Over the last several years, a historical restoration project in Mystic, Connecticut has highlighted a formative part of our region’s heritage—the whaling industry of the 1700s and 1800s. Now, the Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining ship of that era, has set out on her 38th voyage from the Mystic Seaport to bring attention to this astounding industry.
According the Seaport’s website, the Morgan was “known as a lucky ship” for successfully navigating “crushing Arctic ice, hungry cannibals, and countless storms” during her career as a commercial whaler.
The Morgan recently completed a five-year restoration project of the ship’s hull, most of which had been well-preserved original wood thanks to its constant submergence in saltwater. Now sea-worthy again, she returned to the water on May 17 with plans for a three-month journey to New England’s historic seaports to “engage communities with their maritime heritage and raise awareness” about whales.
When working on the restoration, the Seaport aimed to replace as few parts as possible. The Seaport estimates that about 15% of the ship remains original from 1841, including the keel, floor timbers on the bottom of the hull, and some lower planking.
The Charles Morgan is the last of an American whaling fleet that once numbered more than 2,700 vessels. Built and launched in 1841 from New Bedford, Massachusetts, she is now America’s oldest commercial ship still afloat. She came to the Seaport in November 1941.
According to the Seaport’s website,
Over an 80-year whaling career, the Morgan embarked on 37 voyages, most lasting three years or more. Built for durability, not speed, she roamed every corner of the globe in her pursuit of whales.
Whaling was at its height when she was designed and constructed. Thus, she represents the epitome of a ship type that was an important part of America’s maritime and economic history. Whale oil and the profits it generated helped fuel the industrial revolution. Much of the capital from whaling was invested in new ventures–textile mills, railroads, and manufacturing to name a few. The Morgan illustrates that history and the role whaling played in the development of American economic power and growth.
Whaling is also the story of a young nation finding its role in the world. As opposed to merchant vessels carrying cargo from one port to another on set routes, the whaler’s destination was the sea itself.
Now Mystic Seaport has again returned this majestic vessel to the ocean.
The 38th Voyage will call attention to the value of historic ships and the important role America’s maritime heritage plays in this country’s history. The voyage will also raise awareness about the changing perception about whales and whaling.
Where once she hunted and processed whales for profit, her purpose now is to tell an important part of our nation’s history and the lessons that history has for current generations. Where once the Morgan’s cargo was whale oil and baleen, today her cargo is knowledge.
Congressman Joe Courtney, whose district includes Mystic, said, “the relaunch of the Morgan has re-energized and refocused people’s awareness of the unique historical artifacts that our state is home to, and reminded us that the ship is truly a national treasure. […] The voyage will also raise awareness about the historical importance of the whaling trade to the American economy, and the major shift toward conservation of endangered whales.”
On June 14, the Morgan will leave New London and begin her journey up the coast of New England. You can see her at ports around the region all summer; this travel itinerary shows all of the stops on her tour.
Posted by Sarah Ganong, Media Coordinator at Save the Sound.