Connect with Your Whaling Ancestors

Whalinghistory.orgResearchers, historians, and genealogy enthusiasts now have an expanded resource to explore the history of the whaling industry and the individuals who were part of the global enterprise, with recent additions to the Whaling History website (WhalingHistory.org), a joint project of Mystic Seaport Museum and the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

The data presented combines many sources including logbooks, journals, ship registers, newspapers, business papers, and custom house records. Users can find and trace whaling voyages and ships to specific logbooks, as well as the list of crew members aboard many of the voyages.

A popular feature of the site is a dialog where users can search crew lists to discover if they have a relative who shipped out on a whaling voyage.

The foundational fabric of Whaling History features three databases that have been stitched together – the American Offshore Whaling Voyage (AOWV) database, the American Offshore Whaling Log database, and an extensive whaling crew list database. All data is open to the public and is downloadable for any researcher to use with other tools and systems.

The site has been expanded recently with the addition of 370 new whaling voyages to the AOWV database, most from the 18th century, and the integration of the Dennis Wood Abstracts of Whaling Voyages. The latter are brief handwritten summaries of whaling voyages compiled over more than forty years (1830–1874) by Dennis Wood, a merchant and whaling agent in New Bedford. The abstracts were drawn from news reported in the Whalemen’s Shipping List and Merchants’ Transcript, and from letters, telegrams, and reports brought back by vessels. The New Bedford Free Public Library scanned the four volumes from its collection, containing more than 2,300 pages, and placed them on the Internet Archive.

“These new additions to the world’s most comprehensive whaling history database enhance the site’s scope and, most important, make it available for all to use,” said Paul O’Pecko, Vice President of Research Collections at Mystic Seaport Museum. “Researchers, genealogists, students, teachers, and history buffs alike will find it to be the most robust and useful repository of whaling history documentation and scholarship.”


Museum to Honor William “Bill” Pinkney

Mystic Seaport Museum will present its 2022 America and the Sea Award to Captain William “Bill” Pinkney, former Mystic Seaport Museum trustee, U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman, sailor, educator, author, and adventurer. The prestigious award recognizes those individuals and organizations whose extraordinary achievements in the world of maritime exploration, competition, scholarship, and design best exemplify the American character. As a former trustee of Mystic Seaport Museum, Pinkney and his work to open the maritime world to inner-city youth and others around the United States embody the Museum’s mission to inspire an enduring connection to the American maritime experience.

William "Bill" Pinkney
William “Bill” Pinkney (Photo from William Pinkney)

Museum President Peter Armstrong said, “Captain Pinkney expertly and professionally unwraps the stories of the sea, from circumnavigation to the history of the triangle trade, for a wide and diverse audience. An ambassador to those who believe the maritime world is not their world, he has proven adept in showing everyone that the sea connects us all.”

Pinkney has been drawn to the sea from a very young age and has worked to sustain a personal connection as well as provide opportunities for others to learn the important history of people and the sea and the resulting influence on American culture. His work as the first captain of the freedom schooner Amistad – the first vessel constructed from the keel up at Mystic Seaport Museum – and his journey through the Middle Passage on The Sortilege, shared with educators and classrooms across the country, brought to life personal connections to the history of slavery and the crucial role that seafaring played. His solo circumnavigation on his 47-foot cutter, aptly named The Commitment, from Boston around the five southern capes and back to Boston, spanning 27,000 miles and 22 months, grew into an educational opportunity for so many children via video diaries, phone conversations, opportunities to track his progress through satellite technology and lesson plans that included nautical calculations and the influence of faraway cultures. All of this incredible work, born from a desire to leave a legacy for his grandchildren, speaks to the mission of Mystic Seaport Museum.

The Museum will recognize Pinkney’s exceptional life by awarding him the America and the Sea Award on Wednesday, October 26, 2022. The award presentation will take place at the Metropolitan Club in New York City. Individuals interested in an invitation can email advancement@mysticseaport.org.

This affair is the premier fundraising event for Mystic Seaport Museum. Past recipients of the America and the Sea Award include outstanding yachtsman Terry Hutchinson; America’s Cup Hall of Famer Tom Whidden, one of the most acclaimed sailors of all time; American businesswoman and philanthropist Wendy Schmidt, whose ocean explorations have advanced our understanding of the ocean’s biodiversity and vulnerability; groundbreaking Whitbread and America’s Cup sailor Dawn Riley and Oakcliff Sailing; philanthropist and environmentalist David Rockefeller, Jr., and his Sailors for the Sea; boat designers Rod and Bob Johnstone and their company J/Boats; author and historian Nathaniel Philbrick; maritime industrialist Charles A. Robertson; America’s Cup Hall of Famer and author Gary Jobson; WoodenBoat Publications founder Jon Wilson; former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman; oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle; America’s Cup sailor William Koch; President and CEO of Crowley Maritime Corporation, Thomas Crowley; historian David McCullough; and the first honoree, legendary yacht designer Olin J. Stephens, II.

Pinkney’s full biography can be read at mysticseaport.org/gala.


Letters From the Colored Sailor’s Home in the Mid 19th Century

The G.W. Blunt White Library manuscript collection at Mystic Seaport Museum recently offered up an exciting find in the form of reports and correspondence relating to the Colored Sailors’ Home(s) run by the American Seamen’s Friend Society in the mid-19th century. As the name suggests, these were boarding houses specifically for sailors of color; the one referenced here was located in New York City, and run by abolitionist William Peter Powell, Sr.

Colored Sailors Home Letter 1
Figure 1

These letters are striking in terms of Powell’s frankness regarding the state of racism in the United States during the mid-19th century, as well as his dedication to advocating for his boarders. In one letter from April 15, 1862 (fig. 1), he writes to the Board of Trustees of the Sailors’ Home Committee to ask for financial help in securing a building to open a new Colored Sailors’ Home. He cites his success in operating one many years before, and pointedly states that he only left it to take his children to England in 1851 for their schooling, since “…owing to the prejudice against Color they could not acquire [an education] in this their native Country.” In another letter accompanying a financial report in December 1862 (fig. 2), Powell describes the harrowing circumstances encountered by Black sailors arriving in New York before they found safe quarters in the Sailors’ Home; in many other letters, he takes care to detail the sailors’ exemplary behavior despite having faced these difficulties. He seems to be working hard to demonstrate to the Board that even the “free” northern U.S. is not a welcoming place for sailors of color, and that it is worthwhile to provide safe, secure places for them to stay while on land. 

Letters for the Colored Sailors Home 2
Figure 2

These are just two letters out of 28, and the whole collection gives us the opportunity to view the Civil War era from this compelling perspective. They are especially meaningful during Black History Month and the continuing work on the “Just Futures, Reimagining New England” project, funded by the Andrew C. Mellon foundation, both of which spur us on to examine our understanding of history through the lens of racial justice.

Written By Emma Burbank, Registrarial and Research Assistant


Museum Receives BlueFuture Grant

Mystic Seaport Museum is proud to announce that it is the recipient of a $2,000 grant from West Marine’s BlueFuture grant program. The program supports nonprofit organizations dedicated to getting more kids out on the water through boating, fishing, paddling, and marine science. The grants provide much-needed funds so that these valuable, community-based organizations can provide scholarships, purchase new equipment, maintain staff, add programs, and other needs.

“We are honored and grateful to West Marine for selecting us to receive this grant, which we will use to enhance and expand STEM and environmental education learning at our Sailing Center,” said Sarah Cahill, Director of Education at Mystic Seaport Museum.

Photo from left: Elizabeth Jaccoma, West Marine’s Operations Manager in Old Saybrook; Sarah Cahill, Director of Education, Mystic Seaport Museum; Liz Sistaire, Mystic Seaport Museum Sailing Center Supervisor; and Ed Alberghini, Mystic Store Manager. February 9, 2022.


Museum Names New Vice President

Kevin O'Leary
Kevin O’Leary

The Museum is pleased the appointment of Kevin O’Leary as its Vice President of Business Development & Marketing, effective immediately.

This newly created position reports to the Senior Vice President of Curatorial Affairs and provides direction and oversight to the Museum’s Business Development, Sales, Marketing, Communications, and Digital Content teams in support of the institution’s combined revenue goals. He will lead the identification, development, and implementation of strategic growth initiatives across the Museum and explore, identify, and execute opportunities consistent with those initiatives with a particular emphasis on intellectual property and brand partnerships.

“With his extensive experience in brand management and the development of regional and national marketing campaigns, Kevin O’Leary brings the high degree of insight, leadership, and comprehensive knowledge of building successful brands and business lines that are an important part of the future for our Museum,” said Peter Armstrong, President of Mystic Seaport Museum. “He is the right person to take on the task of maximizing the value of our vast collections and the intellectual property that lies within.”

“I am delighted to join Mystic Seaport Museum, an institution I know from my youth in Southern New England and a storied brand with a long history and deep equity, said Kevin O’Leary. “I look forward to unlocking the potential I see all around the Museum and working with our incredible curatorial and operations teams to broaden our audience and expand commercial opportunities.”

Prior to joining the Museum, O’Leary was the Director of Business Development for Guru Media Solutions, a Certified B-Corp, full-service marketing agency in California and Vermont specializing in purpose-driven, conscious and sustainable brands and NGOs. He was responsible for prospecting, closing, and onboarding new business opportunities consistent with some or all of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. He has held numerous leadership roles in agencies focused on brand marketing, design, and digital strategy and content development. O’Leary also brings extensive experience in hospitality and real estate sales and marketing, and the music industry. He is the past director of marketing for the Vermont Mozart Festival, a volunteer position, and began his professional career many years ago in Seattle, WA, working for Sub Pop Records.


Museum Receives CT Humanities Grants

Connecticut Humanities, the statewide, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), has awarded Mystic Seaport Museum $519,999 in three separate grants.

ct humanities logoThe first is an award of $500,000 for a CT Cultural Fund Operating Support Grant. Administered in partnership with the Connecticut State Department of Economic Development/Connecticut Office of the Arts, with funds from the Connecticut State Legislature, the operating grants assist organizations as they recover from the pandemic and maintain and grow their ability to serve their community and the public. The Museum will use the funds in part to improve accessibility and wayfinding on the grounds, enhance online content and access for remote learning, and support the expansion and merging of its educational offerings under the umbrella of the soon-to-launch Center for Experiential Education (CEE). The CEE represents a commitment by the Museum to serve youth in a more holistic and comprehensive manner by engaging young people at critical junctures of their lives through experiential maritime education.

The second award is a $10,000 grant from the Sustaining Humanities through the American Rescue Plan (SHARP) Capacity Grants, funded by the NEH and the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP). The Museum will use the funds to support diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) training across all departments. The firm Lord Cultural Resources — a global practice leader in bringing DEAI principles to the museum field — has been engaged to guide this work.

The final award of $9,999 is a Capacity Building Grant to cover Lord’s external information gathering and reporting in order to help the Museum better understand and engage with a more diverse public.

“As we continue to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic we are working hard towards positioning the Museum as a more sustainable and culturally relevant institution to as broad an audience as possible,” said Peter Armstrong, president of Mystic Seaport Museum. “This generous support from Connecticut Humanities will help the Museum, working in partnership with other community organizations, to emphasize the diversity of the maritime story to a much wider public.”

The Museum was one of 624 organizations in Connecticut that received CT Cultural Fund support totaling $16M from CT Humanities. The operating grants are part of $30.7M of support allocated to arts, humanities, and cultural nonprofits through CTH over the next two years by the CT General Assembly and approved by Governor Ned Lamont. Funds were provided through the Connecticut State Department of Economic and Community Development and its Connecticut Office of the Arts.

Mystic Seaport Museum was one of 69 organizations in Connecticut that was awarded ARP funding totaling $640,192 from CT Humanities. CTH SHARP Capacity Grants provide organizations funding for projects including building their information technology infrastructure, making their collections more accessible, conducting strategic planning, and undertaking inclusivity, diversity, equity, and access work.


NASA Selects Museum as a Community Anchor

NASA has selected Mystic Seaport Museum as one of a diverse group of Museums, science centers, libraries, and other informal education organizations from around the country designated as a NASA Informal Education Community Anchor.

The designation recognizes the Museum and its Treworgy Planetarium as a community resource and provides a $24,266 grant to bring space exploration to traditionally underserved areas and broaden student participation in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The Museum will address the local needs of middle school students in Eastern and Southern Connecticut by using and sharing NASA STEM engagement learning resources and opportunities.

Planetarium Dome
The Planetarium Dome.

“We are grateful to NASA for selecting our Museum to participate in this program, which will enable us to further our institutional goal of increasing outreach to underserved communities and diverse audiences,” said Brian Koehler, supervisor of the Treworgy Planetarium at Mystic Seaport Museum. “We are excited to create new opportunities where students can experience the feelings of discovery and confidence that space exploration and STEM engagement is all about.”

The grant will enable Planetarium educators:

  • To develop new hands-on STEM programs for middle school students in three formats: virtual, in-school, and on-site
  • To purchase the equipment and supplies needed to deliver these programs to students
  • To provide a series of these programs at no cost to select underserved community partners

Mystic Seaport Museum is one of only 21 recipients selected from across the United States. It is one of only two Community Anchors in New England.

The new programs will be rolled out in the fall of 2022.


8 Questions for Brilliant’s New Captain

Sarah Armour at the helm of BRILLIANT
Capt. Sarah Armour at the helm of BRILLIANT.

Earlier this fall, the Museum named Sarah Armour to be captain of schooner Brilliant, the Museum’s iconic sail training vessel. As she prepares for her first full season skippering the boat, we thought this would be a good time to sit down and ask her about what it is like to be captain of Brilliant, and what she is looking forward to in 2022.

What is your background prior to this job?

I’ve spent most of the last decade working in youth sail training, traditional sail, and experiential education. Before stepping into the role of captain of Brilliant, I was grateful to spend a season working as mate, where I really got to know the program and the vessel. Before coming to Mystic Seaport Museum, I worked on a number of other sail training vessels including SSV Geronimo, Pride of Baltimore II, Sloop Clearwater, and Lady Maryland. I have a degree in Earth Systems Science from Cornell University, where I focused on applied ecology, sustainable agriculture, and environmental education.

Two young crew members work out schooner BRILLIANT's position.
Two young crew members work out schooner BRILLIANT’s position.

Why did you choose to become Brilliant’s captain?

Where to begin… I can’t imagine saying “no” to this boat. I once heard another captain say, “When Brilliant calls, you answer,” and I certainly felt that way when I had the opportunity to be the mate of Brilliant. As I step into the role of captain, I expect to learn a great deal, and it is a privilege to be in the position to do so. When I consider the six captains that proceeded me in that role, I am aware of how big the shoes are and I consider it a real honor to continue their efforts. I love being Brilliant’s captain because I love being the caretaker of a vessel with such prestige and pedigree, and a program that I have seen impart tremendous influence upon students, peers, and colleagues alike.

As captain, what are you trying to impart to the crew on each cruise?

This is such a good question. Of course, I want everyone onboard to grow into their role as a full-fledged crew member, confident in their role on deck alongside their shipmates. However, I also want folks onboard to have an experience that is beyond the sailing. Living onboard any boat with 11 other people is full of challenge, and I love seeing a crew come together to figure out the specific ways they will work, live, and have a good time on board. It is truly a special thing to work towards something that is bigger than yourself, and Brilliant provides those experiences in spades.

What is it like to sail on Brilliant?

Brilliant really wants to be sailed. The boat sails gracefully in a light breeze, yet is eager to take off in stiffer wind. When it is blowing, you can expect Brilliant to really heel over (which leaves me consistently in awe of the cook). Beyond the fun and the thrill of sailing the boat, I think Brilliant is a great platform for learning and developing seamanship skills and we find that both experienced and inexperienced sailors can really get a lot out of their time on board. I find that Brilliant’s rig design and size lends itself well to learning, and, as their time on board progresses, I am confident in handing over many aspects of vessel operations to students and guest crew.

In 1952, Briggs Cunningham presented his 1932 schooner BRILLIANT to Mystic Seaport Museum to teach young people the art of seamanship (cruises started the following year). Designed by Olin Stephens, the vessel has had a successful career in racing, participating in the Bermuda Races and other famous races.

Was there a special moment last season?

Oh, there were so many! I’m always excited when a new group figures out how you sail a 61-foot schooner onto the anchor (and back off of the anchor the next morning), and that is a special moment that is repeated just about every week. A couple of specific memories come to mind: We had a particularly fantastic sail in Fishers Island Sound on day two of a five-day trip in June, short tacking with our two fisherman staysails. This requires significant teamwork and communication, and all of us on the professional crew were super impressed! Early on a Monday morning in August, we gybed just off the anchored Pride of Baltimore II while their crew and ours waved emphatically at one and other. It was pretty sweet. I also love any opportunity to sail with students through the night, as we were able to do on our longer trips.

What is your favorite part of being captain of Brilliant?

Sailing a vessel that performs so exceptionally is incredible. Hearing stories from past students and crew is always so cool. Being part of Mystic Seaport Museum and working to thoughtfully preserve and maintain our own 1932 schooner is always interesting. But my favorite part of my job is the summer youth sail training trips. Brilliant is so well set up for this program, they are so fun and I am really looking forward to next June.

BRILLIANT under way.
BRILLIANT under way on a port tack.

What are your goals or hopes for the 2022 season?

I am so excited for the youth trips in the summer! We’re aiming to do six five-day trips and two ten-day trips, an increase from last season. I am also really looking forward to the fall of our 2022 season, when we will sail down to the Chesapeake Bay where Brilliant will race 120 miles down the bay in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. Some of my favorite sailing has been in the fall on the Chesapeake and I’m really looking forward to sailing Brilliant down there. There will be opportunities for adult guest crew members to sail on board, so if sailing down the coast and into the Chesapeake is exciting to you, join us!

We are also planning to race in the Gloucester Schooner Race, and the Pat West Gaff and Schooner Race.

What makes Brilliant special?

Short answer: There really isn’t a boat like Brilliant.

But here’s the long answer: This vessel has such a storied legacy, from her transatlantic record in 1933 to her current role running one of the oldest sail training programs in the country (since 1953!), Brilliant remains extraordinary. As someone who loves wooden boats, I cannot help but continue to be in awe of the great care in which the boat has been looked after by the Museum for nearly 70 years. Many folks don’t know this, but Brilliant has never had a rebuild! The vessel was built to a standard that I have yet to see matched elsewhere, and that has served Brilliant, her crew, and the museum well.

I am so grateful to the handful of captains that came before me, and it is through their hard work that the vessel and program (and me!) are so set up for success. Brilliant and I owe these men and the Museum a great deal.

For those interested in learning more or registering for a program, please see our schooner Brilliant page.


Museum Partners with Lancer Hospitality

schaefer's spouter tavern at mystic seaport museumBeginning January 17, 2022, Lancer Hospitality will be the primary food and beverage operator of the Mystic Seaport Museum grounds, a 19-acre destination which is comprised of multiple on-site eateries and food outlets, as well as a robust offering of private dining and event spaces. Founded in 1929, Mystic Seaport Museum is the nation’s leading maritime museum, which was created to gather and preserve the rapidly disappearing artifacts of America’s seafaring past. The museum includes a recreated New England coastal village, a working shipyard, formal exhibit halls, and state-of-the-art artifact storage facilities.

“Lancer is excited to infuse our signature brand of imagination and hospitality into the campus and create a distinct culinary offering for this beloved destination”, said Matt King, President of Elior North America Dining & Events and Lancer Hospitality. “Mystic Seaport Museum is one of Mystic’s most visited attractions, and we look forward to bringing the experience to life for all of the senses.”

Lancer HospitalityLancer will be catering events for the Museum’s internal purposes, as well as its external corporate, group, and private events. The company will also manage weddings taking place on-site at the Museum, at various locations including the Boat Shed at Lighthouse Point, the steamboat Sabino, and the Meeting House.  Lancer will be debuting new catering packages on January 1, 2022 that will celebrate the unique space that is Mystic Seaport Museum.

For guest-facing eateries, Lancer will reopen the espresso bar in the Thompson Exhibition Building on January 17, 2022, with a new coffee program, as well as a new grab-and-go artisan menu featuring local makers and bakers. In The Galley- the quick service café on campus- Lancer will be partnering with the Museum to rebrand and reimagine an entirely new and modernized food and beverage experience with expanded evening hours to join the other restaurants in town that have made Mystic a regional hub for food lovers.

“Our Museum is a one-of-a-kind destination that’s beloved by locals and travelers alike. We’re delighted to be partnering with Lancer Hospitality to continue to evolve our guest offerings, and to provide a distinct food experience that matches the breadth of experiential offerings at the institution,” said Peter Armstrong, President of Mystic Seaport Museum.

Latitude 41 Restaurant & Tavern and events in the River Room and the nearby North Lawn will remain operated by Coastal Gourmet through 2022.


Mystic Seaport Museum Magazine: Fall/Winter 2021

The Fall/Winter 2021 issue of the Museum’s magazine includes a message from new President, Peter Armstrong and features articles on the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant and new Senior Curator of Social Maritime Histories, Akeia de Barros Gomes, Ph.D. Other spotlights include the new center for experiential education, upcoming exhibits, artists in residence and more!