Dora the Explorer

“I left Harpoot the 17th of May, going alone three days’ journey to Diarbekir, somewhat to the scandal of the missionaries along the way. However, I knew the road well and was not in the least afraid, and after all nothing happened.” (Letter of Dec 3, 1915)

“I left Harpoot the 17th of May, going alone three days’ journey to Diarbekir, somewhat to the scandal of the missionaries along the way. However, I knew the road well and was not in the least afraid, and after all nothing happened.” (Dora Mattoon, letter of Dec 3, 1915)

What inspires a woman to throw over her life from one day to the next, to go from apparent comfort and a great job in a big city to a remote post in a country she’s never been to, where they speak a language she hasn’t studied at all?  And what would possess her to leave the first country after five years of hard work for an entirely different one, retraining herself all over again?  How does she go from here:

to here:


–and from being this person (I love the body language here):

Ward_Dora-1906-body_languageto becoming this person:

Ward_Dora-with-Earl-Ward-ca1913What percent of her decision springs from a spirit of adventure, and what percent from “missionary zeal”?

In the case of Dora Mattoon, it was 110% of each.  She couldn’t be contained.

Broadway Tabernacle, ca. 1905

Broadway Tabernacle, ca. 1905

On March 2, 1911, the 27-year-old Dora read an obituary in the New York Times for missionary Maria B. Poole.  Maria, who had earlier attended Dora’s church, the Broadway Tabernacle, had died at the mission station in Harpoot, Turkey, of a heart attack after complications from pneumonia.  According to Dora’s diary, the story of Maria’s life and work inspired Dora to take her place, almost from one day to the next.  She thought quietly over the idea for a few months before announcing her decision in early May.  Dr. Charles Jefferson, her pastor at the Broadway Tabernacle, wrote to console her worried parents:

“Your daughter seems to have worked this problem out all by herself.  I never once spoke to her on the subject of missions, and was quite surprised when a short time ago she came to me, and told me she was going to apply for the position left vacant by our missionary, Miss Poole.  I do not believe that anybody talked to her, or coaxed her into it, or even persuaded her, but that she worked it all out alone in her own heart.  And she seems to be quite firm in her decision, feeling convinced in her own mind that she is doing what is right and best.  She does not like to go so far from you and her mother, but she feels that you have four other girls… Under the circumstances, then, I do not see what is to be done but to let her carry out her plan.  She is a mature woman, in good health, old enough to know her own mind, and to measure her own powers, and however hard it may be for you to have her go so far from you, I believe that in time you will become adjusted to it… She can write to you often, and every seven years she can come home… Having been in Turkey once myself, I do not think of it as far away.”  (Letter of May 2, 1911 from Charles Jefferson to Alfred Mattoon.)

By October, Dora was on a ship heading for Turkey to take Maria Poole’s place in Harpoot.


Harpoot missionary station, ca. 1910.

Harpoot mission station, ca. 1910.

Dora thrived in Turkey. She loved the people – the natives and her colleagues – and she loved the work. Her particular job was to be a touring missionary, to visit small villages in the region and to meet with the “Bible women” there. The Bible women were native Armenians who taught Bible lessons to their fellow citizens for a small salary, and it was Dora’s job to be sure they had what they needed, spiritually and materially. At first she used an interpreter, but over time she learned Armenian and Turkish and was able to conduct meetings herself.

Armenian family in Turkey.

Armenian family in Turkey.

Dora’s work required that she travel from Harpoot across land that was often dangerous from snowstorms, rainstorms, flash floods, and dense fog, not to mention Kurdish tribesmen, who in Dora’s letters seem to alternate between rescues and robbery. Dora traveled by horseback, often for days at a time between one village and the next, and for months at a time over the course of an entire tour. Finding shelter usually meant a stay in a native khan (an extremely rustic inn) where she would share a blanket with fleas on the floor in a smoky, windowless room, separated from other occupants by a blanket curtain. She almost always had a male escort, usually the long-time missionary Henry Riggs, but occasionally she went alone on shorter trips or was accompanied by Mariam Varzoohi, a native teacher in the girls’ college. Dora traveled across hills, jumped off falling horses, waded up to her thighs in snow, got soaked to her skin, and seems to have relished all of it. Whether she’d been a mountaineer before she came to Turkey or whether she realized her love for it in Harpoot, it became a lifelong attachment.


“The northern way is pleasanter than the southern in that one passes over mountains most of the way, and the khans are better on the whole…I was absent from Harpoot almost five weeks, and two days was the longest time I spent in any one place, so you may know life in one way did not become monotonous. Our principal topic of conversation between here and Sivas was our rascally arabdaji [guides]. This was my first experience of travelling in Turkey without a man, and I find a woman has to do a deal of fighting to get along alone.”

“The northern way is pleasanter than the southern in that one passes over mountains most of the way, and the khans are better on the whole…I was absent from Harpoot almost five weeks, and two days was the longest time I spent in any one place, so you may know life in one way did not become monotonous. Our principal topic of conversation between here and Sivas was our rascally arabdaji [guides]. This was my first experience of traveling in Turkey without a man, and I find a woman has to do a deal of fighting to get along alone.” (Letter of Nov 13, 1913.)

The work of a traveling missionary was Dora’s favorite work, “the cream of missionary work,” but with the departure of several colleagues from the station she had to give it up in order to teach at the girls’ school in Harpoot. She loved this work too, but she never ceased to miss touring, which seems to have been the highlight of her career. Nevertheless, she threw herself into teaching with enthusiasm, embracing her “eagerness to tread in unknown paths.”

“You ask about my orphanage correspondence. Our orphans are each supported by people in America, and so every once in a while I have to get the children to write letters to their caretakers, have the letters translated, and send them off with a personal word of my own.” (Letter of Aug 14, 1913)

“You ask about my orphanage correspondence. Our orphans are each supported by people in America, and so every once in a while I have to get the children to write letters to their caretakers, have the letters translated, and send them off with a personal word of my own.” (Letter of Aug 14, 1913.)

Recess at Girls School in Harpoot.

Recess at Girls School in Harpoot.

Harpoot’s attractions included Earl Ward, who had been in Turkey since 1909. Dora had met Earl’s twin Mark (both Amherst Class of 1906) before she left for Turkey, so finding Earl at Harpoot would’ve been no surprise. Falling in love with him might’ve been a surprise, though:

“You remember, mother, I used to say men were a nuisance – though I did find them ever so good chums as you know…” (Letter of Oct 17, 1912.)

“Mark [Ward] talked to me more than once about Earl and how much he needed me, though I wouldn’t have it that way at all and came out here with my mind fully made up that whatever happened I simply wouldn’t marry Earl Ward.” (Letter of Oct 17, 1912.)

“…his faults loomed clearer than his virtues for some time!” (Letter of Aug 14, 1913.)

Good chums Dora and Earl worked and played together for the few years they overlapped in Harpoot.

“ I hope none of you in this enlightened age and generation picture a missionary as a man who wears a frock coat and a long face and goes around preaching of fire and brimstone. The missionaries I have known are the finest, most earnest, whole-souled, jolly people I’ve met in many a long day.” (From left, Dora, Mary Riggs, Earl. Letter of Mar 1, 1913.)

“I hope none of you in this enlightened age and generation picture a missionary as a man who wears a frock coat and a long face and goes around preaching of fire and brimstone. The missionaries I have known are the finest, most earnest, whole-souled, jolly people I’ve met in many a long day.” (From left, Dora, Mary Riggs, Earl. Letter of Mar 1, 1913.)


Dora and Earl near a well (?) on the plain outside Harpoot.

Dora and Earl near a well (?) on the plain outside Harpoot.

Earl’s tour in Harpoot ended in July of 1913, when he returned to the U.S. and began to work for the YMCA.  When he left, Earl and Dora were already engaged and planned to marry when Dora’s tour was up a long two years later.

Dora left Turkey in the spring of 1915, by which time the war had reached Harpoot. That winter, from her home in Massachusetts, she wrote to her sisters, reflecting on what had happened in the brief time since she’d left:

“I wonder where all those dear [Harpoot] friends are now? Many if not most of them killed, I suppose. How dear they all were, and how I loved and admired them! When I came away three of our professors and one of our teachers were in prison, along with eight or ten others of the prominent Armenians, and torture and massacre and deportation had not yet then begun. They came with full force later!” (Letter of Dec 3, 1915.)

In March of 1916, after a brief furlough in the United States, the newlyweds headed for Calcutta, India, on YMCA business. It’s difficult to be certain from only her letters home, but at first Dora seems to have struggled to find her place in India. The climate was hard on her, but in addition she seems to have become an adjunct to Earl’s work in Calcutta rather than having her work equal to his as it had been in Turkey. Her letters suggest that her role was to be primarily a helpmeet to Earl, especially as hostess to people associated with his work, and to do this work so regularly that it was exhausting. Dora needed to be busy, to do her own work, and to feel useful, and while she loved Earl and supported his work, her frustration is apparent in her letters to family.

After a few years and another brief furlough, the Wards were sent to Bombay, and here Dora seems to have gotten back into a role she loved. While Earl devised programs for men and boys, Dora did the same for women and girls.  Their duties introduced them to the “chawls” in neighborhoods where their work would take place:

“The chawls are great blocks or tenements of concrete, four storeys high, with twenty rooms on a floor and about five persons to a room probably!  We figure there are about 8,000 people in the 22 chawls in that particular area.”

The Wards also traveled around India to inspect other social work sites:

“We had three weeks in Nagpur and spent practically all the time studying the welfare work.  I visited the day nursery, or creche, which is being done at the mill, and I also spent some time at an infant welfare center which is being run by the municipality.  Then I went to the villages with Irene’s trained nurse and some of her teachers, and Earl spent a lot of evenings, and I some too, visiting the night schools, which is the big approach to people.  The welfare work is financed by Empress Mills, who employ 25,000 workers.  They live in villages, or bustees, and the welfare work is being done in the bustees.  I also looked into the Project Method of teaching…”

Dora was back in business. Click on an image below for gallery.

During vacations the Wards traveled in India as they had in Turkey. Over time Dora became “an old India hand,” familiar with the ways of India – its history, religions, customs, foods, and how to get around. Click for gallery:

After another tour of duty in Calcutta from 1930-32, the world economy forced the YMCA to downsize and the Wards were called home. They were never again posted abroad but remained very active in the U.S. with social work similar to what they had done in Turkey and India.

The Dora Judd Mattoon Ward Papers contain diaries, correspondence, photographs, a nearly full set of the “Harpoot Newsletter” by Ernest Riggs, and other materials about the lives of Dora and Earl Ward. One of its chief strengths is in showing how the lives of missionaries evolved in response to circumstances and changing needs. Dora and Earl started out as “missionaries” in Turkey, but in India they referred to themselves as “social workers” or “welfare workers,” and their work seems distinctly less religious and more specifically related to health, education, and welfare. Where Dora’s work as a touring missionary in Turkey involved a lot of religious teaching, her work in India was more about setting up programs for women and children, and Earl’s was the same for men.

The papers are also important as a record of events in Turkey and India in the first third of the twentieth century. Although the couple seems not to have been especially “political,” their letters contain many comments about the state of affairs first in Turkey during World War I, and later in India during the declining years of the British Raj.

We welcome researchers seeking to use the many Ward collections at Amherst College — those of Edwin St. John Ward (AC 1900), Earl Ward (AC 1906), Mark Hopkins Ward (AC 1906, his papers to be processed soon), and Dora J.M. Ward — or one of the many other missionary collections in our holdings.



Most of the photographs in this post are by Earl Ward, a few probably by Dora Ward or Fay Emmett Livengood, a fellow missionary in Turkey.  Many of Earl’s photographs, including several used in this post, were digitized by his nephew Richard Ward, Class of 1942.

 All of the letters in the Dora Judd Mattoon Ward Papers were transcribed by Dora’s faithful niece and our donor, Nancy Kline.

By a Lady

Yesterday marked the last class visit to the Archives & Special Collections for the Spring 2016 semester. The class was “Early Women Writers” taught by Amherst English Professors Amelia Worsley and Ingrid Nelson, and it was a great excuse for me to dig into our collections to see what we have in this area.

Austen 1818

This rather plain looking four-volume set was one gem I was well aware of in our collections. Although it may not look like much from the outside, this is the original publisher’s binding on a completely untrimmed first edition of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. The Archives holds a complete set of Austen’s novels in first edition.

Austen TP

Austen died in July 1817. Even though this set includes a “biographical notice of the author,” he name still does not appear on the title page. By contrast, Charlotte Smith (1749-1806) does get her name on the title page of The Banished Man, one of ten novels she published in the late eighteenth century.

Banished Man

Curiously, we only hold volumes 3 and 4 of The Banished Man. Stepping back a little further in time, we have a copy of Sarah Fielding’s The Adventures of David Simple published in 1744.

David Simple tp

I’m curious if the first edition of David Simple included the Preface by the author’s brother, and best-selling novelist of the age, Henry Fielding. The number of editions of a work is one way to gauge its popularity; the last two novels had at least two editions; this copy of Aphra Behn’s collected works — All the Histories and Novels —  was in its sixth edition in 1718:

Behn tp

Behn died in 1689, so the demand for at least six editions of her collected works nearly 30 years after her death is an excellent indicator of her popularity.

The very earliest published book in the collection written by a woman appears to be Anne Bradstreet’s The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America published in London in 1650:

Bradstreet tp

Our copy lacks a few pages at the front, which have been replaced by facsimiles, but the very last page of the book is very special:

Bradstreet ms page

I have not even attempted to decipher the handwriting here. Sounds like a good student project…

Jumping back to the Romantic Era, our copy of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark has the signature of its former owner on the title page:


This copy once belonged to William Wordsworth and is now part of the Cornelius H. Patton, Class of 1883 Wordsworth Collection.

We do not hold a copy of the first edition of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (London 1773), I was pleased to learn we have this 1834 edition of Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley.

Wheatley 1834 cover

Wheatley 1834

The title page dedicates this volume to “Friends of the Africans” and it was published the year after William Lloyd Garrison founded the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833.

A final gem in our collections is also authored by a woman of color: Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave (Boston: Printed for the Author, 1850).

truth tp

Like many of the books in our collections, this one bears the marks of having spent part of its life in the Frost Library circulating collections:

Truth port

We will leave the old library “tattle-tape” attached to the title page of this copy until we can pay for the careful conservation treatment it will require to remove it. At least our copy still has the portrait.

While we do not have a vast collection of women writers, it’s always rewarding to find out that we have some fascinating high spots. I’ll end with this example of provincial printing from the early nineteenth century.

Charlotte Temple

Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple was first published in 1790 and was the best-selling novel in the United States until Uncle Tom’s Cabin appeared in book form in 1852. This edition was published in Brookfield, Massachusetts. It’s likely E. Merriam & Co. printed up a couple hundred copies of this best-seller to satisfy local demand and make some easy money.

Today we’re taking a quick peek at the Amherst of 120 years ago. William J. Newlin was a student at Amherst College from 1895 to 1899, he later returned as a Mathematics and Philosophy professor and taught here for nearly fifty years. We have a handful of glass plate negatives that Newlin took as a student and that now reside in our photograph collection. Followed by the photographs of Allan W. Forbes a mere ten years later, these images tell an interesting story about life at Amherst College a little more than 100 years ago.

click on an image to see it larger

Following the lamentable events in the town of Amherst last night, and as the community awaits an estimate of the damages and the full list of casualties, we felt that it would be appropriate to take a look back at the history of Emily Dickinson related violence in Amherst.

The earliest destruction associated with Emily Dickinson is, alas, confined mainly to conjecture. Following a series of mysterious nocturnal fires in the town of Amherst in the late 1870s and early 1880s, rumors began spreading of sightings of a white clad figure in connection with the blazes. The complete destruction of the college’s Walker Hall on the night of March 29, 1882, one of this series of fires, was linked with Dickinson some decades later. In a deathbed confession, mathematics instructor Fred A. Gaylord revealed that he had been maintaining a passionate correspondence with a mysterious and poetical local lady with dreadful penmanship; days before the blaze he had threatened to publish her letters if she continued to refuse to meet him in person. Her letters were, of course, completely destroyed in the conflagration.

Walker Hall after fire

Burned out shell of Walker Hall, 1882



Some fifty years later, in 1925,  Amherst College students were holding their annual declamation contest in the College Grove. Unrest began during the event when factions supporting Arthur J. White, who recited Wordsworth, and Elmer P. Hurst, reading Emily Dickinson, began to deride one another’s literary discernment. Violence erupted after the judges unanimously chose White. The brawl quickly spread through the crowd leaving a large portion of the student body nursing injuries to body and dignity.

President Olds remonstrated the students the following day and officially banned both Dickinson and Wordsworth from campus.

President Olds addressing students

President Olds addressing students in front of College hall



In April of 1956, as news of Millicent Todd Bingham’s donation of her Emily Dickinson manuscripts to Amherst College spread throughout the town, a large group of passionate supporters of Amherst’s Jones Library gathered on the town common. Already nettled by the donation of Martha Dickinson Bianchi’s manuscripts to Harvard, this latest news was unbearable insult to the loyal library patrons who felt that Dickinson’s works belonged at the public library. Torches were lit and as the angry mob grew, groups of torch bearing citizens roamed the campus terrorizing undergraduates and professors alike. Late in the evening the mob reconvened in the town common and burned both institutions of higher learning in effigy while chanting, “Emily for the People! Emily for the People!”



In 1989, the renowned expert in early photographic portraiture, G. D. Anderson, offered a rare opportunity for the public to bring possible Emily Dickinson, ca. 1847daguerreotypes of Emily Dickinson to him for assessment. Much to his astonishment, 126 individuals attended the event, held in the Masonic Lodge in Amherst. In order to keep the crowd amused during the long wait for individual consultations, Anderson made the short-sighted suggestion that attendees form small groups to discuss the merit of the images they had brought. Tragically, all 126 daguerreotypes were destroyed in the resulting melee. Following the incident, Anderson removed himself entirely from public life and is rumored to now be a llama farmer in northern Vermont.



In 2008, in a carefully hushed incident, Amherst College Physics Professor Dr. Johanna Ehrikson pursued her Emily Dickinson research to the near annihilation of the planet. Dr. Ehrikson was exploring the hypothesis that Emily Dickinson had embedded the Theory Of Everything (TOE) in her written works (specifically the fascicle books). Intending to publish the TOE in a paper jointly authored by herself and Dickinson, Dr. Ehrikson fed Dickinson’s works into a secret algorithm to begin the process of decoding. To her astonishment, the overwhelming weight of the profundity of Dickinson’s poetry caused a very small black hole to form. It was only the quick action of student assistant Emma Rahlsten, who recognized the danger and quickly hit the kill switch, that stopped the black hole before it became large enough to be self-sustaining. The black hole evaporated, life on earth continued as we know it, and Professor Ehrikson decided to pursue other avenues to tenure.



Most recently, as I’m sure we’re all aware, was the pub fight at the 2011 Emily Dickinson International Society conference. A heated debate between opposing camps of scholars on the meaning of Dickinson’s dash lengths escalated to nose tweaking and ear pulling and quickly developed into an all-out brawl that caused significant property damage to the now defunct Groan & Quail and changed the course of a number of scholarly inquiries.



All of us at the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections offer our sympathies to those affected by last night’s incident and our sincere hope that we can finally all come together and stop the violence.

Edit: Happy April Fools Day!

With gratitude for the research assistance of Dr. Theresa J. Brandt and Margaret Dakin.

Occasionally, a researcher’s inquiry will lead to a surprising find in our collections or turn up a previously unrealized cache of rare publications.  Last week, just such an inquiry led me to four rather rare publications by Josiah Warren, often called “The First American Anarchist.”


Born in Boston in 1798, Warren was a musician and inventor in Cincinnati, Ohio before crossing paths with Welsh industrialist and social reformer Robert Owen in 1824.  Warren and his family lived and participated in Owen’s experimental utopian socialist society of New Harmony, Indiana for two years before ultimately rejecting Owen’s cooperative social philosophy.


Warren, concluding that society must preserve the autonomy of all individuals, founded his own social philosophy based on the “sovereignty of the individual.”  Warren’s theory called for self-government and individual responsibility as essential elements for an equitable society, as well as a system of “equitable commerce.”

Warren, Josiah.


Warren defined equitable commerce as a barter system where the cost of goods should be equal to the labor exerted to produce those goods, rather than the subjective worth of goods.  Instead of using cash for the purchase of goods, Warren advocated for the exchange of equitable money or “labor for labor” notes.


In 1833, Warren wrote and printed “The Peaceful Revolutionist,” asserted to be the first anarchist periodical.  Warren’s objective to have total control over the printing of his publications, led to his invention in the early 1830s of the first printing press to print onto a continuous roll of paper, known as the “speed press.”  Warren also cast his own type to use in the printing of his periodicals and pamphlets.


In the early 1850s, with his philosophy of individualist anarchism and in collaboration with fellow anarchist Stephen Pearl Andrews, Warren established a new society on Long Island, NY named Modern Times.  Although Warren’s Modern Times community quickly dissolved, Warren continued to publish numerous pamphlets espousing his philosophy.  Four of these pamphlets are held in the Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College.


All of these pamphlets can be found in our Library Catalog and are available for research in the Archives & Special Collections:

Warren, Josiah. Response to the Call of the National Labor Union for Essays on the following Subjects : 1. The Specie Basis Fallacy : 2. Strikes : 3. Co-operation : [etc.] / by the Author of “True Civilization”. Boston, 1871.   AC call number: File HD8072 .W31

Warren, Josiah. The Principle of Equivalents : A Subject of Immediate and Serious Interest to Both Sexes and All Classes of All Nations. Long Island, NY?, 1861.   AC call number: File HB201.P75

Warren, Josiah. Political Platform for the Coming Party. Boston, 1871.  AC call number: File E671.P65

Warren, Josiah. Periodical Letter on the Principles and Progress of the Equity Movement. v. 1, no. 8 (March 1855).   AC call number: File HN1.P47



Bailie, William. Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist, A Sociological Study. New York, Arno Press, 1972.

Butler, Ann. “Josiah Warren, Peaceful Revolutionist.” Thesis. Ball State University, 1978.

Warren, Josiah, and Crispin Sartwell. The Practical Anarchist: Writings of Josiah Warren. New York: Fordham UP, 2011.

Wikipedia: Josiah Warren. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josiah_Warren.

Daguerreotype of Charles Thompson by Chandler Seaver, Jr., of Boston, ca 1855

Daguerreotype of Charles Thompson by Chandler Seaver, Jr., of Boston, ca 1855

Charles Thompson, custodian at Amherst College for more than 40 years in the second half of the 19th century – do you know him?  Have you seen photographs of him before, perhaps in an old Olio yearbook?  For over 40 years Amherst students graduated and left town with a photograph of Charles Thompson in their copies of the yearbook.  Thompson was deeply connected with the College, and with the students’ experience of it, and there is no doubt that those who knew him remembered him fondly.

Most of what we know about Thompson’s life comes from a volume written to raise money for Thompson’s old age by President William Augustus Stearns’ daughter Abigail Eloise LeeI’ve looked at the book many times over the years, both for the purpose of learning about Thompson’s life and to find details about the College and town during those days.  Recently I looked at it again and this time I happened to focus on a passage in which Lee mentions Thompson’s experiences as a sailor.  I’d never noticed this information enough to wonder about it, but this time I did.

People who spoke with or heard about Thompson might have known about his years at sea.  Apparently he told stories about his adventures, first to the Stearns children, and then to people in Amherst.  In the years since his death, though, we’ve probably associated Thompson primarily with his work for the Stearns family and later for the College, while those years on a ship have been unexplored and would probably have been lost to history if it weren’t for Lee’s book.

Lee quotes from a manuscript of her father’s to describe Thompson’s career as a sailor:



Pres. William A. Stearns (ca. 1858), Thompson's friend and employer.

Pres. William A. Stearns (ca. 1858), Thompson’s friend and employer.


In other words – and this is what interests me – by the time Charles Thompson followed the Stearns family to Amherst in the late 1850s he had seen far more of the world than had the great majority of the people who knew him, or thought they did.  It’s interesting to think about his experiences and what he learned as he traveled the seas in comparison to what the average citizen of Amherst – town or college – experienced or learned.  Were there times when someone said something to him that made him recall what he’d witnessed and done, and what they would never know?

I wanted to know more about Thompson’s history, so I turned to resources at my fingertips.

Lee had said that Stearns found a position for Thompson with a “Captain Charles Evans,” a mariner Stearns knew personally, and that his first trip was on a whaler, an experience he remembered vividly:


Investigations in the newspaper database and at the National Maritime Digital Library‘s “American Offshore Whaling Voyages: a Database”  led me to conclude that Thompson sailed with Charles Thomas Evans on his ship the Warren.  It’s certain that Charles Thomas Evans (not Charles A. Evans, another mariner) was Thompson’s employer: the dates, the ship names, and the details of his death match the clues.  What’s more, genealogical websites showed Evans was the husband of Stearns’ sister-in-law Lucy Drew Frazar.  She was Evans’ second wife, and the fact that the Stearns family knew her well explains how Thompson came to sail with Evans.

Lee writes that Thompson served as the steward on the Warren, which means that he served Evans in particular, along with other duties:

“The steward was the captain’s personal servant. He kept the captain’s and mates’ cabins in order and waited on the captain and mates at mealtimes in the main cabin. He was in charge of the cook and responsible for keeping track of the stocks of food and other supplies aboard the ship. He was sometimes assisted by a cabin boy. He lived in steerage and his lay [his pay percentage]  ranged between 1/60 and 1/150.”  (From the site: Girl on a Whaleship)

From the ship’s deck, Thompson would have witnessed scenes like this one, later prompting memories like the one quoted above:

Currier and Ives, "Whale Fishery," via the Library of Congress.

Currier and Ives, “Whale Fishery,” via the Library of Congress.

Newspapers allow us to follow some of the Warren’s route between 1847 and 1851.  This evidence suggests that Thompson boarded the Warren in November 1847 while it was in Warren, Rhode Island, its home port.  From there, it went on a 41-month journey (click on first image to start slide show):

To make the point succinctly, Thompson’s voyages looked something like this:

When the Warren returned from its long voyage, Evans seems to have decided he’d had enough of wrangling angry 45-ton mammals.  After about 9 months at home, he turned to merchant shipping and became the master of the Kremlin, a boat designed by his brother-in-law Amherst Alden Frazar.  According to Lee, Charles Thompson went on two voyages with Evans on the Kremlin.  They left New York in late February, 1852 for San Francisco and were reported sighted along South America on March 31.

Kremlin at latitude 6.14 S, longitude 31.40 W on March 31. (Daily Atlas newspaper, May 20, 1852.)

Kremlin at latitude 6.14 S, longitude 31.40 W on March 31. (Daily Atlas newspaper, May 20, 1852.)

Meanwhile, the Warren was still sailing the seas.  Thompson was lucky not to be on it anymore: it burned on July 10, 1852.

On July 26, the Kremlin was nearing San Francisco when the crew sighted a ship in distress:


After providing assistance (no doubt with Thompson’s help as steward), the Kremlin sailed on toward San Francisco, arriving there on August 2.  The brig Rostrand limped in behind it.


The Kremlin and the Rostrand arrive in San Francisco (Daily Alta California, Volume 3, Number 214, 3 August 1852.)

Less than two months later Captain Evans died of “ship fever,” a ghastly way to go that involves infectious body lice.  Lee’s book  says that Charles Thompson tended Evans in his last illness and brought a lock of his hair home to Lucy Evans.


It took almost four months for the news to reach Evans’ family.


“We are well. You have doubtless heard of Uncle Henry’s death. Capt. Charles Evans died at sea of ship fever, Sept. last. The news has just arrived. He was, you know, Lucy Frazar’s husband.” William A. Stearns to brother Jonathan Stearns, 1853 Jan 17.

The Kremlin went on to Shanghai under the first mate, according to Thompson, and departed for London on October 23, 1852.  A newspaper report in a column titled “Via Quarantine”(perhaps for more cases of ship fever) shows it in London in the spring of 1853; June newspaper accounts have it arriving in Boston on June 8 or 9, 1853.  This was the end of Thompson’s life as a sailor.

Charles Thompson at the College well, ca. 1860.

Charles Thompson at the College well, ca. 1860.

Altogether, then, Thompson was at sea for a total of about 4 ½ years, beginning with a whaling voyage of 41 months (late November 1847 to sometime in May, 1851) through two additional voyages from early 1852, through his return to New England in June, 1853.  He remained in the Boston area for a few years and then moved to Amherst to be with the Stearns family.  Amherst must’ve seemed very quiet after his life at sea, and perhaps he preferred it that way.




While researching Charles Thompson’s history, I came across many fascinating sites about the history of whaling. In addition to those mentioned in the text above, here is a selection of great resources:

The New Bedford Whaling Museum , including many additional links under the tab “Digital Scholarship.”

The Whaling Museum of the Nantucket Historical Association, including pages about the whaler Essex, and the 2015 movie about it, “In the Heart of the Sea

Mystic Seaport, with links to online materials.

The Smithsonian, with a page on whaling, including a section on African American sailors: “On the Water”

The Northeast Document Conservation Center’s project to conserve a logbook: “Starboard Boat Struck a Whale.”

Maritime Heritage Project, a “free research tool for those seeking history of passengers, ships, captains, merchants and merchandise sailing into California during the mid-to-late 1800s.”

Detailed article: Spatial and Seasonal Distribution of American Whaling and Whales in the Age of Sail. Smith TD, Reeves RR, Josephson EA, Lund JN (2012) PLoS ONE 7(4): e34905. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0034905

A blog not to be missed: Data narratives and structural histories: Melville, Maury, and American whaling

Recently cataloged:

Valentine Vaux title page

The Adventures of Valentine Vaux, or, The Tricks of a Ventriloquist / by Timothy Portwine

Valentine Vaux woodcut on part no 3

This is another “penny dreadful” (you can read an earlier post about others in our collection). “Timothy Portwine” was actually the prolific Thomas Peckett Prest, who also wrote many parodies (or plagiarisms!) of Dickens’ works under the pseudonym “Bos.” Prest or his contemporary James Malcolm Rymer are usually credited with the authorship of The String of Pearls, or, The Barber of Fleet Street, in which the character Sweeney Todd had his first appearance. Valentine Vaux is a parody/plagiarism/lampoon of Henry Cockton’s The Life and Adventures of Valentine Vox, the Ventriloquist.

In my earlier post I referenced the Barry Ono Collection of Penny Dreadfuls held by the British Library. Since that time, a new resource has become available: researchers at Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Smith, or UMass Amherst now have access to a digitized version of that same collection via Nineteenth Century Collections Online (Amherst College log-in required).

Our copy of Valentine Vaux happens to have a great ownership inscription, in this case a kind of “borrower beware” statement:

ownership inscription of Frederick Smith 1840

This belongs to Frederick Smith, 1840

If thou art borrowed by a friend
Right welcome shall he be
To read to study not to Lend
But to return to me
Not that imparted Knowledge doth
Diminish learnings store
But books I find if often lent
Return to me no more

This same rhyme has been noted in many nineteenth century books, both inscribed and as printed bookplates. For those interested, there is a good overview of this practice in “Traditional Flyleaf Rhymes” (in Folklore and Book Culture by Kevin J. Hayes). Other examples have been blogged about by the Bodleian Libraries Department of Special Collections and the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. This is the first one I have encountered, and I’ll certainly keep an eye out for more.

Valentine Vaux woodcut with elephant

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