Charles W. Morgan’s Vineyard captains and crew


To the Editor:

Thanks for publishing Nelson Sigelman’s excellent article about Gannon and Benjamin Boatyard building a whaleboat for the whaleship Charles W. Morgan [Gannon & Benjamin make a whaleboat for Mystic’s Charles W. Morgan, January 10]. It has prompted a number of people to contact me asking about her Vineyard connections and captains, which I have summarized below for others who may have an interest. This list certainly underscores how appropriate it is to have a whaleboat built for the Morgan’s ceremonial “38th Voyage,” which will bring her to the Vineyard in June of 2014.

The Charles W. Morgan was built in 1841. During her 80 years of active whaling, ending in 1921, she made 37 voyages to oceans and seas around the world.

The Morgan’s keel was laid in January of 1841, at the J & Z Hillman Brothers Shipyard in New Bedford. Jethro and Zachariah Hillman, who were from Chilmark, started their shipyard in 1827 and between 1827 and 1852 built 17 whaleships. The yard was considered one of the finest in New Bedford.

Throughout her career, six of the Morgan’s 21 captains came from the Vineyard, and they commanded 14 of her 37 voyages. No other community comes close to these numbers.

They were:

Thomas Adams Norton, the first voyage, “To the Pacific Ocean,” September 6, 1841 to January 2, 1845. (Seventeen of the crew of 30 came from the Vineyard.)

Tristram P. Ripley, fourth voyage, “To the North Pacific Ocean,” September 20, 1853 to April 27, 1856.

Thomas N. Fisher, fifth voyage, “To the North Pacific Ocean,” September 15, 1856 to August 16, 1859.

George Athearn, eighth voyage, “To the Pacific Ocean,” July 17, 1867 to August 16, 1871.

James E.A. Earle, 17th voyage, from San Francisco, “To Japan and Okhotsk” [the Arctic], December 2,1890 to October 31, 1891. This was the first voyage under Captain Earle’s command. He was to be her captain for a total of nine voyages, most of which were out of San Francisco. His last (her 31st) was from New Bedford “To the Atlantic Ocean,” August 11, 1906 to July 4th 1908.

Benjamin D. Cleveland, 34th voyage, “To the Antarctic Ocean,” September 7, 1916 to October 23, 1917.

George Fred Tilton, a legendary Vineyard whaleman, served as the Morgan’s port captain at Col. Green’s Round Hill, Dartmouth, estate from 1926 until 1932, thus another Vineyard captain if you will.

Matthew Stackpole

West Tisbury

Mystic Seaport’s Morgan Restoration Ship’s Historian