Today’s post comes from Chelsea Tremblay, social media intern in our Education and Public Programs division.
In the mid 1800’s, the Charles W. Morgan set sail in search of one thing: the mighty whale. The last wooden whaling ship in the United States, the Morgan braved the ocean’s rough waters for treasures such as whale bones and oils—not to mention the thousands of dollars seamen earned from these goods.
Whaling is a major part of history! The once popular practice offers numerous windows into the past in various ways: music (sea shanties), art (scrimshaw, knots), mathematics (measurement, navigation), science (whales, oceans, man’s impact on nature), and geography.
Search through these records to learn about the goods seamen brought back from their trips. In this merchandise log from 1874, the crew brought back 6,080 gallons of whale oil! Whale oil was heavily in demand at the time because it was used to light lamps and make candles. Sperm whale candles (or spermaceti) are actually said to be to be the brightest, purest candles.
Ask your students: Can you determine how much money they earned from all of that oil?
These documents can also teach us a bit more about life at sea. Sure, the salty sea breeze rustling through your hair and having nothing but the horizon ahead seems like a dream. However, life as a whaling crew member wasn’t quite so romantic. Here you can find the names of two men who deserted the Charles W. Morgan when it made port in May of 1874.
In this collection of new records you can also find discharge certificates and even death certificates.
Some ideas for incorporating these documents in the classroom are:
- Vocabulary lessons (“absconded”, “manifest”, “[paid] duties”)
- Whaling math (How much did just one gallon of whale oil cost? What was the average age of a seaman?)
- Mapping the different ports where the Charles W. Morgan landed
You can create your own activity on DocsTeach using these tools!