As the Indian Mariners Project continues to unfold, I probe ever deeper into archives that I think I know well, only to find more. This is not a story of shipwrecks, ghost ships, or anything of that sort. It is for me a lesson that there are many hidden histories yet to be uncovered that tell of the experiences of New England’s Native people.
On a recent visit to Mystic Seaport’s Collections Research Center I was investigating the career of Mashantucket Pequot mariner Austin George, considered by some in the industry to be “one of the best whalemen that ever stepped aboard a ship.” While examining a folder full of interesting records in pursuit of Austin George, I stumbled upon a document that caught my eye. At the top it read “An Account of Articles Sold At Auction Belonging to J.M. Oat – Found After his Disertion, December 30th 1849.” No ship name was noted and I might otherwise have continued flipping through the materials, BUT when I read through the list of names of mariners purchasing items at this auction, I saw some very familiar Pequots: Amos George (Austin’s brother), Peter George (Austin’s uncle), and Peter Babcock (also Mashantucket Pequot).
Peter George – 1 duck frock, 1 dictionary
Amos George – 1 pair duck pants, 1 pair boots, 1 flint?, lot of books and tracts
Peter Babcock –1 vest, 1 pair duck pants, 1 flannel shirt, 24 heads of tobacco, 1 bottle
I checked through all of the Customs Records from the Customs District of New London (includes the ports of New London, Mystic, and Stonington) for crew lists that might have included these men during this particular time. Strangely, nothing was there. And none of them were noted in tribal archives for some time before or after 1849. I had been confident that these records were complete and all vessels leaving local ports were documented.
Fortunately, because I have built tribal biographies elsewhere through the People of Color database (housed at the Pequot Museum), I did locate Amos George in the Stonington Census for 1850. He was noted as a crew member of the Ship Hudson. This was an important clue! Cross referencing this ship name with an index of whaling voyages in Alexander Starbuck’s “History of the American Whalefishery” brought me to Captain Hiram Clift who commanded the Hudson on a voyage that left Mystic on November 3, 1848 and returned on February 26, 1852. The vessel, with the three Pequots aboard, had traveled to the Falkland Islands to hunt whales.
My search for the logbook has begun, though it is not in any known repositories identified in Judith Lund’s fantastic and exhaustive compilation “Whaling Masters and Whaling Voyages Sailing from American Ports.” In the meantime, a search through historical newpapers and books provided some exciting information on the Ship Husdon during its 1848-1852 voyage. It turns out that while at “Port Santa Cruz” – now Puerto San Julian, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina – with its “tender” Schooner Washington (also not recorded in Customs Records), the Ship Hudson welcomed aboard for nearly a month, Benjamin F. Bourne. Bourne, who was a mate aboard the New Bedford Schooner John Allyne earlier in 1849, had just escaped 97 days of captivity with the Indians of Patagonia. The accounts he shared with the crew of the Hudson soon made it into wider newspaper circulation around the Atlantic. His account was such a sensation that, in 1853, he published a book about his experiences called “The Giants of Patagonia.” The search for more continues…
Many thanks to Maribeth Bielinski, Carol Mowrey, and Paul O’Pecko for their ongoing and very generous help and guidance through Mystic Seaport’s archives.