Charles W. Morgan is the last surviving wooden whaling ship
from the great days of sail. Built in 1841 in New Bedford,
Massachusetts, the Morgan had a successful 80-year whaling
career. She made 37 voyages before retiring in 1921, and was
preserved as an exhibit through the efforts of a number of
dedicated citizens. After being on display in South Dartmouth,
Mass., until 1941, she came to Mystic Seaport, where each year
thousands of visitors walk her decks and hear the fascinating
story of her career as a whaling vessel, historic exhibit, film
and media star, and a porthole into America's rich history. Take
your own journey into the history of this remarkable survivor.
Why is the Morgan important?
The Charles W. Morgan is the only remaining American
wooden whaling ship.
Where was the Morgan built?
The ship was built at the Hillman shipyard in New Bedford, Mass.
How old is the Morgan?
The Morgan was launched on July 21, 1841.
How long did it take to build the Morgan?
The Morgan was built over a nine month period.
How much did it cost to build her?
The ship itself cost $26,877, with another $25,977 to outfit her
with all necessary equipment and supplies for her first voyage.
Who was Charles W. Morgan?
Charles Waln Morgan was one of six children born to Quaker
parents in Philadelphia. He was born on September 14, 1796. He
relocated to New Bedford, Mass., in 1819 where he married Sarah
Rodman and began investing in whaling vessels. Morgan managed 15
vessels and owned shares in 18 others during his career. With
his whaling profits, he invested in many other business
enterprises. Morgan left the Quaker faith to become a Unitarian
and was recognized as an abolitionist and a supporter of the
temperance movement. While he was away on business in 1841,
Morgan’s nephew took the liberty of naming the new whaling ship
after his uncle. Morgan died on April 7, 1861.
How big is the ship?
The Morgan is comparable to many whaling ships of the
time: 105' on deck, 133' overall. Her beam (width) is 27.7' and
her draft (depth) is 12.6 feet, although fully loaded she could
draw as much as 17.6', her registered depth. Her displacement
(weight) is 313.75 tons.
How long were the voyages?
Her longest voyage was four years and eleven months, while her
shortest was "only" eight and a half months.
How many in the crew?
The Morgan's full crew complement was around 35 men.
10. Where was her home?
The Morgan sailed from New Bedford, Mass., from 1841 to
1886. Then, as the whaling industry waned, she relocated to San
Francisco from 1887 until 1906, off-loading her whale oil and
shipping it back east by rail. The Morgan returned to
New Bedford between 1906 and 1921, when she “retired” from
11. How many trips did she make?
The Morgan made 37 whaling voyages under the command of
20 different captains.
12. How much money did the Morgan make?
The Morgan’s career was a profitable one. During her
80-year career, oil prices varied widely; but by the time she
stopped whaling, the Morgan had earned a total of more
than one million dollars. Her best voyage brought in $165,405,
and her least, $8,977.
13. Were there women aboard?
Five captains’ wives sailed with their husbands on the
Morgan. The captain was the only one permitted to bring his
wife and family members aboard the vessel.
14. Why did they hunt for whales?
Before petroleum oil was discovered in 1859, whale oil was a
primary agent for lubrication and illumination. Even after the
discovery of petroleum, whale oil was still used for many
applications. In addition, other important products, including
baleen (a plastic-like material), spermaceti (a waxy substance
used to make candles) and ambergris were harvested from various
species of whale.
15. Which kinds of whale did they hunt for?
Vessels like the Morgan primarily hunted three species
of whale: sperm, right and bowhead. These species were easy to
catch (relative to other species), yielded the most desirable
products and reliably remained afloat when they were killed.
Occasionally other species, including the California gray whale,
were also pursued.
16. How did they catch the whales?
When whales were spotted from the lookout hoops of the ship, the
officer-in-charge determined how many boats to send in pursuit.
For most of her career, the Morgan carried five
whaleboats. Six crew members manned each boat, which was then
rowed, sailed or paddled (depending on conditions) to the
whale(s). A harpoon, with a long line attached, was thrust into
the whale, securing the boat to the whale. Frequently, the whale
would swim away until it grew weary from pulling the boat over
the sea. When the whale stopped to rest, the crew would bring
the boat close to the whale and kill it with a long lance or
17. How would they process the whale?
Once along side the ship, the dead whale would be secured and
the insulating layer of blubber just below the skin would be
removed, cut into manageable pieces and melted into oil in the
kettles of the try-works on board. The oil would then be stored
in casks and barrels below deck. The head of the whale was
removed and various products (including baleen and spermaceti)
were harvested and stored.
18. How much whale oil could the Morgan hold?
The Morgan’s cargo capacity was around 3,000 barrels
(each barrel held 31.5 gallons). Therefore, the Morgan
could potentially bring home over 90,000 gallons of oil.
19. Was whaling dangerous?
At times, whaling was very dangerous. Numerous accidents
occurred while working aloft in the rigging, processing the
whales or during rough seas. The hunt and chase involved close
encounters with a very large and potentially aggressive
creature. Whaleboats were sometimes tipped over or smashed by
whales, and men were injured or killed as a result.
compared with other seafaring trades, whaling was not terribly
dangerous. Men working in the commercial fishing trade were far
more likely to be injured or killed than whale men.
Charles W. Morgan made 37 voyages in her 80 years of service
from her home port of New Bedford, Massachusetts, ranging in
length from nine months to five years. She brought home a total
of 54,483 barrels of sperm 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. She was based in San Francisco
between 1888 and 1904.
Charles W. Morgan had more than 1,000 whalemen of all races and
nationalities in her lifetime. Her crew included 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. She was owned and managed by
the J. & W. R. Wing Company of New Bedford.
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).
Charles W. Morgan was nearly destroyed in 1924 when the steamer
Sankaty caught fire and broke free of her mooring lines. The
burning Sankaty drifted across the river and into Morgan's port
quarter, but the Fairhaven firemen managed to save the Morgan.
This event spurred Harry Neyland and some New Bedford citizens
to restore and preserve the Morgan, but the attempts was
unsuccessful in their efforts. Neyland then persuaded Colonel
Edward Howland Robinson Green to save the ship. Neyland appealed
to Green that the Morgan was of historicial importance and was a
family heirloom because she was once co-owned by Green's
grandfather and his wife's company. 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.
Charles W. 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. Green held a dedication
ceremony on the 86th anniversary of the ship's launch and gave
it to Whaling Enshrined on July 21, 1926. The ship's fate came
into question when Tilton died in 1932 and Green died in 1935,
resulting in lengthy court proceedings over Green's estate. The
1938 New England hurricane damaged Morgan's hull and tore the
sails; Whaling Enshrined attempted to secure funds for the ship
but were unable to do so.
In 1941, Charles W. 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. Taylor's crew dug Morgan from her berth and dredged
a channel for her 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
with assistance from the Coast Guard cutter General Greene. She
was towed to the old berth in Fairhaven for several days of
preparations and repairs prior to the trip to Mystic.
On November 5, 1941, General Greene pulled Morgan from the wharf
only to have her be caught by the tide and swept downstream,
coming to rest on a mud flat and requiring two hours to be
freed.:4 The journey came to an end on November 8 when she
passed through the Mystic bridge and was moored in the Mystic
Seaport. The Mystic Seaport took shape around Charles W. Morgan
with the restoration of its buildings and historic ships that
came to reside at the museum. "Over it all, the Morgan presided
like Old Neptune-the centerpiece, the king seated on a throne of
gravel, towering high above the scene.
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. In 1971,
Melbourne Brindle of Bridgeport, Connecticut designed four
commemorative stamps of historic landmarks including the Morgan.
For the first 30 years 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 centerpiece of a recreated 19th
Century maritime village museum inspired by Colonial
Williamsburg. She is the only preserved 19th Century whaling
ship in the world.
The Mystic Seaport undertook a restoration and preservation
project in 1968 to make her seaworthy, and the sand bed was
removed. Prior to the 1968 restoration, she had a wide white
stripe painted on her sides 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 engaged in a multimillion-dollar project
to restore the ship to seaworthy status. She was re-launched
into the Mystic River on July 21, 2013, marking the 172nd
anniversary of the vessel’s initial launch. During the summer of
2014, she sailed her 38th voyage on tour of New England seaports
which included New London, Connecticut, Newport, Rhode Island,
Boston, and her home town of New Bedford, Massachusetts.