The Charles W. Morgan was welcomed home to Mystic Seaport on August 6 following the completion of this summer’s historic 38th Voyage. The 19th-century whaleship was towed from City Pier in New London to the Museum, where she is now tied up at her traditional berth at Chubb’s Wharf.
Built in New Bedford, Mass. in 1841, the Morgan sailed 37 voyages around the globe during an 80-year whaling career. This past May, following a five-year, multi-million dollar restoration, the ship set out on her last voyage— perhaps her most important— to raise awareness of America’s maritime heritage and to call attention to issues of ocean sustainability and conservation. It was the first time the National Historic Landmark had left Mystic Seaport since her arrival in 1941.
With Captain Richard “Kip” Files at the helm, the Morgan departed Mystic Seaport May 17 and visited New London, Conn., Newport, R.I., Vineyard Haven, Mass., New Bedford, Mass., the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Boston, and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy as part of the centennial celebration of the opening of the Cape Cod Canal.
“The nearly three-month journey was a commemoration of the role of the sea in the history of America and an appreciation of our changing relationship with the natural world,” said Steve White, president of Mystic Seaport. “Taking this American icon, the oldest surviving commercial ship in the country, out on her 38th Voyage was a landmark achievement for Mystic Seaport. We truly accomplished our mission to celebrate our nation’s shared maritime heritage.”
More than 64,000 visitors climbed aboard the Morgan and visited dockside exhibitions during the 38th Voyage. Highlights of the journey included the ship’s homecoming to New Bedford, docking next to the USS Constitution in Boston, and teaming up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at Stellwagen Bank to observe whales in their natural environment.
“For Mystic Seaport the 38th Voyage represents a dynamic new model for engaging with the public. We have added to the whaleship’s historical record and now have a powerful body of knowledge, sensory experiences, images, sounds, and visceral and artistic human responses that all contribute to our understanding of 19th-century whaling and the human-whale dynamic,” said Susan Funk, executive vice president of Mystic Seaport. “The voyage has reinforced our vision of the role of museums in the 21st century, and how museums like Mystic Seaport can play a vital, continued role in education — how the objects we preserve, like the Charles W. Morgan, are no longer simply static exhibits but rather dynamic, ever-changing platforms for public engagement.”
Throughout the voyage, some 80 individuals from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds sailed aboard the ship and participated in an unprecedented public-history project as 38th Voyagers. This group, which included artists, historians, scientists, journalists, teachers, musicians, scholars and whaling descendants, documented and filtered their experience aboard the Morgan and will produce a creative product for Mystic Seaport to share with the public.
“The Charles W. Morgan is an exceptional and truly unique artifact of our shared maritime heritage,” said White. “While the ship is an American icon and a living portal into an important chapter of American history, she now embarks on a new journey with transformed purpose. She’s no longer an instrument of commerce but a source of education, knowledge, and understanding. The 38th Voyage was truly seeing history come alive.”