A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections and events at the RIHS

Object Thursday: Oh the Places You’ll Go

With summer quickly approaching our thoughts in Rhode Island turn to the sea. For many, our thoughts are always with the sea. Some of the most exciting material at the Rhode Island Historical Society is contained in our Ships’ Logbook Collection [MSS 828]. Whether they document the chase of the Privateer, the gears of the triangle trade and slavery or the quixotic hunt of the whaler, the logbooks detail the daily experiences of the lives upon each ship for that focused period of time.

But mostly they record the weather. Well the wind specifically. And for good reason–in the age of sail the weather determined your fate at sea. But in between the descriptions of large swells, gales and “fogy calm” there are occasional drawings such as this one we found following an entry for 11 October 1748 in the logbook of the Brig Cumberland.

Logbook of the Cumberland (detail), 1748. MSS 828

Logbook of the Brig Cumberland (detail), 1748. MSS 828.

The Cumberland had sailed out of Warwick in 1747 destined for South America by way of Barbados under Command of John Warner. With no attached description we are left to wonder if this is a scene the scribe witnessed first-hand? Is this native South American dress? There seems to be one man in the group—is he ringing a bell? Perhaps a missionary or a school teacher? Or was this drawing inserted by a later owner?

Logbooks take the reader on the voyage.  But they also symbolize that the author made it safely home to deposit the book.

In 1833, John Hutchens (1794?-1833) was a young bookseller making his way in Providence.  He was only close to 30 when he died, but full of new ideas such as this blank logbook “published and sold wholesale and retail, by John Hutchens, 1 Market Street (first door west of the bridge.)” The book of blank forms was printed by Edward and J.W. Cory who were book and job printers at 9 Market Square. It contains charts for recording wind, direction, location, depth and “occurences” of the day.

R.I. Imprint 1833 No.7 Prov

R.I. Imprint 1833 No.7 Prov

The idea of selling an ocean travel logbook to the public shows the democratization of adventure in the 1830’s. It was also covered in a handsome marble paper in a shell on shell pattern. A luxury item compared to the tattered brown paper wrappers of most working logbooks as evidenced in the Logbook Collection.

Marbled cover (detail). R.I. Imprint 1833 No.7 Prov

Marbled cover (detail). R.I. Imprint 1833 No.7 Prov

There are no other recorded copies of this Rhode Island imprint. Perhaps they were lost at sea.

~Phoebe Bean, Librarian

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