The Life and Career of Peter George and his Voyage on the Bark North America: An Illustrated Whalehunt

I’m working on several biographies of Indian mariners to understand the flow of their lives as they move between the land and the sea. I thought I’d start close to home and examine the careers of a couple of Mashantucket Pequot seamen.   One in particular is Peter George. Peter was a career whaleman and at the center of a whaling and maritime dynasty that emerged out of Mashantucket in the late 18th century.  “Captain” Peter George spent nearly 30 years of his life traveling the world’s oceans.

Existing records indicate that Peter’s maritime career began by at least age 21 and continued till 47 or possibly 49 years old. He was on seven known whaling voyages, but I suspect that he may have been on at least two more.

Here is a biographical sketch of Peter’s life:

1805 – Peter born to Peter George and Polly Apes
Apr. 24, 1819 – signed Pequot Petition against overseer William Morgan
Oct, 20, 1820 – medical bill for Peter’s care – Pequot overseer
MISSING VOYAGE??? 1821-1824
Mar. 9, 1825 – signs Pequot petition for Erastus Williams as overseer
June 2, 1826 – accused of adultery with Lucretia, wife of his brother, Peleg
Nov. 29, 1826 listed as seaman in The Courier
Ship Friends (New London; Pacific Ocean) – Oct. 31, 1827 – May 19, 1830
Home 2 years
Feb. 7, 1831 – signs Pequot petition to keep overseer
Ship Palladium (New London; East Cape) – Mar. 26, 1831- Feb. 23, 1832
Home 5 weeks
Ship Palladium (New London; East Cape) – May 2, 1832 – Feb 6, 1833
Home 2 years, 4 months
May 2, 1832 – married Lucy Fagins
Feb. 1833 – court records re: cutting and selling wood meant for house
Dec. 12, 1833 – on member list for “Pequot Tribe which belong and reside in Groton”
Jan 1834 – paid rent for house at Mashantucket
Feb. 7, 1834 – logs cut for Peter’s house
Ca. 1835 – Lucy Ann George born
Ship Neptune (New London; South Atlantic) – June 10, 1834 – Apr. 16, 1836
Home 2 months
Ship Flora (New London; South Atlantic) – June 21, 1836 – Jan. 18, 1837
Home 5 ½ months
Bark Jason (New London; South Atlantic) – July 1, 1837- Apr. 9, 1839
Home 6 months
Bark North America (New London; Pacific O.) – Oct. 20, 1839 – June 20, 1842
Home 6 years, 4 ½ months? OR…
MISSING VOYAGE??? 1842-1847 to Hawaii???
Jan. 10, 1848 – son – Roswell born, spouse – Sally George
Aug.-Oct. 1848 – John Hyde Ledger
Ship Hudson (Mystic; Falkland Islands) – Nov. 3, 1848 – Feb. 26, 1852
May 2, 1853 – bill paid by Groton selectmen “for support of Peter George”
Ship Kensington (New Bedford; Pacific Ocean) – Oct. 11, 1852 – July 25, 1857 [possibly Peter – listed as boatsteerer at a 1/90 lay]
1854 – P. George house at Mashantucket appears on New London County map
Jan 30, 1855 – signs Pequot petition against overseer Amos Latham
Apr. 21, 1856 – signs petition against Pequot Land Sale
Apr. 21, 1857 – signs petition against Pequot Land Sale “Capt. Peter”
Nov. 3, 1857 – sues Pequot overseer for membership rights
Apr. – June, 1859 – appears in Pequot overseers account
May 10, 1861 – in Pequot Overseer records – John Gore
Aug. 4, 1861 – Peter dies

*****

I have not been able to locate much detail about the first five of Peter’s known voyages. His last two known voyages on the Bark North America and Ship Hudson are much better known because published accounts are associated with both.  In 1841, Francis Allyn Olmsted published his “Incidents on a Whaling Voyage” based on his experiences on the Bark North America from 1839 to 1841.  He notes three Indians aboard the whaleship including Peter George, George Cottrell (also Mashantucket Pequot), and John Uncas (a Mohegan noted in Olmsted’s book, but does not appear on the voyage crew list).  Olmstead produced about a dozen lithographs for his book but noted in the introduction that they were very expensive and could not furnish the complete set of 50 or 60 illustrations that he drawn in his journal.  I knew that I needed to track down his journal and, since Olmstead was from New Haven, I suspected that it might be at the Beineke Library.  My colleague Michael Dyer at the New Bedford Whaling Museum confirmed my suspicion.  I recently made the trip to New Haven with my research assistant, Debra Jones (Mashantucket Pequot) and photographed Olmsted’s two journals.  Below I combine Olmsted’s lithographs and watercolors to illustrate the whale hunt and other scenes from the voyage of the Bark North America.  All journal images appear courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Image

Bark North America. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Image

“Barque North America.”

03 - whale diving

Sperm whale diving. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

04 - whaleboat and crew

Whaleboat and crew. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

04 - whaling irons

Whaling irons. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

05 - harpooner

Harpooner (unnamed). Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

06 - The Chase

“The Chase.” Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

07 - The Attack

“The Attack.”

09 - Perils of whaling

“Perils of Whaling.”

08 - whaleboat and whaletail

Whaleboat and whale tail. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

10 - The Dying Whale

“The Dying Whale.”

11 - Cutting into the Whale

“Cutting into the Whale.” Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

12 - Pulling Teeth

“Pulling teeth.”

Aground at Chatham Island

Aground at Chatham (San Cristóbal) Island, Galapagos Islands. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

voyage route - Bark North America

Voyage route of the Bark North America. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

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