was not yet 36 years old.


Langford Howard Newman, upper right, shown aboard the U.S.S. MONITOR
during the Civil War. From The Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes.

Author: Paul O'Pecko
Posted: November 30, 2015, 9:20 pm

The most famous mutiny in history and the extraordinary small boat voyage that resulted are retold in William Bligh’s A Narrative of the Mutiny on Board His Majesty’s Ship, Bounty and the subsequent voyage of part of the crew in the ship’s boat from Tofoa, one of the friendly islands, to Timor, a Dutch settlement in the East Indies. This account was published in London in 1790, within a year of 
the debilitating seven week open-boat voyage that covered over 3,500 nautical miles. Bligh’s narrative of the voyage includes descriptions of the privations the crew endured, including the difficulty of catching fish, necessitating the action described  in this passage after about three weeks at sea: “The weather was now serene, but unhappily we found ourselves unable to bear the sun’s heat; many of us suffering a languor and faintness, which made life indifferent. We were, however, so fortunate as to catch two boobies today; their stomachs contained several flying-fish and small cuttlefish, all of which I saved to be divided for dinner.” Yum.


Title Page of the newest addition to the G.W. Blunt White Library

This volume, as well as A Voyage to the South Sea….,an ensuing book written by Bligh to relay in more detail the story of the overall expedition of the Bounty and the mutiny, were recently donated to the G.W. Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport as important parts of a larger gift. These two rare examples add to the wealth of an already strong research collection and will find a new, secure home for future researchers in maritime history.




Author: Paul O'Pecko
Posted: October 30, 2015, 5:13 pm
Each year, hundreds of researchers visit the G.W. Blunt White Library in the Collections Research Center to take advantage of one of the finest collections of primary and secondary materials relating to American maritime history. Those that use the collection include historians, other scholars, genealogists, artists, students, teachers, history hobbyists, commercial users and more. Annually, a segment of academic users make their way to Mystic via the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium, of which the G.W. Blunt White Library is a founding member. For over a decade, NERFC, a collaboration of 21 major cultural agencies, has been awarding fellowships to scholars. The Consortium will offer at least 15 awards in 2016–2017, and each grant will provide a stipend of $5,000 for a minimum of eight weeks of research at participating institutions. Awards are open to U.S. citizens and foreign nationals who hold the necessary U.S. government documents. Grants are designed to encourage projects that draw on the resources of several agencies.

Each itinerary must:

·         be a minimum of eight weeks

·         include at least three different member institutions, and

·         include at least two weeks at each of these institutions.

The following scholars have visited, or will visit, the Library in 2015. Along with their name and affiliation, each fellow has provided a short description of their project. We are honored to have such qualified individuals take advantage of the broad collections available at Mystic Seaport.

Cynthia Bouton, Texas A & M Univ.- Subsistence, Society, Commerce, and Culture in the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution - The era of Atlantic Revolutions witnessed an acceleration in the circulation and commodification of subsistence foods, and reorganized social and political links in provisioning chains.  Revolutionary debates politicized property, production, distribution, and consumption in historically specific ways.  This book project studies staple food production, marketplace interaction, entangled trade networks, government policies, and consumer practices to understand shifting food regimes in the international Atlantic. 


Dan Du, Univ. of Georgia– This World in a Teacup: Sino-American Tea Trade in the Nineteenth Century -The Sino-American tea trade during the nineteenth century was a crucial element in Chinese-American relations and the economic transformation of global capitalism. Tea, as a key staple in the international market and one of the largest imports into the United States, illuminates multilateral economic and cultural connections and clashes among the U.S., China, Great Britain, Japan, and India. This project will explore the influence of the tea trade on American material culture. Embargo of tea during the Revolution sparked patriotism in American towns, but historians of the republic consigned tea consumption to oblivion. However, it remained prevalent. It witnessed the making of American cultural, national identity, particularly when compared with English and Chinese tea culture. Furthermore, since consumption allowed capitalism to shape social relations and instill its spirit among ordinary people, tea consumption, which was promoted by marketing and advertising, crystallized the ethos of the nineteenth-century society dissected by class, gender, and race.


Univ. of Georgia Ph.D. candidate, Dan Du, exploring logbooks in the collection.

Andrew Edwards, Princeton Univ. - Money and the American Revolution- Andrew’s research concerns two events, one well known, the other relatively obscure: the American Revolution and the currency revolution in American money.  Over the course of the Revolutionary War, money in American conception and practice changed from measure to metal. This transition, from a ‘unit of account’ to a commodity currency, defined in terms of gold and silver, has long typically gone unremarked under the assumption - shared by many historians - that money is neutral in American political history and that such development is part of the natural course of things, if not entirely uncontested. It is Andrew’s intention to challenge this assumption.


Kathryn Lasdow, Columbia Univ. – “Spirit of Improvement”: Construction, Conflict, and Community in Early-National Port Cities – From 1789 to 1830, budding capitalists advanced a vision for American cities that placed ports at the center of promise and prosperity. But Americans across the social spectrum disagreed over the designs and material realities of port construction. Some city dwellers questioned whether these projects were truly “improvements” at all, arguing they infringed on the property rights of small land- and wharf-owners and displaced entire neighborhoods. Some residents turned to lawsuits, mob violence, and the destruction of building sites to halt impending construction. This dissertation examines this dialectic between capitalist urban planning and community response in early-nineteenth-century American port cities.


Gregory Rosenthal, SUNY Stony Brook – Hawaiians who left Hawaiʻi: Work, Body, and Environment in the Pacific World, 1786-1876- For decades, historians have written of the Atlantic World as an historical arena of transoceanic exchange and the circulation of people, goods, and ideas among African, European, and American actors. But only recently have historians begun to use the same tools to reconstruct histories of other transoceanic spaces, such as the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Gregory’s project contributes to the study of the nineteenth-century Pacific World by focusing on the paths traveled within and beyond Hawaiʻi by Native Hawaiian wage workers in the transoceanic economy. For nearly a century, from the 1780s to the 1870s, Hawaiian men labored in extractive industries all across the Pacific, from China to Hawaiʻi to California and on ships at sea. Hawaiian workers extracted sea otter furs, sandalwood, bird guano, whale oil, cattle hides, gold, and other commodities. All of these trades were of global economic significance in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. By placing Hawaiian working-class actors at the center of nineteenth-century Pacific history, Gregory argues that the movement and mobility of Hawaiians across the ocean in search of work was a key component of trans-Pacific integration.

Author: Paul O'Pecko
Posted: August 26, 2015, 5:40 pm

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