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[Detail] Ships at the Erie Basin, New York.

Collection Overview

Westward by Sea: A Maritime Perspective on American Expansion,1820-1890, presents diaries, letters, logbooks, photographs and other materials that document sea travel and the role of maritime events in the westward expansion of the United States. Of special interest are writings of children describing their shipboard experiences and the adventures involved in traveling westward.

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Historical Eras

These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.

  • Expansion and Reform, 1801-1861
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877
  • Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915

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This collection contains first-hand accounts of some of the earliest explorations of the Pacific coast of North America.  Not only do they provide information about the expeditions of such noteworthy explorers as Great Britain's Captains James Cook and George Vancouver, but they also convey what an explorer's daily life was like. 

Search on Vancouver for Edmond Meany's Vancouver's discovery of Puget Sound . This discussion of the explorer's 1791 expedition includes several chapters from Vancouver's own journal as well as a brief biography of Vancouver, in which Meany explains that the expedition was a consequence of Spain's seizure of English ships, factories, and fisheries on the northwest coast of America in 1790.  In Vancouver's words:

". . . it was deemed expedient that an officer should be sent to Nootka to receive back in form a restitution of the territories on which the Spaniards had seized, and also to make an accurate survey of the coast, from the 30th degree of north latitude northwestward toward Cook's river; and further, to obtain every possible information that could be collected respecting the natural and political state of that country.

The outline of this intended expedition was communicated to me, and I had the honor of being appointed to the command of it."

In addition to the biography of Vancouver, Meany also provides information about the Englishmen after whom Vancouver named so many geographical features.  He also discusses the issue of discipline aboard the Discovery before presenting chapters of Vancouver's journal, which detail his exploration of America's northwest coast and its interior.

Meany's work also contains several references to Captain Cook, under whom Vancouver served.  Search on Sandwich Islands and Hawaii for histories such as Hiram Bingham's A residence of twenty- one years in the Sandwich Islands, which tells the story of Cook's 1778 discovery of what are now called the Hawaiian Islands. 

". . . returning from the North West coast of America, Captain Cook discovered Maui, Nov. 26, 1778. . . . Captain C. passed on by the eastern part of that island, and discovered Hawaii. As he appeared off Kohala, some of the people scanning the wondrous strangers, who had fire and smoke about their mouths in pipes or cigars pronounced them gods. Passing slowly round, on the east and south, and up the western side of Hawaii, Cook brought his ships to anchor in Kealakekua bay, Jan. 17, 1779, amid the shoutings of the multitudes who thronged the shores to gaze at the marvellous sight."

According to Bingham, Cook soon squandered the respect of his hosts.  He "invaded their rights, both civil and religious, and took away their sacred enclosure, and some of their images, for the purpose of wooding his vessels."  When the islanders discovered that Cook's men had seduced some of their women, violence broke out, resulting in Cook's murder.

  • Why was Captain Cook killed?  What events led up to the killing?
  • How, according to Bingham, might this killing have been avoided?
  • What were the short- and long-term effects of Cook's discovery of the Sandwich Islands?
  • In what ways did Vancouver attempt to influence the islanders in his visits of 1792, 1793, and 1794?  What was his actual impact on the islands?

The collection also contains a narrative by Gabriel Franchère (originally published in French in 1820), describing his expedition from Montreal to the Pacific Northwest from 1811 to 1814.  Franchère brings the trials of exploration to life, reflecting that:

"One must have experienced it one's self, to be, able to conceive the melancholy which takes possession of the soul of a man of sensibility, at the instant that be leaves his country and the civilized world, to go to inhabit with strangers in wild and unknown lands. I should in vain endeavor to give my readers an idea, even faintly correct, of the painful sinking of heart that I suddenly felt, and of the sad glance which, I involuntarily cast toward a future so much the more frightful to me, as it offered nothing but what was perfectly confused and uncertain. . . . For the first time in my life, I found myself under way upon the main sea, with nothing to fix my regards and arrest my attention but the frail machine which bore me between the abyss of waters and the immensity of the skies."

Narrative of a voyage to the northwest coast of American in the year 1811, 1812, 1813, and 1814.

Commissioned by a New York fur trader, Franchère and his associates traveled the Pacific to the northwest coast and the Columbia River to establish a trade center.  On the banks of the Columbia, fear of neighboring native people and the approach of winter prompted swift efforts to obtain shelter and food:

"The dwelling house was raised, parallel to the warehouse; we cut a great quantity of pickets in the forest, and formed a square, with palisades in front and rear, of about 90 feet, by 120; the warehouse, built on the edge of a ravine, formed one flank, the dwelling house and shops the other; with a little bastion at each angle north and south, On which four small cannon. The whole was finished in six days, and had a sufficiently formidable aspect to deter the Indians from attacking us; and for greater surety, we organized a guard for day and night. . . . To the necessity of securing ourselves up, against an attack on the part of the natives, was joined that of obtaining a stock of provisions for the winter: those which we had received from the vessel were very quickly exhausted, and from the commencement of the month of July we were forced to depend upon fish. Not having brought hunters with us; we had to rely for venison, on the precarious hunt of one of the natives . . ."

  • What were the reasons for each expedition?
  • What was life on ship like?  How was order maintained?
  • What were some of the challenges that explorers faced?
  • How dangerous was exploration?  What were the dangers?
  • How important were Native Americans to the survival of these early explorers?  How often were they responsible for their demise?
  • What role did the Sandwich Islands play in maritime exploration?
  • How did international rivalries impact exploration of the west coast of North America?

Missionary Activity

One group of people particularly interested in the reports that explorers such as Cook and Vancouver made of the Pacific Islands were Christian missionaries.  Search  on mission for accounts of missionary work in the Sandwich (now Hawaiian) Islands as well as San Francisco, where an itinerant Methodist missionary, William Taylor, brought his family and portable church during the Gold Rush.  In California life illustrated, Taylor records the first account he received of San Francisco:

"...No war in the country, but peace and plenty, and fortunes for all who could work or gamble expertly . . . clerks were getting in San Francisco two hundred dollars per month, cooks three hundred per month; the gamblers were the aristocracy of the land; gambling being the most profitable, hence the most respectable business a man could follow. I asked the gentleman whether or not there were any ministers of the Gospel or churches in the place?

'Yes,' said he, 'we have one preacher, but preaching don't pay here, so he quit preaching and went to gambling. There is but one church in town, and that has been converted into a jail.'

Some one told him that I was a minister, and had the frame of a church aboard. He advised by all means to sell the church, assuring me that I could make nothing out of it as a church, but I could sell it for ten thousand dollars. I told him my church was not for sale."

  • Why would California have been considered a field for missionary work?
  • What does Taylor identify as some of the unique challenges of living in California?
  • How did these challenges impact individual lives and the overall culture in California?  Find an example in which Taylor illustrates such impact.
  • What observations does Taylor make about missionary work in California and its overall significance?

Missionaries Hiram Bingham and Charles Stewart recorded their experiences in the Pacific in their similarly titled narratives, A residence of twenty-one years in the Sandwich Islands, and A residence in the Sandwich Islands. Both record significant events in the history of the islands and the progress of the missions.  They also describe the native culture into which Christianity was introduced, including the prevalence of superstition, poverty, and theft, the practices of stoning the mentally ill, and infanticide.  Bingham discusses the religion of tabus that the priests used to rule the people through fear and superstition:

"To enforce the unreasonable tabu, the highest penalty was annexed, and it grew up into a bloody system of violence and Pollution suited to the lust, pride and malice of the priests, who were often rulers at the same time, and who pretended to claim, in the name of the gods, the right to put to death, by their own hands, and to threaten with death by the power of their deities every subject that should break any of the senseless tabus. To favor licentiousness and to punish women for jealousy, was, according to tradition, one of the objects of the system of tabu. How must the observance of it, then, debase the public mind, cherish the vilest passions, banish domestic happiness, and shield priests and kings in their indulgences and oppression ! . . . Polygamy (implying plurality of husbands and wives), fornication, adultery, incest, infant murder, desertion of husbands, wives, parents and children ; sorcery, covetousness, and oppression, extensively prevailed, and seem hardly to have been forbidden or rebuked by their religion."

A residence of twenty-one years in the Sandwich Islands

One of the missionaries' earliest successes was the conversion of the king's mother, Keopuolani, who was also one of the islands' highest chiefs.  Keopuolani set an example in accepting the missionaries' teachings, giving up polygamy, and defending Christianity.  She was also responsible for the building of a mission and church in Lahaina.  Just before her death, she became the first islander to be baptized and requested a Christian burial.  Nevertheless, the islanders reacted to her death with traditional mourning practices, as described by Stewart:

"She was known to be the highest chief on the islands; and, according to former and immemorial customs, the death of such has ever been attended with all kinds of extravagance, violence, and abomination. . . . Even the chiefs lost their ordinary preeminence, and could exert no influence of restraint on the excesses of their subjects. It was the time of redressing private wrongs, by committing violence on the property and person of an enemy; and everything that any one possessed was liable to be taken from him. Their grief was expressed by the most shocking personal outrages, not only by tearing off their clothes entirely, but by knocking out their eyes and teeth with clubs and stones, and pulling out their hair, and by burning and cutting their flesh while drunkenness, riot, and every species of debauchery, continued to be indulged in for days after the death of the deceased."

A residence in the Sandwich Islands

  • Why might missionaries in the Sandwich Islands have written so much about the immorality of native practices?

Rufus Anderson's History of the Sandwich Islands Missionprovides a thorough account of the work of several missionaries, including Bingham and Stewart.  It also chronicles the Great Awakening of religious fervor among the islands' inhabitants:

"The missionaries aimed, with simplicity and plainness, to impart correct, conceptions of the character of God, the nature of sin, the plan of salvation, the work of the Spirit, the nature of true religion, and especially the sin and danger of rejecting an offered Saviour. The hearts of the people were tender. and under such truths, the house of worship was often a scene of sighing and of weeping.

. . . Some of the congregations were immense. That at Ewa was about four thousand in number. Honolulu had two congregations, one of two thousand five hundred, the other between three thousand and four thousand. At Wailuku the congregation was one thousand eight hundred; at Lahaina, it was generally two thousand; and at Hilo, it was estimated to number at times more than five thousand.

. . . All classes crowded to the place of worship. The children thrust themselves in where they could find a little vacancy,. Old, hardened transgressors, who had scarcely been to the house of God for the fifteen years that the gospel had been preached there, were seen in tears, melting under the omnipotent power of truth."

  • According to Anderson, what evidence was there of a Great Awakening of the island inhabitants? To what does he attribute this Awakening?
  • How would you describe Taylor's, Bingham's, and Stewart's attitudes towards the people they sought to convert?
  • Why did Taylor, Bingham, and Stewart bring their families to the Pacific?
  • What challenges and dangers did missionaries face?
  • What do you think motivated missionaries to leave their homes, embark on dangerous journeys, and take on dangerous and difficult work?
  • What roles did converted Hawaiians play in spreading Christianity throughout the islands?
  • What changes in Hawaiian culture resulted from the work of missionaries?
  • How did international traffic to the islands impact missionary work?

Argonauts and the Gold Rush

The New York Herald published the first news release of the discovery of gold in California in August, 1848.  The announcement was not followed by a public frenzy.  The first prospectors to venture into California came from Latin America and the Sandwich Islands.  More details of the vast wealth of the California gold fields leaked out over the following months, and when President James K. Polk announced the discovery in his message to Congress on December 5, 1848, the great trek to California began in earnest.

Migrants flocked to San Francisco from Europe, Asia, and Latin America as well as the United States. Some villages in New England became virtual ghost towns as farmers and merchants rushed to book passage on ships destined for San Francisco.  The Illustrated London News of February 10, 1849, proved to be a clarion call to British and other Europeans to venture in search of El Dorado:

"THE accounts which have been received this week from the United States convey intelligence of increasing interest from California. The Washington Union contains a letter from Lieutenant Larkin [Thomas O.], dated Monterey, November 16, received at the State Department, containing further confirmation of the previous despatches, public and private, and far outstripping all other news in its exciting character. The gold was increasing in size and quality daily. Lumps were found weighing from 1 lb to 2 lb. Several had been heard of weighing as high as 16 lb., and one 25 lb...."

  • According to the report in the Illustrated London News, what impact did the discovery of gold in California having on naval and military operations?
  • According to this report, what role did Native Americans play in the Gold Rush?
  • What did the reporter for the New York Herald mean when he wrote that "labour of every description commands exorbitant, prices?" Why was this?
  • How did the discovery of gold in California impact the U.S. Government's interest in that territory?
  • To what extent were news reports of the California gold fields exaggerated?

Search on gold for logbooks, letters, articles, and images that illustrate migrants' journeys to the gold fields and their experiences in California. Several of these travelers write about the storms, sea sickness, accidents, and deaths experienced aboard ships such as the Odd Fellow, Sweden, and Sarah, on their lengthy voyages to the golden state. Traveling from New Bedford to San Francisco aboard the Magnolia, Horace Williams wrote the following in a letter to his sister:

"Head winds prevailed so, for weeks following, that the Captain decided to alter the course for the Straits of Magellan, + we had a few days of congratulating ourselves on escaping Cape Horn — When we were just at the entrance of the Straits the wind changed again, and a violent snow + hail storm drove us off to the South East — I turned in to my berth + laid there five days, reading by a lamp.

The wind was fair at last for Cape Horn, and we came round with every sail spread — fairly round — and then, one more, last gale — very severe — and dangerous because we were near a lee shore — the rocky + desolate coast of Patagonia — The land reached out north of us, leaving our only chance in running back south — Day after day it blowed so that the ship could hardly bear sail enough to keep off shore — It was piercingly cold — the masts + rigging were covered with frozen sleet — the deck so slippery that no one could stand without holding on to something — the cold water flying over us, every few minutes — the ship roling & pitching & creaking — that was one of the gloomy times, Harriet —"

Williams, Horace. Letter, 1849, Aug. 14

These writers also record the anticipation of their fellow gold-seekers in their conversations about the gold fields and in their preparations, such as making tents and other tools.  Benjamin Bailey, traveling from Boston to San Francisco on the Sweden, wrote of the excitement on board upon receiving news confirming the vast wealth awaiting prospectors in his July, 10, 1849, journal entry.

  • What were the challenges and dangers of the voyage to California?
  • How long did it take the forty-niners to make these voyages?
  • What would life on a ship during one of these voyages have been like?
  • How did forty-niners pass the time during these voyages?
  • What did these Argonauts expect as they traveled to California?

In The Adventures of a Forty-Niner, Daniel Knower provides a detailed reminiscence of the Gold Rush, from the machines and processes people used to find gold, to the boom town culture of San Francisco:

". . . more changes took place there in a month than in most any other place in a year. Every thing was done by the month. Buildings were rented by the month; money was loaned by the month; ten per cent per month was the regular interest. There was but one bank, called the Miners', on the corner of the plaza, owned by three parties.  . . . Steamers coming in but once a month, they brought the last news from the East. The New York papers were peddled at $1 each. Long lines of people were formed to get the mail, and you had to take sometimes half a day before you could reach the office. . . . There was no scarcity of meat-plenty of beef and grizzly bears were hung out at the doors of the restaurants as a sign, and plenty of venison. I can recall now to my mind, venison steaks that we would get in the evening with their rich jellies on it. The luxuries of Asia were coming in there. Many China restaurants with their signs from Canton or Pekin. But there was a great scarcity of vegetables. Onions and potatoes sold for forty cents per pound."

  • Why was everything "done by the month" in San Francisco?
  • What schemes did Knower come up with for making his fortune?
  • How successful were people in making fortunes through gold?

Search on San Francisco for more images and descriptions of the town during the Gold Rush, such as journals by Isaac M. Jessop  and Rev. George Denham, who traveled from Homes Hole, Massachusetts, to San Francisco aboard the schooner Rialto.  A prospector and itinerant minister, Denham, like so many other prospectors, returned home with little or no material wealth to show for his perilous trip to California. He closed his logbook with the following entry on Sunday, December 4, 1849:

"Since coming to this place I find myself widely differently situated from what I have been heretofore — and I am coming to long exceedingly to go home I fear that my expedition to this country must prove an entire failure. If so my situation will probably be much more trying & dangerous than ever before. O for a heart to place all confidence in God and leave all my interests there for this life and the next — but my spirit is too much bound up in this world and its things, and the vision of things spiritual and unseen is too dim to make me as resigned as I should be. If this fruitless expedition has the effect to release my fettered soul and allow me more freedom from the world selfish things than heretofore I shall bless God that ever I came to California. May God sanctify my disappointment to His wholesome end ——"

  • Why do you think so many people made long and dangerous voyages to prospect for gold in California?
  • How did the Argonauts' experiences in the gold fields of California differ from their expectations?
  • How did these experiences affect the Argonauts?
  • How did the Gold Rush impact the development and reputation of California?


Whaling was the economic mainstay of many New England towns.  Whaling ships sailed the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans in search of whales, whose blubber was reduced to valuable oil.  Search on whale for a variety of materials that reflect different aspects of the whaling industry. 

Several journals provide first-hand accounts of what whaling voyages were like. Alfred Terry, who worked on the Vesper, carefully recorded every attempt to catch and kill a whale, such as the day-long chase of March 15, 1847, that resulted in an eventual kill:

"15 {Date: 1847-03-15} wind SE and a little stronger than yesterday at sunrise saw the whale ahead about three miles at 6 Am called all hands got all sail on the ship and chasest with the ship until 10 Am and then lowerd and chasest with the boats untill 1 Pm the Mt got on but boat steerer mist him came on board and chasest with the ship until 4 Pm and then lowered and chasest with the boats the thurd Mt struck and kild him took him along side and rove the cutting falls and settled the topsails and hauld out the reef tacles and set boats crew watches no observation"

The whale stamp appearing next to this entry indicates that the whale yielded 98 barrels of oil.  On December 13, Terry records another kill, noting the length of the whale's jaw as being 16 feet, 8 inches.  He also reports that on May 15, a whale's flooks and fins struck the pursuing boats, breaking an oar and knocking one man overboard.

  • How did people use whale oil?
  • How did whalemen kill whales?  How did they get close to the whales and what weapons did they use?
  • How difficult and dangerous was this process?
  • How often did whalemen succeed in catching up to and killing the whales they encountered at sea?
  • How often did whalemen fail to find whales on their voyages?

Rev. Thomas Douglass kept a journal aboard the Morrison, which sailed from New London, CT to the whaling grounds of the Pacific and Indian oceans.  Douglass provides detailed descriptions of how whalemen fleeced (or butchered) and boiled the whales for oil    Douglass also describes life aboard ship, from moldy clothes to mutiny. He writes of the loss of a crew member, Richard Francis, when the wind blew a sail into him, knocking him into the sea:

"I had written thus far this afternoon & having laid aside my pen for a few moments was about resuming it again when my attention was suddenly aroused by a noise on deck, followed instantly by the shrill, earnest & rapid commands of Captain G. "Hard down your wheel, hard down your helm, brace up the mizzen top-sail, haul out the spanker, brace up the foretopsail & haul up the mainsail.,, These orders were given with that tone of voice which indicated wither imminent & instant danger, or something of great importance at stake — I rushed from my stateroom immediately on deck & found the whole crew running with all possible dispatch to the designated ropes. The uncommon solemnity depicted upon the countenance of the officers & sailors & the unusual energy & promptness with which orders were obeyed increased my apprehension of impending peril. . . . upon enquiring . . .I received for an answer "a man overboard,, . Running instantly upon the poop deck I endeavored to get sight of the individual; but in vain; the sea was quite rough, the wind blowing strong accompanied with rain & fog & the vessel making headway at the rate of eight or nine knots an hour. In a few moments the ship being brought to, the Captain's boat was lowered & Mr Watrous the First Mate & five men put off in hope of rescuing their unfortunate shipmate from a watery grave. After rowing near the wake of the vessel until it was difficult to see the boat from the ship, the Captain ordered colors raised as a signal for their return. There began to be the danger of loosing the whole boats crew, if they should continues the search any longer. After an absence of from half to three fourths of an hour they were then compelled to relinquish further seeking & come back with the melancholy tiding that he could not be found."

  • What did whalemen do to pass idle time?
  • What did whalemen do for food and fresh water?
  • How did whalemen make repairs to their ships?  How often was this necessary?
  • How was discipline maintained on a whaling ship?
  • What were some of the dangers of being a whaleman?

In addition to storms and accidents, some whalemen found their lives endangered by members of their own crews.  Isaac M. Jessup, who kept a log book aboard the Sheffield, learned of a "conspiracy deep & diabolical" to take over the ship:

"The fellows had intended if unable to take the ship & after killing the rest of the crew to run her ashore & go to the diggins [California] so set her on fire & escape with the use of the crew. . . . our 6 worthy brethren have long contemplated the death of all who displeased them & had promised to string some to the yardarm & drink the heart's blood of others. At Valparaiso they planned to knock me on the head if as they expected I should stand the middle watch alone."

Search on mutiny for other relevant materials, including the Morrison (Ship) Journal, 1844-1846. Douglass relates a case of mutiny and discusses the need for agents to do a better job at recruiting crewmen.

  • What reasons did mutinous sailors have for wanting to escape, or to take over or destroy their ships?
  • Who was responsible for cases of mutiny?
  • How were mutinies prevented and how were the offenders punished?
  • What was the effect of successful mutinies?

Mark Twain's Scenes in Honolulu - No. 9 Sad Accident offers information about the business of whaling.  This humorous parody and indictment of the whaling industry is followed by a glossary of terms that provides insight into how the industry worked.

  • Who stood to profit from a whaling venture?
  • What factors determined how much profit each person made on a given trip?
  • How lucrative was whaling for those involved?
  • How does Twain portray whalemen and their culture in this parody?
  • How does he portray the whaling industry?

In his definition of "recruit," Twain explains that whaling ships commonly stopped off at the Hawaiian Islands as well as California during their voyages.  Journals and log books record layovers in Chile and Peru as well. Read these materials to learn about what whalemen did during these visits, what kinds of interactions they had with local inhabitants, and how they behaved. 

An article called More Decency and Order Women and Whalemen in the Pacific, discusses sailors' support of prostitution among native women, while the Morrison journal mentions fighting and intoxicationSearch on mission for other accounts of the impact of sailors' visits on the Sandwich Islands and their people.

  • Why might you expect the moral codes aboard a ship to be different from those on land?
  • Why might a ship captain think it favorable to allow his crew to indulge in fighting, drunkenness, and prostitution?  What might be the danger of allowing this?

State Histories

The collection includes a variety of materials that provide insight in to the histories of California, Hawaii (once called the Sandwich Islands) and Texas.  Search (on these states' names for journals, letters, photographs, nautical charts, narratives, and articles that reflect the histories of these states.

A search on California provides 63 items, including Granite crags of California by Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming.  Gordon-Cumming covers a range of topics from the origin of California's names in the history of Spanish missions, to the state's agriculture.  She provides an extensive description of a camp of "Digger Indians," and in the following chapter writes about the cycle of violence between Native Americans and Euro-American settlers in California.  Although her account includes cruelties perpetrated by both groups, the author recognizes the plight of Native Americans

"THE Indian question is apparently inexhaustible. . . . One would imagine that some sense of fair-play might have induced a certain amount of sympathy with the wild tribes who saw their hunting-grounds so ruthlessly cleared, and they themselves driven out from every desirable rest resting-place; but this is an idea which apparently never found room in the mind of the encroaching whites. They wanted the land, and its natural inhabitants were looked upon as cumberers of the soil, for, whom there was but one alternative — either they must 'git up and git' (which is Californian for clearing out), or else they might be shot as wantonly as the wild buffaloes of the prairies...."

  • According to the author, what were the reasons for the conflicts between settlers and Native Americans in California?
  • Is her appraisal of the hostility of Euro-American migrants towards Native Americans accurate?

Other items that deal extensively with California history are The adventures of a forty-niner, and California life illustrated, which depict the era of the Gold Rush.  Several log books and journals, such as the Sheffield (Ship) Journal provide observations of California by visiting sailors.  Scan the bibliographic summaries for relevant sections.  Finally, Sandwich Islands - California and the Rocky Mountains  is a travel journal published in 1887 that provides illustrations and basic descriptions of the state.

  • How did the Gold Rush impact the development of California?
  • How did it change the culture of California?
  • What, besides the Gold Rush, brought settlers and visitors to California?

Search on Sandwich Islands and Hawaii for journals, sketches, maps, and narratives written by missionaries, such as A residence of twenty-one years in the Sandwich Islands, A Residence in the Sandwich Islands and History of the Sandwich Islands mission, which provide histories of the islands and their inhabitants as far back as before European contact.  An article called On shore in a foreign land: Mary Stark in the kingdom of Hawaii  by Richard C. Malley is also available.  Mary Stark traveled from Philadelphia to San Francisco with her husband, the commander of the B.F. HoxieStark's letters  describe her travels, including a two week stay in Honolulu. Malley quotes Stark's letters and provides contextual information about Hawaii in the 1850s:

"The land to which the B.F. Hoxie sailed, known then as the Sandwich Islands, was a nation experiencing trying times on many fronts.  Following Captain James Cook's visit in the 1770s the strategically located islands became subjected to increasing western military, economic, and, after the 1820 arrival of American missionaries, religious and cultural influences.  Also, periods of internal strife had exacted a great price on the islands until the final triumph of one chief, Kamehameha, secured relative peace and unity by the early 1800s.  By 1855 the government, a constitutional monarchy headed by a newly inaugurated twenty-one-year-old king, Kamehameha IV, was largely guided by naturalized Hawaiian citizens drawn from the resident British and American business and religious community.  Rumors were rife of imminent filibustering expeditions from, or outright invasions by, a number of countries seeking to annex the islands. Thus, the government was desperately seeking assurances from the U.S., Brittain, and France that Hawaiian sovereignty would be respected and guaranteed."

  • What political transition in the Sandwich Islands made it possible for increased interaction with Americans and Europeans?
  • What were the consequences of Cook's discovery of the islands in 1778?
  • What supported the economy of the Sandwich Islands in the 1850s?
  • Why would other countries have wanted to annex or invade the Sandwich Islands?

View of Honolulu, Sandwich Islands provides another account of this port town in the 1850s.  Compare these accounts with the missionaries' histories and identify the major changes that took place on the islands over time.

  • What major changes took place on the islands during the first half of the nineteenth century?
  • What caused these changes?
  • How similar are the two accounts of Honolulu in the 1850s?
  • How did the writers of these accounts regard the cultural traditions of the islanders? Do they show respect for these traditions or do they view the islanders as curiosities?

Finally, a search  on Texas provides four images and a narrative called Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, or, Yachting in the New World, by Matilda Houstoun, an Englishwoman who sailed to Galveston, where she lived from 1862 to 1864.  The descriptive narrative includes chapters on the Texas War for Independence, the capture of Santa Ana, and the Texas Constitution of 1836, as well as various observations on Texan culture:

"My berth opened out of the state cabin, and as the only partition was a Venetian door, I could not avoid hearing all the conversation that was carried on by my neighbours. . . . Their talk as usual was of dollars: politics, indeed, occasionally took their turn, but the subject ceased to become interesting, when the pockets of the company could no longer be affected by the turn of affairs.  There was no private scandal, no wit, no literature, no small-talk; all was hard, dry, calculating business.  I heard many shrewd hard-headed remarks; the fate of their country was talked over as a matter of business, and one rather important-looking gentleman made a stump speech on the expediency of Texas becoming a colony of Great Britain!"


Critical Thinking

Chronological Thinking

Many items in the collection, such as journals, logbooks, and histories present chronologies of events and can be used to develop chronological thinking.  Journals and logbooks chronicle individual voyages, while missionaries' narratives provide chronological histories of the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands and their missions.

Search on journal, logbook, and mission, and select an item to read.  If you select a journal or logbook, summarize the journey you've read about in one to three paragraphs.  Or trace the journey by using the references to latitude and longitude to plot the ship's progress on a world map.  Refer to the 1855 "Map of the United States, Canada, Mexico and the West Indies with Central America Showing all the Routes to California, with a Table of Distances" for an example..  If you select a missionary's history, present the most important events of that history on a timeline.

Historical Comprehension

A timeline can also be used to develop and test comprehension of this collection and of the maritime expansion of the United States in the nineteenth century.  Use the following questions to consider how missionary endeavors, commercial travel, and migration contributed to the expansion of the United States during the nineteenth century.  Then create a timeline that represents the maritime expansion of the U.S. during that century.  Illustrate the chronology of events with graphics from the collection, such as maps, illustrations, and photographs.

  • How did American missionary activity in the Sandwich Islands help promote the acquisition of Hawaii?
  • What commercial interests did the United States have in the Pacific in the nineteenth century?  To what extent were commercial interests involved in the popular concept of "manifest destiny"?
  • How did the migration to California in the decade of the Gold Rush lead to the desire to acquire land in Central America?

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Constance Gordon-Cummings in Granite Crags of California  writes of the lawlessness of California in the 1850s. Read and analyze the section of Chapter XVII  in which she applauds the efforts of the San Francisco Vigilance Committee in punishing crime and "rowdyism:" 

"This self -constituted inquisition carried out its own decrees with a simple straightforwardness of purpose that commanded the deepest respect from -the wild dare-devils who gloried in setting all ordinary law at defiance. No time was wasted on useless formalities. A man who was known to have committed a murder, or, far worse, to have stolen horses or cattle, or otherwise transgressed grievously, was quietly arrested, marched before the secret tribunal, tried, condemned, and hanged during the night. There' was no pleasant excitement to support the culprits spirits -no sympathetic friends to attempt a rescue, -all was done silently, with grim determination; and in the morning, a corpse, swinging, from the low bough of some specially selected tree, alone announced that the ends of justice had been accomplished.

. . . After a while the Vigilance Committees resigned their functions in favour of legitimate government, but not till they had done the rough work, -acting like sledge-hammers in preparing the way for more refined tools."

  • According to Gordon-Cummings, what made the San Francisco Vigilance Committee and their methods so effective?
  • What does Gordon-Cummings mean when she writes that the committee acted "like sledge hammers in preparing the way for more refined tools?"
  • What does this metaphor suggest about why she praised the actions of the committee?
  • Why was the theft of horses and cattle considered more offensive than murder?
  • What might this suggest about why the people of San Francisco relied upon a vigilance committee?
  • How does the San Francisco Vigilance Committee's method of enforcing justice differ from the method provided in United States law?  What definitions of justice are implied in each method?
  • How have historians evaluated the actions of the vigilance committees?

Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making: Annexation of the Hawaiian Islands

Items in this collection, along with the Library of Congress' web site for legislative information, Thomas, can be used to examine the United States' decision to annex the Hawaiian Islands.  Search the collection on Hawaii for materials pertaining to the impact of Europeans and Americans in the Hawaiian Islands, such as a July 1854 letter by C.B.H. Fessenden condemning the behavior of the U.S. consulate to the islands. Three histories on missionary work in the Hawaiian Islands (then called the Sandwich Islands) also are also useful.  In his History of the Sandwich Islands mission, Rufus Anderson predicts that annexation by the United States would ultimately result in the destruction of the Hawaiian people:

"The missionaries and their directors have always favored the independence of the Islands. The present king, misled at one time by the representations of unfriendly persons, publicly expressed an opinion, that the missionaries were in favor of annexing the Islands to the United States. But this was wholly a misapprehension. If the Islands were thus annexed, an emigration would flow there from the United States, which, while it might enrich a few large native landholders high in rank, would at once impoverish the mass of the native people, and lead to their speedy extinction. . . . the native element must rapidly disappear with the loss of independence; and the prospect of such an event is exceedingly painful to an observer from the missionary stand-point."

  • Why did the U.S. want to annex the Hawaiian Islands?
  • According to Anderson, why were missionaries opposed to the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands?
  • How would the interests of the merchants, land speculators, and other migrants to the islands conflict with those of the Polynesian inhabitants?
  • According to Anderson, why would the extinction of the islands' native people be an inevitable consequence of annexation?
  • In what ways did missionary work in the Hawaiian Islands impact the independence of its inhabitants?

Search Thomas on Hawaii for contemporary legislation such as the Native Hawaiian Recognition Act of 2003.  Read this legislation to learn more about the United States' impact on the Hawaiian Islands and their inhabitants.

  • What does the Native Hawaiian Recognition Act of 2003 reveal about the historical relationship between the U.S. government and Native Hawaiians?
  • When was Hawaii admitted into the United States?
  • What was the Apology Resolution of 1993? What does it indicate about contemporary views of the United States' dealings with the Hawaiian Islands?
  • What can you tell from this and other legislation provided through Thomas about the status of Native Hawaiians today?  How is a Native Hawaiian defined?  What rights and privileges does the U.S. government recognize for Native Hawaiians?
  • Are the Apology Resolution and the Native Hawaiian Recognition Act appropriate and effective responses to the history between the U.S. government and Native Hawaiians?
  • Are Acts and Apologies such as these fair or useful?  Why or why not?
  • What else, if anything, should be done to redress the past injustices toward Native Hawaiians?

Historical Research Capabilities: California Migration

Research the migration to California in the decade of the Gold Rush, 1849-1859, comparing the routes by sea and by land.  Routes by sea went through the Caribbean by way of the Isthmus of Panama in New Granada or the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico.  Or, they went around South America by way of the Straits of Magellan or by rounding Cape Horn, the southernmost point of the continent. 

Search  on charts and maps for materials that will help you to visualize and better understand these routes.  Read about crossing the Isthmus of Panama in The Canoe and the Saddle:  Adventures Among the Northwestern Rivers and Forests, and Isthmiana  by Theodore Winthrop:

"ARDENT Californians, after a day of dragging in the mud and squeezing in the alloys of the Cruces Road, remember the Isthmus of Panama only as a geometrical line; a narrow, difficult, slippery, dirty path, paved like the bed of an Alpine torrent, beset with sloughs of despond and despair, with mosquitoes, tired mules, plundering natives, and bad provender. They follow this geometrical line on their way to California, as a pious Mohammedan treads tremblingly the slender bridge that conducts him to the seventh heaven, - looking forward, but very little around him . . . To American adventurers struggling towards their seventh heaven, the Isthmus seems to concentrate the obstacles of a continent. In dread of the thousand nameless terrors of the tropics, they hasten to Panama, eat one breakfast of eggs in their omelet stage of existence, and are off up the coast in the steamer."

Read about the dangerous voyage through the Straits of Magellan in Round Cape Horn:  Voyage of the Passenger-Ship James W. Paige From Maine to California, 1852  by J. Lamson:

"Tierra del Fuego lay before us on the right, and Staten Land on the left, their valleys and heights covered with snow. I promised myself the great gratification of a near view of both of these desolate regions; but in this I was doomed to disappointment.  Before ten o'clock the sky became filled with clouds, and the brilliancy of the morning gave place to darkness and gloom. An eclipse of the sun occurred during the day, which increased the darkness. . . . The current carried us towards Staten Land, whose coasts were very bold and dangerous to approach, and were rendered doubly so at this time by, the exceeding darkness of the night. Our sails were flapping uselessly against the masts, we had no control over the vessel, which was drifting at the rate of four knots an hour, and our situation was becoming perilous in the extreme. Captain J. was exceedingly anxious. He ordered the mate to have the boats in readiness, for we might soon want them. We were now only three miles distant from the coast as the captain conjectured. A heavy swell added to our danger and increased our difficulties; and there seemed scarcely a hope of our escaping shipwreck, on one of the most desolate and forlorn coasts of which the imagination can conceive."

Compare the voyages by sea either around South America or through the Caribbean to journeys across the United States by wagon.  Learn more about the overland journeys in the American Memory  collection, "California as I Saw It:" First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900. Search on journey and travel for diaries, letters, and recollections of travelers who took the overland route, as well as a few who went by sea.

  • Which of the routes proved to be the fastest to California?
  • Which was the most convenient method of travel?
  • What were the hardships endured by migrants on each of the routes?
  • Did more people travel to California by sea or by land?  Why?


Arts & Humanities

Moby Dick

On January 3, 1840, a twenty-one year old Herman Melville left the port of New Bedford aboard the Acushnet, headed for the whaling grounds of the Pacific. Four years later, he returned to New England and wrote a South Seas adventure based on his voyage as well as on narratives written by explorers and missionaries.  In 1846, the work was published as Typee.  His work in this genre continued with Redburn in 1849 and culminated in Moby Dick in 1851.

This collection allows readers to better understand the literary and historical context in which Melville wrote Moby Dick, contributing to a better understanding of this classic.

In More Decency and Order Women and Whalemen in the Pacific, Joan Druett describes the onset of a nineteenth-century genre of whaling stories:

"The reminiscences of such men who went a-whaling and then came home to write about it became an accepted literary genre in the nineteenth century, and it was all a lot of seemingly harmless fun. No whaling tale was worth its salt without a gory mutiny or two, a couple of pugnacious whales, and an assortment of dusky beauties."

Some items in the collection approach this genre, such as Incidents on land and water, Life by land and sea, Voyages and commercial enterprises of the sons of New England, and Narrative of the adventures and sufferings of John R. Jewitt, though they are not specifically about whaling.  Search  on logbook for examples of another literary form devoted to the subject of whaling.

In addition to the adventure story and the logbook, natural histories such as An Account of the Arctic Regions with a History and Description of the Northern Whale Fishery and Natural History of the Sperm Whale were also in circulation in the early nineteenth century.  Finally, search  on mission, Vancouver, and Franchère for examples of the journals written by missionaries and explorers to which Melville referred in writing his own stories. 

These four types of writings were major elements of the literary context in which Melville wrote Moby Dick.  Compare Melville's novel to the adventure stories, logbooks, and journals in the collection:

  • Are the themes in Moby Dick similar to those in the adventure stories, logbooks, and journals in the collection?
  • Are the events in Moby Dick similar to those recorded by whalemen in their journals and logbooks?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the narrative form of Moby Dick and the narrative forms of adventure stories, journals, and logbooks?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the style in which Melville writes and the styles in which the logbooks, journals, and stories were written?
  • To what degree does Melville go beyond the traditions of the adventure-story genre?
  • What might the differences between Moby Dick and other adventure stories suggest about what Melville was attempting to accomplish in this novel?
  • What are some reasons why Melville might have chosen to write about whaling?

The many items in this collection testify to the size and activity of the whaling industry in the nineteenth century.  A new and expanding nation, the United States built up a fleet of over 700 whaling vessels to help support its fledgling economy. 

  • Who profited most from the industry?
  • Why might Melville have chosen to write about this industry?

Mark Twain and Satire

This collection provides the opportunity to learn about one of the most important American authors from an example of his early work.  Scenes in Honolulu - No. 9 Sad Accident, is a satirical piece that Mark Twain wrote for the Sacramento Daily Union in 1866, nearly twenty years before Huckleberry Finn was published. 

According to a brief biographical preface, the Daily Union sent Twain to Honolulu to report on why it had become a more important whaling port than San Francisco.  He traveled to Honolulu with three whaling captains "whose gruff humor and distinctive language fascinated Twain."  The result was a satirical parody of "the whalers' characteristic style of speaking" that also exposed "the rampant exploitation in the whaling industry."

Read Scenes in Honolulu - No. 9 Sad Accident, and answer the following questions:

  • According to Scenes in Honolulu - No. 9 Sad Accident, how much profit could be made in whaling?
  • What role did Twain's travels play in his writing career?
  • In what ways might Twain's experience as a journalist have impacted his writing style and subjects in the years to come?
  • According to the biographical preface, what does the name Mark Twain mean?
  • Why might Samuel Langhorne Clemens have chosen this name?
  • In what ways is Scenes in Honolulu - No. 9 Sad Accident similar to the novels for which Twain is best known?  In what ways is it different?
  • What might these similarities and differences suggest about Twain's interests and goals as a writer?
  • What is the effect of Twain's use of dialect in Scenes in Honolulu - No. 9 Sad Accident?  How does it impact the reader?
  • What is the effect of Twain's inclusion of a translation?
  • Why do writers use satire to voice criticisms?

Creative Writing

A handful of letters in this collection were written by women who accompanied male relatives on ocean voyages.  Nancy Bolles  accompanied her husband, Captain John Bolles on a whaling voyage to the Pacific.  Eliza T. Edwards  lived in Hawaii while her husband was whaling.  Maud Maxson  traveled with her uncle on his ship to San Francisco, while

Mary Stark  left her children behind in Mystic to travel to the Pacific with her husband, the captain of a clipper ship.

Nevertheless, it was rare for women and children to accompany their husbands, fathers, and uncles to sea.  Imagine what it was like to have been a woman or child living in a New England port town, where so many of the men were away for years at a time.  Imagine that you have recently moved to this port town and that you are writing a letter to a friend back home describing what the town and your life there is like.  For help getting started, search  on letter for examples of letter writing and for details such as names of towns, ships, and ships' captains. 

  • How many of your family members work at sea?
  • How often are they gone?  How long are they gone?  How often do you hear from them while they are away?
  • What happens when these family members return? How long do they stay?  What do you do together?  What do you talk about?
  • Where is the center of activity in town? What goes on there?
  • What are the most important businesses in town?
  • How important are religion and education in this port town?  What are they like?
  • What do the people of this town talk about? What do they do for fun?
  • Do they have a sense of town identity? If so, how would you characterize that identity?
  • What does the town look like?  What does it smell like?  What is the weather like?
  • What do you like about the town you've moved to?  What do you dislike?

Sailing Cards: Nineteenth-Century Advertising

Search on card for a collection of sailing cards  used to advertise sailing vessels built in Mystic, Connecticut. The cards specify the qualifications and sailing dates of vessels with names from Lady Washington to Don Quixote.  Examine these cards and analyze how ship owners sought to appeal to customers.

  • What do names such as Hornet and Syren suggest about the ships and their voyages?  Why might someone have named a ship Tycoon or Lookout?
  • What do the images on the cards suggest about the ships advertised and their voyages?
  • What qualifications do these advertisements highlight in order to appeal to customers?
  • What do the names, images, and qualifications suggest about how ship owners sought to appeal to customers?
  • Do any of these advertisements target a specific audience?   If so, whom?
  • Were customers for clippers, or passenger ships, appealed to differently than customers for cargo ships?  If so, how?
  • Why do you think so many ships were associated with birds in their advertising?
  • What other types of images, ideas, animals, or people were often used in these advertisements?  Why do you think they were used?
  • Are any of these types seen in advertising today?

Nineteenth-Century Poetry

Poems appear several times in this collection.  Search  on poetry for three items.  The first is a poem written by Abiah Marchant, describing her experiences on board the ship Magnolia on a journey to California.  The second is a volume of verse kept by William Lord Stevens on board the Trescott, including a poem describing the voyage of a group of New-England men to the California gold fields.  He begins:

"One winters morn in a suny bay

A noble ship at anchor lay

Her signal gay now floats on high

Which tells her sailing time is nigh

For from A foreign Land their came

Great tales of welth with none to claim

From month to month the storys told

That California filled with Gold

Now ships and passengers prepare

To go and try their fortunes their"

The third item is a diary in which the writer, James Minor, has transcribed a poem he was given on the occasion of his departure for California. He transcribes a poem that one of his ship mates wrote when they encountered a ship from Richmond, Virginia.

In addition to these three items, Rev. Thomas Douglass's rich descriptions in the Morrison (Ship) Journal, are interspersed with religious and philosophical musings in which he quotes poetry no less than 15 times.  Examine these four items, read some of the poems, and consider the status of poetry in the nineteenth-century United States.

  • Why do you think that Marchant and Stevens wrote their poems?  What purpose did this activity serve?  What purpose did their poems serve?
  • When and how were poems used in Minor's diary? What purpose did these poems serve?
  • What purpose did poetry serve in Rev. Douglass's journal and life?
  • How would you characterize the style of the poems appearing in these items?
  • Does this style suggest anything about why nineteenth-century Americans valued poetry and how they used it?