November 8: The Last Wooden Whaling Ship Arrives in Mystic


On this day in 1941, the 19th century wooden whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, one of Connecticut’s most beloved historical icons, made her permanent home in Mystic, Connecticut.  The massive wooden vessel, with a deck measuring over feet in length and a main mast rising 110 feet into the air, once numbered among a combined fleet of 2,700 active whaling ships in the mid-to-late 19th century when the American whaling industry was at its peak.  Today, having outlasted them all, the Morgan stands as the last remaining wooden whaleship in the entire world.

Built in New Bedford, Massachuetts, and launched in July 1841, the Charles W. Morgan (named after its original owner) was an active whaling ship for 80 years, undertaking a total of 37 commercial whaling voyages.  Most of these voyages lasted for years at a time, and brought the Morgan to every corner of the world’s oceans in search of lucrative whalebone and whale oil.  During those 80 years, the crew of the Morgan survived countless storms and hurricanes at sea, treacherous icebergs in the Arctic, and even an attack from cannibalistic natives in the South Pacific.

The Charles W. Morgan under full sail on its 38th voyage in 2014, following a multi-million-dollar restoration that made the historic vessel fully seaworthy once again. (Mystic Seaport)

As synthetic and cheaper substitutes for whale oil became more widespread in the early 20th century, the American whaling industry experienced a sharp decline, and by the 1920s, the Morgan had retired from the business and was displayed in Dartmouth, Massachusetts until 1941, when the Marine Historical Association (better known today as Mystic Seaport, America’s largest maritime museum) offered to purchase the ship from its private owners.  On November 8, 1941 — one hundred years after it first set sail — the Charles W. Morgan arrived at Mystic Seaport, having been towed and escorted by a small fleet of boats including a Coast Guard cutter.  The handsome vessel has served as the centerpiece of the Mystic Seaport maritime museum ever since, having welcomed over twenty million visitors on board to tour the floating historical exhibit.  A national treasure found its new home in welcoming waters — on this day in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Charles W. Morgan: The Last Wooden Whaleship in the World,” Mystic Seaport

Sara Brown, “Last of Her Kind, Whaleship Charles W. Morgan Has Strong Ties to the Vineyard,” Vineyard Gazette