October 21st–A Magnet for Naval Battles!

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The 1805 battle of Trafalgar at the moment Horatio Nelson was fatally wounded.

October 21st seems to have been a magnet for naval battles and important events in naval history. The most important was probably the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar in which a combined fleet of thirty-three French and Spanish ships were pretty much wiped out by a British fleet of twenty-seven ships under the command of Horatio Nelson. While it was a huge turning point in the long war with Napoleonic France (it pretty much wiped out France’s navy) it unfortunately also resulted in Nelson’s death.

There was also a battle on this day in 1757 off Cap-Français (these days known as Haiti) during the Seven Years War. In this battle three British ships tangled with seven French ships who were trying to protect a large convoy. Despite being outnumbered by more than 2 to 1 the British commanders had a conference and in less than a minute decided to accept the French squadron’s offer of battle. The battle was pretty much a draw but the British did manage to inflict a lot of damage on the French which delayed the departure of the convoy.   Read more

“A Sport for men–real men”

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This great image of Thomas Fleming Day is in the collection of Mystic Seaport Museum.

I have a new hero—Thomas Fleming Day—the editor of The Rudder magazine in the early 20th century. He was a real character and someone who was certainly not afraid to say exactly what was on his mind!  I discovered Mr. Day while researching the history of the Lipton Cup, a beautifully ornate trophy in our collection that was awarded to the winner of the first ocean race to Bermuda in 1906.  While there are many, many “Lipton Cups” floating around out there (Sir Thomas Lipton was a zealous advocate of the sport of sailboat racing and provided trophies to many clubs sponsoring racing events) our cup is a little more important because it was presented to the winner of the race that is credited as the founding event of modern ocean racing.  Originally called the Ocean Race to Bermuda, it is now known as the Newport-Bermuda Race and it occurs every two years (the next race occurs in June 2018).

The idea for the race originated with Day who believed that ocean racing shouldn’t be limited to large yachts, rich men and professional crews and that amateur sailors in normal boats were equally capable of blue water racing.  To convince everyone that ocean racing in small boats was safe he organized a race in 1904 from New York to Marblehead.  He proposed the race because he said he was “sick of hearing that we are a lot of shore-skulkers, Central Park sailors; that while we can build racing machines and win with them, we have neither the craft nor the skill and pluck to sail on deep water, or even to go out of sight of land.” He thought ocean racing would make yachting what it was supposed to be “a sport for men—real men.”   Read more

You never know what you’ll find in our collection…

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If you are going to be in our area you should visit the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (ARMY) which is getting rave reviews! While there you’ll have to make sure to check out Mariners’ contribution to the exhibition—a pencil…yes, that’s what I said…a pencil…but it’s a FREAKING AWESOME one!

We started working with the curators at JYF on the loan a few years ago after we asked for help identifying some ceramics and the chief curator, Tom Davidson, asked if we happened to have an 18th century pencil in the collection. I immediately asked Cindi (she had been working with our interns on cataloging a collection of 18th century materials recovered from a ship hull in New York) and she said she did remember mention of a pencil. What we discovered when we looked at the piece was seriously cool.   Read more

Great new object for the collection!

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National Archives and Records Administration image of USS Erie (512994)

We acquired a really cool piece for the collection this week to help support one of the Museum’s archival collections. The collection is the William McBlair Papers (MS0018) and it’s one of the Library’s best slavery-related collections. It includes official documentation of McBlair’s US Navy activities and letters to his wife. The collection also documents his Civil War service during which time he supervised the building of the CSS Atlanta (which he then commanded).

William McBlair was appointed a midshipman in 1824. He served on various duty stations, including Falmouth, Massachusetts and Norfolk, Virginia.   As a Lieutenant Commander McBlair commanded the armed storeship USS Erie (it had been converted from a sloop-of-war in 1843) and made several voyages to supply the African and Mediterranean Squadrons.   Read more

An object with a secret even the curators didn’t know about!

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Depot Central de l’Artillerie, 1826

During last Saturday’s Gallery Crawl we ended up getting quite a surprise (and no, I don’t mean the visit by the gigantic bat to the buffet table in the Huntington Room. Okay so he wasn’t gigantic but he was bigger than any bat I’ve ever seen in Virginia!). Unfortunately, the surprise was given to us by one of our signal cannons.

Some of you may remember that the theme for this year’s event was the “secret life of objects” and boy did that cannon have a secret…and it was revealed right in the middle of the event!   Read more