Letters from a whaling captain to his wife

   Posted by: rring   in New acquisition

A donor with ties to Trinity recently gave us a small archive (ca. 60 pages) of  closely-written letters from Preston Cummings, Master of the whaling ship Panama, to his wife Harriett Tew (they were married 19 September 1839), who died in March 1845.  Court records indicate that Harriett was the sister of Elizabeth Tew, an ancestor of the donor’s father.  Cummings ended up in Hawaii, ran an outfitting business and served as a postmaster and customs official in Kealakeakua; his business apparently failed about the time of the Civil War when whaling was diminishing.

The following news story ran in The Friend (published in Honolulu) in 1845:

American whale ship Panama wrecked.—The Panama, Capt. Preston Cummings, was 31 months out, having taken 950 barrels of oil, nearly all sperm. While lying at anchor, at Hivaoa, or La Dominica, one of the Marquesan Islands; she was driven ashore by the wind and a very heavy sea, about 4 o’clock, on the morning of the l0th of August, 1844. Both anchors dragged and became foul. Masts were cut away almost as soon as she struck. Three of the ship’s company were lost in attempting to land, viz—Daniel McDaniel, Fall River, a boatsteerer, Smith, New York state, seaman, and Jack, a North American Indian. Four days after the vessel was wrecked, 13 of the crew were taken away by a French man of war, several of whom found their way to Tahiti; one by the name of Blake, shipped on board the American whale ship Daniel Webster, and another, by the name of John Hamilton, shipped on board the merchant ship Inez, now in this harbor. According to last accounts only 75 barrels of oil had been saved. Our informant is Hamilton, on board the Inez. The Panama belonged to Fall River, the same port where the Holder Borden was owned.

The known whaling voyages captained by Preston Cummings are:

  • March – August, 1838: Brig Taunton, departing from Fall River to the Atlantic, brought back 65 barrels of sperm oil.
  • October 1838 – August 1839: Brig Taunton, departing from Fall River to the Atlantic, brought back 120 barrels of sperm oil.
  • December 1839 ­ September 1841, Ship Panama, departing from Fall River to the South Atlantic, brought back 450 barrels of sperm oil and 190 barrels of baleen whale oil.
  • November 1841 – December 1841, Ship Panama, departing from Fall River to the Indian Ocean (must have been forced home, no yield reported).
  • April 1842 ­ 1844, Ship Panama, departing from Fall River to the Indian Ocean, no yield (sunk)

We are currently transcribing the letters, and digital images of them (along with transcriptions) will be available soon through the digital repository.

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