CHARLES W. MORGAN
The Last Wooden Whaleship in the World
The Charles W. Morgan is the last of an American whaling fleet that numbered more than 2,700 vessels. Built and launched in 1841, the Morgan is now America’s oldest commercial ship still afloat – only the USS Constitution is older.
Over an 80-year whaling career, the Morgan embarked on 37 voyages between 1841 and 1921, most lasting three years or more. Built for durability, not speed, she roamed every corner of the globe in her pursuit of whales. She is known as a “lucky ship,” having successfully navigated crushing Arctic ice, hungry cannibals, countless storms, Cape Horn roundings and, after she finished her whaling career, even the Hurricane of 1938.
The Morgan was launched on July 21, 1841 from the yard of Jethro and Zachariah Hillman in New Bedford, Massachusetts. She typically sailed with a crew of about 35, representing sailors from around the world. The whaleship measures 113 feet, with a 27-foot 6-inch beam and depth of hold of 17 feet 6 inches. Her main truck is 110 feet above the deck; fully-rigged, and she is capable of carrying approximately 13,000 square feet of sail. The huge try-pots used for converting blubber into whale oil are forward; below are the cramped quarters in which her officers and men lived.
After her whaling days ended in 1921, the Morgan was preserved by Whaling Enshrined, Inc. and exhibited at Colonel Edward H.R. Green’s estate at Round Hill in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, until 1941. In November of that year, the Morgan came to Mystic Seaport where she has since dominated the waterfront at Chubb’s Wharf.
The whaleship was designated a National Historic Landmark by order of the Secretary of the Interior in 1966, and she is also a recipient of the coveted World Ship Trust Award. Since her arrival at Mystic Seaport more than 20 million visitors have walked her decks. Where once she hunted and processed whales for profit, her purpose now is to tell an important part of our nation’s history and the lessons that history has for current generations.
Restoration and Preservation
At Mystic Seaport the Charles W. Morgan has been given a new lease on life; however, her future vitality depends on continual preservation. A major program of restoration and preservation was begun in 1968 to repair her structurally, and during the course of this work, it was decided to restore her to the rig of a double-topsail bark, which she carried from 1867 through the end of her whaling career. She appears as she was during most of her active career.
In January 1974, after removal from her former sand and mud berth, she was hauled out on the lift dock in the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard for inspection and hull work as needed. Her hull proved to be in remarkably good condition, with only a new false keel, shoe and some planking being required.
In November, 2008 the Morgan returned to the Museum’s shipyard for restoration. The project has renewed areas of the vessel from the waterline down to her keel and also addressed the bow and stern. The whaleship was re-launched on July 21, 2013 and will embark on her 38th Voyage to historic ports of New England in the summer of 2014, engaging communities with their maritime heritage and raising awareness about the changing perception about whales. Where once the Morgan’s cargo was whale oil and baleen, today her cargo is knowledge.
When the vessel returns to Mystic Seaport in August 2014, she will resume her role as an exhibit and flagship of the Museum.