Postcard History: The Charles W. Morgan


By Carla Charter

Of the 2,700 ships which once made up the American Whaling fleet, only one is still in existence, the Charles W. Morgan, America’s oldest Commercial ship still afloat. Only the USS Constitution is older.

The Morgan was launched on July 21, 1841 from the yard of Jethro and Zachariah Hillman in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The Morgan typically sailed with a crew of about 35 representing sailors from around the world. Built for durability, not speed, she roamed every corner of the globe in her pursuit of whales. Over an 80-year whaling career, the Morgan embarked on 37 voyages with most lasting three years or more. She is known as a “lucky ship,” having successfully navigated crushing Artic ice, hostile natives, countless storms, Cape Horn roundings and, after she finished her whaling career, even the Hurricane of 1938.

The Morgan’s whaling days ended in 1921.  In 1925 the ship was lying derelict in New Bedford harbor and almost caught fire when a burning steamboat, the Sankaty, drifted loose and almost ran into her. A group of local residents sought to preserve the ship and enlisted the help of local millionaire Col. Edward H. R. Green. Green’s grandfather had been one of the past owners of the Morgan. Green formed a corporation called Whaling Enshrined to take over the ship. For the next 10 years, Green exhibited the ship in its berth off his elaborate estate, Round Hills, offering free admission to the public.

Greene died in 1935 and in 1941, she was given to Mystic Seaport, at the time known as the Marine Historical Association, and has been at the museum ever since.

The whaleship was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and is also a recipient of the coveted World Ship Trust Award.

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.  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.  In November 2008 the Morgan returned to the Museum’s shipyard for restoration.

The whaleship was re-launched July 21, 2013 and left Mystic Seaport May 17,2014 to embark on her 38th Voyage to historic ports of New England.  The nearly three-month journey raised awareness of America’s maritime heritage and called attention to issues of ocean sustainability and conservation. The ship returned from her voyage August 6, 2014.   No future voyages to New England Ports are planned at this time.

Along with preserving the Morgan, The Mystic Seaport museum also operates steam boats up and down the Mystic River.  During the summer, the sailing schooner, the Brilliant, provides youth sailing training and during the fall,adult sailing training is offered. The museum is also currently restoring the Mayflower II for Plimouth Plantation.

“ Americas maritime history is a really important part of America’s story and we work really hard to restore and preserve all of our watercraft, “ according to  Dan McFadden Director of Communications at Mystic Seaport More information about the museum and the Morgan can be found at www.mysticseaport.org

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