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Whaling and Other Nautical Papers

 Collection — Container: MS 3565
Call Number: MS 3565

Scope and Contents

The majority of this collection documents the many aspects of the whaling and shipping industries from 1694-1974, such as outfitting and financing of voyages to daily life on board a 20th century whaler to the price of whale oil. In addition, the lives of sailors’ families at home, the business transactions of many ship owners, among them Samuel Osborn of Edgartown, Massachusetts, and William R. Rotch & Co. of Nantucket and New Bedford, Massachusetts, and transactions of business agents such as Sullivan & Barber of Boston, Hathaway & Luce of New Bedford, Massachusetts, and William and Edward Potter of London, England. In addition, the financial condition of the families at home, the prices of every day commodities such as tobacco, cotton, and coal and their availability at different ports is also documented. Moreover, the physical condition of ships after their voyages and the repairs made on them as well as the histories of crew members and the ships on which they served are also included.

There are about 100 ships represented in the collection either through business, insurance, or legal records or in photographs. For example, there are receipts and related records for the Alice Knowles, Tennessee, Young Teaser, and Ploughboy. Other ships that are documented through insurance and legal papers are the Martha, Valparaiso, John Jay, Ospray, and Hound. Also included are insurance records of several ships whose loss records document the facts of incidents alleged to provide the basis for various insurance claims, and the Dispatch Line (New York) records account for the gross stock of each vessel, number of trips,  port charges, and profits and expenses. Among the photographic images that are included in the collection are 19th century New Bedford wharf scenes, and 20th century whaling expeditions and stations, and whaling ships, schooners, and barks.

Records consist of correspondence, insurance and legal documents, photographic images, account books, voyage records, and receipts.


  • 1696-1974
  • Majority of material found in 1800-1892

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Items in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. In most cases, the Boston Public Library does not hold the copyright to the items in our collections. It is the sole responsibility of the user to make their own determination about what types of usage might be permissible under U.S. and international copyright law.


1.00 Cubic Feet (3 manuscript boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection isarranged into 6 sections:


Business and Financial Papers

Insurance Records

Legal Documents

Memorabilia and Photographic Images

Method of Acquisition

Purchased in 2000 from Powers Rare Books, Manchester, New Hampshire. The collection came from the estate of Douglas C. Fonda, Jr.

Related Materials

William Henry Law Correspondence, MS f.I.1.11 and MS f.K.1.12

African American Seamen and Other Nautical Records, 1760s-1770s, MS 3586

Processing Information

Finding aid written by Janet Murphy and Robert Roth.

Processing Information

This electronic finding aid is transcribed from legacy data. In many cases, transcriptions were not verified against collection materials at the time of transcription. As a result, this finding aid could be incomplete and might only reflect a partial understanding of the material.

Statement on harmful description

Archival description reflects the biases of time periods and cultures in which it was created and may include direct quotations or descriptions that use inappropriate or harmful language. Creator provided descriptions may be maintained in order to preserve the context in which the collection was created and/or used. Legacy description and potentially offensive content may be made available online until a collection can be reprocessed because the access that they provide to primary source materials is uniquely valuable to the research community at large. Our efforts to repair outdated descriptions and to describe our collections more equitably are iterative and ongoing.

Whaling and Other Nautical Papers
Rare Books and Manuscripts Department staff.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2010: Updated by Kimberly Reynolds, 2010.

About this library

Part of the Boston Public Library Archives & Special Collections Repository

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Boston MA 02116 United States