The man behind the Morgan

photo (46)

I’m delving into New Bedford’s rich maritime history and learning more about its ties to Charles W. Morgan, and no, I’m not talking about the ship.

While there is is a wealth of information about the ship, there is far less known about Charles, the Quaker from Philadelphia.

 As a humble Quaker, Charles Morgan must have looked like he belonged on an oatmeal container, right?

In actuality he looked like this:

Charles Waln Morgan in his 20s. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport

Charles Waln Morgan in his 20s. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport

To find out more about the man behind the name, I spent the day with Sally Bullard, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Charles W. Morgan.

Sally Bullard

Sally Bullard

Sally grew up down the road from New Bedford in Dartmouth, MA. She’s very knowledgeable about her family’s history.

She took me to Oak Grove cemetery to find Morgan’s grave. Here’s our hunt for his headstone earlier that morning:

Charles Waln Morgan was born in Philadelphia in 1791 to Thomas and Ann Waln Morgan. Charles was one of six children.. During his younger years he headed West on horseback in 1817 and wrote extensively in his diary about his travels. He grew up with outstanding morals and a strong work ethic.

In 1819 he married Sarah Rodman and moved to New Bedford. By that time, he was a businessman who had invested a lot into the whaling ship Enterprise. By 1841, Morgan had managed 15 different whaling ships and owned a factory that produced spermaceti candles.

Peculiar sidenotePeople in the whaling industry tended to keep it in the whaling industry. They often married into other whaling families. Nearly all of Charles Morgan’s siblings were married to Rodmans or Rotchs. Charles had three sisters. Two of them married Rodman brothers, and Charles married a Rodman daughter. Charles’s other sister married a Rotch. 

Later in life, Charles Morgan’s two daughters Emily and Clara married William J. Rotch. Not at the same time of course. Emily died younger, and then 5 years later William married Clara.

Rotch built a Gothic Cottage on Orchard Street, and the house remained in the family for 167 years, until it was sold last year. 

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 10.38.09 AM

Courtesy of Matthew Bullard

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 11.13.40 AM

Courtesy of Matthew Bullard

The construction of Morgan’s new ship began in February of 1841. It was a time when shipyard workers were beginning to organize. They demanded shorter hours and better pay. Although Morgan opposed it, owners and carpenters came to an agreement. Workers would put in 10.5 hour days instead of the standard 12 hour days.

It cost roughly $52,000 to build Morgan’s ship, which would be a little more than $1.3 million dollars in today’s currency.

On July 21, 1841, Morgan wrote in his diary: “This morning at 10 o’clock my elegant new ship was launched beautifully from Messrs. Hillman Yard-and in the presence of about half the town and a great show ladies. She looks beautifully on the water-she was coppered on the stocks…”

Days later Morgan left to attend to business matters in Dancannon, PA, but he returned in August to see the name Charles W. Morgan on the bow. “I don’t altogether like it,” he wrote.

Morgan didn’t own the ship entirely. He was a majority owner who shared stocks with seven other businessmen.

Morgan lived in a beautiful house on Hathaway Boulevard where the New Bedford High School is currently located. He loved his wife Sarah and their two daughters dearly. He continued to manage his ships until 1859 when he sold the Morgan to Edward Robinson.

Charles Morgan in the later years

Charles Morgan in his later years

Charles W. Morgan died in April of 1861. He is buried in Oak Grove next to his wife, daughters and close relatives. Although there are many more details about Charles Morgan’s life, I wanted to give you a quick glance at the man whose name is written in gold upon this ship. His story provides us with context of the New Bedford working waterfront that remains relevant and successful today.

After Charles Morgan’s death the ship’s shares were purchased by J. & W. R. Wing, who became the majority owners along with Robinson until 1916. The Wing owned the Morgan for 53 years, which is the reason we fly the “W” flag from the mast today.

photo (47)

During the 1920s, the American whaling industry was drying up. By the time Morgan made her 37th voyage, over 1600 men had lived and sailed her to the far reaches of the earth. Efforts were made to preserve the Morgan for posterity. A man named Henry Neyland stepped up and invested in the Morgan and by October of 1925, Whaling Enshrined was incorporated.

There’s more to the story, but that brings us to a good closing point.

Here’s a sneak peak of my next chapter. It involves, mansions, misers and eccentric millionaires.

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 9.49.51 PM

To be continued,