Charles W. Morgan (ship)

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For the naval officer, see Charles W. Morgan (naval officer).
Charles W. Morgan
Charles W Morgan.jpg
Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport, CT
Career (United States)
Owner: Charles W. Morgan, 1841–
J. & W. R. Wing Company, c.1863 – c.1912[1]
Col. E H R Green, c.1925–1941[1]
Whaling Enshrined, Inc., 1941[1]
Mystic Seaport, 1941–
Builder: Jethro and Zachariah Hillman, New Bedford, Massachusetts
Launched: 1841
Identification: MMSI number: 367608930
Call sign: WDH3594
Status: Museum ship
General characteristics
Tonnage: 351.3 (Old Tons); 313.8 (New Tons)[2]
Length: 113 ft (34 m) LOA
Beam: 27 ft 6 in (8.38 m)
Depth: 17 ft 6 in (5.33 m)
Sail plan: Double-topsail bark rig; 13,000 sq ft (1,200 m2) of sail[3]
Charles W. Morgan
Charles W. Morgan (ship) is located in Connecticut
Charles W. Morgan (ship)
Location Mystic, Connecticut
Coordinates 41°21′46.04″N 71°57′54.89″W / 41.3627889°N 71.9652472°W / 41.3627889; -71.9652472Coordinates: 41°21′46.04″N 71°57′54.89″W / 41.3627889°N 71.9652472°W / 41.3627889; -71.9652472
Built 1841
Architectural style Other
Governing body Private
Part of Mystic Bridge Historic District (#79002671)
NRHP Reference # 66000804
Significant dates
Added to NRHP 13 November 1966[4]
Designated NHL 13 November 1966[5]
Designated CP August 31, 1979

Charles W. Morgan is an American whaling ship whose active service period was during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Built in 1841, ships of this type were usually used to harvest the blubber of whales for whale oil, which was commonly used in lamps. The ship has served as a museum ship since the 1940s, and is now an exhibit at the Mystic Seaport museum in Mystic, Connecticut. It is the world's oldest surviving merchant vessel, and the only surviving wooden whaling ship from the 19th century American merchant fleet.[1] It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.


Charles Waln Morgan chose Jethro and Zachariah Hillman's shipyard to construct a new ship at their shipyard in New Bedford, Massachusetts.[6]:23 The Morgan's live oak keel was laid down in February 1841 and fastened together with copper bolts. The bow and stern pieces of live oak were secured to the keel by an apron piece. The sturdy stern post was strengthened with hemlock root and white oak. Yellow pine shipped from North Carolina was used for the ship's beams and hemlock or hackmatack was used for the hanging knees.[6]:29

Construction of the Morgan proceeded until April 19, 1841, when the workers went on strike, demanding a ten-hour work day.[6]:30 The strike gathered support until it encompassed the shipyard, the oil refineries and the cooper shops; Charles Morgan was appointed chairman of the employers and tasked to resolve the strike.[6]:30 Morgan opposed their demands, and a meeting with four master mechanics ended in failure. On May 6, an agreement was reached when the workers accepted a ten-and-a-half-hour workday.[6]:32 Work resumed on the ship without incident and it was launched on July 21, 1841.[6]:32 The ship was registered as a caravel of 106 12 feet (32.5 m) in length, 27 feet 2 12 inches (8.293 m) inches in breadth, and 13 feet 7 14 inches (4.147 m) in depth.[6]:33 The ship's construction and rigging cost a total of $32,562.08 and was assessed a shipyard fee of $2.25 per day for its 258 construction; labor charges was billed at $1.75 a day for 129½ days.[6]:25

The ship was outfitted at Rotch's Wharf for the next two months while preparations were made for its first voyage.[6]:34–35 The name Charles W. Morgan was initially rejected by its namesake builder before being used. Captain Thomas Norton sailed the Morgan into the Atlantic alongside the Adeline Gibbs and the Nassau towards the Azores.[6]:35 A stop was made at Porto Pim (Horta) on Faial Island to gather supplies before crossing the Atlantic and passing Cape Horn before charting a course to the north.[6]:38 On December 13, the men launched in their whaling boats and took their first whale, harpooning it and killing it with the thrust of a lance under the side fin.[6]:43 The Morgan entered the port of Callau in early February and departed again on the 10th for the Galapagos Islands. In 1844, the ship sailed to the Kodiak Grounds before sailing for home on August 18.[6]:60 The Morgan returned to her home port in New Bedford on January 2 in 1845.[6]:60 The voyage of three years and three months resulted in 59 whales being processed for 1600 barrels of sperm oil, 800 barrels of right whale oil and five tons of whale bone that netted a total of $53,052.56.[6]:61

Service life[edit]

Charles W Morgan 2008.jpg

In her 80 years of service, she made 37 voyages ranging in length from nine months to five years. Charles W. Morgan, in total, brought home 54,483 barrels of sperm and whale oil and 152,934 pounds of whalebone. She sailed in the Indian and South Atlantic Oceans, surviving ice and snow storms. Her crew survived a cannibal attack in the South Pacific. Between 1888 and 1904 she was based in San Francisco.

Charles W. Morgan had more than 1,000 whalemen of all races and nationalities in her lifetime. Her crew included not only Americans, but sailors from Cape Verde, New Zealand, the Seychelles, Guadeloupe, and Norfolk Island. The ship's crew averaged around 33 men per voyage. As with other whaleships in the 19th century, Charles W. Morgan was often home to the captain's family. Charles W. Morgan was owned and managed by the J. & W. R. Wing Company of New Bedford.[7]

During her years of service, Charles W. Morgan was used in several movies, including Miss Petticoats (1916), Down to the Sea in Ships (1922) and Java Head (1923).


The Morgan was nearly destroyed in 1924 when the Sankaty, a steamer, caught fire and broke free of its mooring lines.[6]:5[8][9][10] The burning Sankaty drifted across the river and into the Morgan '​s port quarter, but the Fairhaven firemen managed to save the Morgan.[6]:5 This event spurred Harry Neyland and some New Bedford citizens to restore and preserve the Morgan. Unsuccessful in their efforts, Neyland persuaded Colonel Edward Howland Robinson Green to save the ship.[6]:5 Neyland appealed to Green that the Morgan was of historicial importance and was a family heirloom because the Morgan was once co-owned by Green's grandfather and his wife's company.[6]:5 Green had the ship towed to his estate in Round Hill (Dartmouth, Massachusetts) and founded Whaling Enshrined consisting of himself, Neyland and John Bullard, the great-grandson of Charles Waln Morgan.[6]:6

The Morgan underwent restoration by Captain George Fred Tilton and was turned into an exhibition for Green's estate in a berth constructed by Frank Taylor.[6]:6 On the 86th anniversary of the Morgan '​s launch, Green held a dedicatory ceremony and gave the ship to Whaling Enshrined on July 21, 1926.[6]:6 The Morgan '​s fate came into question when Tilton died in 1932 and Green died in 1935; resulting in lengthy court proceedings over the Green's estate.[6]:7–9 The 1938 New England hurricane damaged the Morgan '​s hull and tore the sails; Whaling Enshrined attempted, but could not secure funds for the ship.[6]:9 In 1941, the Morgan was saved by the Marine Historical Association (later renamed Mystic Seaport) based on Taylor's word that the ship could be freed and towed to Mystic, Connecticut.[6]:10 Taylor's crew dug the Morgan from its berth and dredged a channel for it to pass through, but the first attempt to pull the ship free was unsuccessful. More digging and caulking of the ship preceded the Morgan '​s successful tugging into the channel and the century old hull withstood the move and floated into bay provided by the Coast Guard cutter General Greene.[6]:11 The Morgan was towed to the old berth in Fairhaven for several days of preparations and repairs prior to the trip to Mystic.[6]:11

On November 5, 1941, the General Greene pulled the Morgan from the wharf only to have it be caught by the tide and swept downstream, coming to rest on a mud flat and requiring two hours to be freed.[6]:4 The journey came to an end on November 8 when the Morgan passed through the Mystic bridge and was moored in the Mystic Seaport.[6]:17–18 The Mystic Seaport took shape around the Morgan with the restoration of its buildings and historic ships that came to reside at the museum.[6]:18 Stackpole writes, "Over it all, the Morgan presided like Old Neptune-the centerpiece, the king seated on a throne of gravel, towering high above the scene."[6]:19


The Charles W. Morgan in dry-dock undergoing restoration

Charles W. Morgan arrived at Mystic Seaport in December 1941. The ship was declared a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.[5][1] In 1971, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Charles W. Morgan.

For the first 30 years of the ship's life at Mystic Seaport, she was surrounded by a bed of sand to prevent her from sinking. Even so, she was open to the public and was the center piece of an recreated 19th Century maritime village museum inspired by Colonial Williamsburg. She was, and is, the only preserved 19th Century whaling ship.

A restoration and preservation project was undertaken in 1968 which resulted in her being made seaworthy and the sand bed was removed. Prior to the 1968 restoration, she had a wide white stripe on her sides with painted with large black squares that resembled gun ports when viewed at a distance. This "camouflage" was often employed by 19th Century merchant ships to make them resemble warships so as to deter pirates and hostile navies.

In 2010 Mystic Seaport was engaged in a multi-million dollar restoration, intended to restore the ship to seaworthy status.

On July 21, 2013, marking the 172nd anniversary of the vessel’s initial launch, the Charles W. Morgan was re-launched into the Mystic River.[11][12][13] During the summer of 2014 the Morgan sailed its 38th voyage on tour of New England seaports which included New London, Newport, Boston and her home town of New Bedford.[14]

In culture[edit]

1971 U.S. commemorative stamp honoring Charles W. Morgan by Melbourne Brindle

The Charles W. Morgan has been depicted in mixed media in different ways for nearly a century. In 1971, Melbourne Brindle of Bridgeport, Connecticut designed four commemorative stamps of historic landmarks including the Charles W. Morgan.[15]


In The Last Sail Down East the Morgan's length was reported as being "just over 105 feet long".[16]:198 The book conflicts with Stackpole by listing the ship's return from its first voyage on January 1, 1845 instead of the following day.[16]:199 The goods detailed within match, but the figure of $69,591 is listed instead of $53,052.56.[16]:199

See also[edit]

Other preserved 19th-century sailing ships:


  1. ^ a b c d e Schroer, Blanche Higgins; Bradford, S. Sydney (11 December 1974). "The Charles W. Morgan" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination. National Park Service. and
    "Accompanying 4 photos, from 1974 and undated" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination. National Park Service. 11 December 1974. 
  2. ^ Davis, Lance E.; Gallman, Robert E.; Gleiter, Karen (1997). "Chapter 6: Capital". In Pursuit of Leviathan: Technology, Institutions, Productivity, and Profits in American Whaling, 1816–1906 (pdf). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Table 6.11 at p. 254. ISBN 0-226-13789-9.  See p. 215 (pdf) & fn. 5 for discussion of the difference in tonnage measurements.
  3. ^ "Charles W. Morgan – Whaling Ship". Mystic Seaport. Retrieved 28 February 2011. 
  4. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 23 January 2007. 
  5. ^ a b "Charles W. Morgan (Bark)". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-10-03. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Stackpole, Edouard (1967). The Charles W. Morgan. Meredith Press. 
  7. ^ "Successful whaler returns" (pdf). The New York Times. 30 October 1900. 
  8. ^ The Dukes County Intelligencer 24 (4). May 1983.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ "Reminiscences of The Last Voyage of the Bark Wanderer". The American Neptune (Peabody Museum of Salem): 18. 1949. 
  10. ^ "Pacific Steam Navigation Company". Sea Breezes 56 (443). November 1982. 
  11. ^ Broad, William J. (16 August 2010). "A Quest to Make the Morgan Seaworthy". Science. The New York Times. 
  12. ^ "Charles W Morgan - Mystic Seaport". Mystic Seaport Museum. Retrieved 2013-06-22. 
  13. ^ Bond, Michaelle (21 July 2013). "Museum Relaunches Wooden Whaler Built in 1841". N.Y. / Region. The New York Times. 
  14. ^ "The 38th Voyage: Morgan readies to sail again". The Day. May 2014. 
  15. ^ "Historic Stamps, Famed Car, Make October Special for Area Artist". The Bridgeport Post (Bridgeport, Connecticut). 3 October 1971. p. 31. Retrieved 6 August 2014. 
  16. ^ a b c Tod, Giles (1965). The Last Sail Down East. Barre. 

External links[edit]