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Charles W. Morgan
Charles W Morgan.jpg
Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport, Connecticut
Career (United States)
  • Charles Waln Morgan, 1841–
  • J. & W. R. Wing Company, c.1863 – c.1912
  • Col. E H R Green, c.1925–1941
  • Whaling Enshrined, Inc., 1941
  • Mystic Seaport, 1941–
Builder: Jethro and Zachariah Hillman, New Bedford, Massachusetts
Launched: 1841
  • MMSI number: 367608930
  • Call sign: WDH3594
Status: Museum ship
General characteristics
Tonnage: 351.3 (Old Tons); 313.8 (New Tons)
Length: 113 ft (34 m) LOA
Beam: 27 ft 6 in (8.38 m)
Depth: 17 ft 6 in (5.33 m)
Sail plan: Double-topsail bark rig; 13,000 sq ft (1,200 m2) of sail
Charles W. Morgan
U.S. Historic district
Contributing property
Charles W. Morgan (ship) is located in Connecticut
Charles W. Morgan (ship)
Location in Connecticut
Charles W. Morgan (ship) is located in the United States
Charles W. Morgan (ship)
Location in the United States
Location Mystic, Connecticut
Built 1841
Part of Mystic Bridge Historic District (ID79002671)
NRHP reference No. 66000804
Significant dates
Added to NRHP 13 November 1966
Designated NHL 13 November 1966
Designated CP August 31, 1979

Charles W. Morgan is an American whaling ship built in 1841 that was active during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ships of this type were used to harvest the blubber of whales for whale oil which was commonly used in lamps. Charles W. Morgan has served as a museum ship since the 1940s and is now an exhibit at the Mystic Seaport museum in Mystic, Connecticut. She is the world's oldest surviving (non-wrecked) merchant vessel and the only surviving wooden whaling ship from the 19th century American merchant fleet, which at one time numbered 2,700 vessels. The Morgan was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.


Charles W. Morgan (often referred to simply as "the Morgan") was a whaling ship named for owner Charles Waln Morgan (1796–1861). He was a Philadelphian by birth; he moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1818 and invested in several whalers over his career. He chose Jethro and Zachariah Hillman's shipyard in New Bedford to construct a new ship, and the Morgan's live oak keel was laid down in February 1841 and fastened together with copper bolts. The bow and stern pieces of live oak were secured to the keel by an apron piece. The sturdy stern post was strengthened with hemlock root and white oak. Yellow pine shipped from North Carolina was used for the ship's beams, and hemlock or hackmatack was used for the hanging knees.

Construction proceeded until April 19, 1841, when the workers went on strike, demanding a ten-hour work day. The strike gathered support until it encompassed the shipyard, the oil refineries, and the cooper shops; Morgan was appointed chairman of the employers and given the task of resolving it. He opposed their demands, and a meeting with four master mechanics ended in failure. An agreement was reached on May 6 when the workers accepted a 10½ hour workday. Work resumed on the ship without incident and she was launched on July 21, 1841. Morgan was registered as 106 12 feet (32.5 m) in length, 27 feet 2 12 inches (8.293 m) inches in breadth, and 13 feet 7 14 inches (4.147 m) in depth. Her displacement was 314 gross tons.

The Morgan was outfitted at Rotch's Wharf for the next two months while preparations were made for her first voyage. Captain Thomas Norton sailed her into the Atlantic alongside Adeline Gibbs and Nassau towards the Azores. A stop was made at Porto Pim (Horta) on Faial Island to gather supplies before crossing the Atlantic. The ship passed Cape Horn, then charted a course to the north. On December 13, the men launched in their whaleboats and took their first whale. The Morgan entered the port of Callao in early February and departed again on the 10th for the Galapagos Islands. In 1844, the ship sailed to the Kodiak Grounds before sailing for home on August 18. She returned to her home port in New Bedford on January 2, 1845. The voyage of three years and three months resulted in 59 whales being processed for 1,600 barrels of sperm oil, 800 barrels of right whale oil, and five tons of whale bone.

Service life

Charles W Morgan 2008

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.

The 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, the Morgan was often home to the captain's family. She was owned and managed by the J. & W. R. Wing Company of New Bedford.

Experts have calculated the lifetime financial returns from the Morgan at over $1.4 Million Voyage #6 had the highest return with a combined value of Sperm oil, Whale oil and Whalebone of over $165,000.

During her years of service, the Morgan was used in several movies, including Miss Petticoats (1916), Down to the Sea in Ships (1922), and Java Head (1923).

Voyage summary

Voyage Port Captain Departure Arrival Mainly operated in
1 New Bedford Thomas A. Norton September 6, 1841 January 2, 1845 Pacific
2 New Bedford J.D. Samson June 10, 1845 December 9, 1848 Pacific
3 New Bedford J.D. Samson June 5, 1849 May 27, 1853 Pacific
4 New Bedford Tristram P. Ripley September 20, 1853 April 27, 1856 North Pacific
5 New Bedford Thomas N. Fisher September 15, 1856 April 16, 1859 North Pacific
6 New Bedford James. A. Hamilton October 4, 1859 May 12, 1863 North Pacific
7 New Bedford Thomas C. Landers December 1, 1863 June 12,1867 North Pacific
8 New Bedford George Athearn July 17, 1867 August 16, 1871 Pacific
9 New Bedford John M. Tinkham September 26, 1871 October 31, 1874 Indian
10 New Bedford John M. Tinkham April 23, 1875 May 17, 1878 Atlantic
11 New Bedford Thomas L. Ellis July 17, 1878 May 11, 1881 Atlantic
12 New Bedford Charles F. Keith July 13, 1881 Jun 17, 1886 Pacific
13 New Bedford George A. Smith October 6, 1886 November 4, 1887 North Pacific
14 San Francisco George A. Smith December 3, 1887 November 5, 1888 North Pacific
15 San Francisco John S. Layton November 26, 1888 October 27, 1889 North Pacific
16 San Francisco John S. Layton December 5, 1889 November 8, 1890 Japan and Okhotsk
17 San Francisco J. A. M. Earle December 2, 1890 October 31, 1891 Japan and Okhotsk
18 San Francisco J. A. M. Earle November 24, 1891 November 7, 1892 Japan and Okhotsk
19 San Francisco J. A. M. Earle December 8, 1892 November 9, 1893 Japan and Okhotsk
20 San Francisco J. A. M. Earle December 6, 1893 November 5, 1895 Japan and Okhotsk
21 San Francisco J. A. M. Earle December 2, 1895 November 1, 1896 Pacific
22 San Francisco John S. Layton December 3, 1896 October 25, 1897 Pacific
23 San Francisco Thomas Scullion November 11, 1897 October 28, 1898 Japan and Okhotsk
24 San Francisco Thomas Scullion November 26, 1898 November 2, 1899 Japan and Okhotsk
25 San Francisco Thomas Scullion December 7, 1899 October 29, 1900 Japan and Okhotsk
26 San Francisco J. A. M. Earle November 22, 1900 October 29, 1901 Japan and Okhotsk
27 San Francisco Thomas Scullion November 27, 1901 October 28, 1902 Japan and Okhotsk
28 San Francisco J. A. M. Earle November 20, 1902 October 27, 1903 Japan and Okhotsk
29 San Francisco J. A. M. Earle November 18, 1903 October 31, 1904 Japan and Okhotsk
30 San Francisco Edwin J. Reed November 25, 1904 June 12, 1906 South Pacific
31 New Bedford J. A. M. Earle,
Hiram Nye
August 11, 1906 July 4, 1908 Atlantic
32 New Bedford A. O. Gibbons,
Charles S. Church
September 2, 1908 September 12, 1910 Atlantic
33 New Bedford Charles S. Church May 10, 1911 August 9, 1913 Atlantic
34 New Bedford Benjamin D. Cleveland September 5, 1916 October 23, 1917 Atlantic
35 New Bedford James Edwards July 16, 1918 September 7, 1919 Atlantic
36 New Bedford James Edwards October 18, 1919 July 16, 1920 Atlantic
37 Provincetown J. Gonsalves September 9, 1920 May 28, 1921 Atlantic
38* New Bedford George Fred Tilton May 7, 1925 May 7, 1925
39* Fairhaven William H. Tripp November 5, 1941 November 8, 1941


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 her. This event spurred Harry Neyland and some New Bedford citizens to restore and preserve the Morgan, but the attempts were unsuccessful. Neyland then persuaded Colonel Edward Howland Robinson Green to save the ship. Neyland appealed to Green that the Morgan was of historical 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.

The 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 her 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, the 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 the ship from her berth and dredged a channel for her to pass through, but the first attempt to pull her free was unsuccessful. More digging and caulking of the ship preceded her 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 Charles W. Morgan from the wharf only to have her be caught by the tide and swept downstream, coming to rest on a mud flat and taking two hours to be freed. The journey came to an end on November 8 when she passed through the Mystic bridge and was moored in the Mystic Seaport. The Seaport took shape around Charles W. Morgan with the restoration of its buildings and historic ships that came to reside alongside the Morgan. "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 in dry-dock undergoing restoration

Charles W. Morgan arrived at Mystic Seaport in December 1941, and she 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.

Ship CW Morgan
1971 U.S. commemorative stamp honoring Charles W. Morgan by Melbourne Brindle
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