By Matthew Stackpole
(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Summer 2013
Though built and launched in New Bedford, Massachusetts, since 1941 the whaleship Charles W. Morgan has been one of Connecticut’s historic treasures. After a four-and-a-half year renovation at Mystic Seaport, she’ll be re-launched this summer and will prepare to sail again in 2014.
On July 21, 1841 Charles W. Morgan wrote in his diary, “A fine warm day – but very dry – This morning at 10 o’clock my elegant new ship was launched from Messrs Hillman’s yard – and in the presence of about half the town and a great show of ladies, She looks beautifully on the water….” Because he was the ship’s principal owner, she had been named after him.
Surely her owners, builders, and friends hoped for a good and prosperous future for the vessel on that fine morning in New Bedford, Massachusetts. What they couldn’t have foreseen was that this ship would sail on 37 voyages over the next 80 years, transiting oceans and seas around the globe. Nor could they have predicted that she would sail from the most prosperous of times for the whaling industry to that industry’s end in America or that she would eventually be the last remaining ship of a fleet that numbered more than 2,700 vessels over the 200 years the industry existed. What they also most certainly couldn’t have imagined was that in Mystic, Connecticut, on another July 21, 172 years later this same ship would again be launched and begin “outfitting” for a new, different, and in many ways her most ambitious voyage.
This last remaining whaleship, the oldest American merchant ship afloat and a National Historic Landmark, has spent the last 72 years at Mystic Seaport and the last four and a half years being painstakingly restored in the museum’s Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard, the only shipyard in America devoted exclusively to restoring and preserving wooden vessels. Not only has she been restored from the waterline down to her keel, every aspect of her construction, most of which hasn’t been seen since the winter of 1841, has been painstakingly documented so that her physical record—and that of her sister ships—will never be lost. In the process, the museum has trained another generation of shipwrights in the techniques, skills, and use of traditional tools needed for working on large-timber wooden vessels.
In 2014, the Charles W. Morgan will set sail again on a ceremonial “38th Voyage” along the southeast New England Coast. Her cargo will be her history in all its multi-faceted layers, the good and the inspiring, but also the bad and the parts we need to remember so as to not repeat them. The voyage will also illuminate the critical issues of ocean stewardship and the impact of human activity on the oceans An ambitious new voyage indeed, and a bold new way for Mystic Seaport to make the past a part of and relevant to the present.
Charles W. Morgan Launch
July 21, 2013, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
At the 2 p.m. high tide a ceremonial breaking of a bottle over the Morgan‘s bow and lowering of the vessel into the Mystic River will highlight a day of celebration with state and local dignitaries speaking about the vessel’s important role in Connecticut history, the whaling industry, and our nation’s maritime heritage.
Mystic Seaport Museum, 75 Greenmanville Avenue, Mystic. Mysticseaport.org; 860-572-0711
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