One thing a lot of people from my generation have a hard time relating to is how cut off from the world people were when they set out to sea in years past. Now we have access to the internet almost everywhere we go, giving us the ability to communicate with our loved ones and to seek immediate answers for our questions on Google. This point was really brought home when I began researching one of our medicine chests. Because ships could be out to sea for such long periods of time and were unlikely to have anyone with extensive medical knowledge, they would carry medicine chests with a book of instructions on how to identify and medicate various maladies. The different medicines would be numbered so that they could be easily identified and administered. For example, if one had stomach cramps, perhaps the cure was two drops of #3 and one drop of #7. And when they began to run out of medicine, they would get creative and instead of two drops of #3, maybe one drop of #6. And some poor sailor had to find out the hard way what the repercussions of that would be.
The above chest is from ca 1830’s and was used on the whaler Rousseau. Rousseau was built by Nicholas Vandusen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for Stephen Girard, a wealthy banker. She was launched in 1801 and continued to serve as a merchant vessel for Girard until 1831 when she was sold to George Howland and turned into whaling vessel. Rousseau had a rather long life for a ship and continued whaling ventures until retiring in 1886 and being broken up in 1891.
After our charter was put into place in June of 1930, a lot of exciting plans were made for our property. As cultivation began on the park, lake, and dam (Lion’s Bridge), plans were also being drawn up for the proposed museum building.
The above image (dated February 27, 1931) shows the spot where the founders had originally intended for the main museum building to placed. It was a spot on Lake Maury overlooking Lion’s Bridge and the James River. Several plans and sketches were drawn up showing an impressive, rectangular building.
This large house belonged to Edward John Robeson, Jr., an employee at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company who went into politics upon his retirement from the shipyard. This image was taken January 20, 1932. The house stood on a hill overlooking Lake Maury, Kettle Pond, and the James River, where the statue “Conquering the Wild” by Anna Hyatt Huntington now stands.
In August of 1934 the beautiful house was torn down to make way for the statue.
This month’s artifact is one of my favorite pieces in the collection. It is a music box model of the steamboat Commonwealth.
Commonwealth was built in 1854-1855 by Lawrence & Foulkes in Greenpoint, Long Island, NY for the Norwich and New London Steamboat Company. She was built for service between New York and Connecticut, and was commanded by Captain Jerome Wheeler Williams until 1864. In 1860 she was acquired by the Stonington Line, and then by the Merchants Navigation and Transportation Company in 1863. December 29, 1865, a fire at the wharf where Commonwealth was docked caused the ship to be destroyed by flames.