Society has been instrumental in sponsoring measures to improve navigation.
John Foster Williams, a member of the Society, commanded America's
first revenue cutter, the predecessor to the Coast Guard, and took
as his special task the drawing of an accurate chart for Cape Cod
Bay. The construction of lighthouses and placement of buoys and markers
has often been accomplished with the advice of the Society. Of particular
concern to the Society was the appointment of pilots to see to the
safe passage of vessels in and out of the port. Beginning in 1791
and continuing through the present, the Society through its Trustees
is vested with the authority to appoint Pilot Commissioners, who in
turn appoint Boston Harbor pilots.
the end of the War of 1812 and the Civil War, America enjoyed the
Golden Age of maritime enterprise. Although no longer the nation's
greatest port, Boston continued sending her ships and captains to
the far corners of the world. Among the most famous of these captains
was Robert Bennett Forbes, a member and president of the Society.
Forbes went to sea at age 13 and was a master at 20. In ten years
of China trading he spent only six months on shore. Forbes retired
from the sea and became one of the great merchants of Boston, involving
himself in numerous business and charitable activities.
1847, when Ireland was staggering under the terrible effects of
the potato famine, Forbes' name headed a list of merchants petitioning
the United States Congress to provide a ship to carry relief goods
to Ireland. Two ships of the United States Navy were lent. U.S.S.
Macedonian was sent from New York and U.S.S. Jamestown from Boston.
On 28 March 1847 Jamestown sailed from Boston laden with goods donated
by the people of the city. Captain Forbes came out of retirement
to volunteer his services as captain. Other volunteers on board
included the Chief Mate Captain F.W. Macondray and the Second Mate
Captain J.D. Farrell, both members of the Society.
of America's maritime greatness were the clipper ships, those "Monuments
of Snow" racing to Europe and battling Cape Horn to make record
passages to China and California. The most famous of these were
built across the harbor in East Boston at the yard of Donald McKay.
Sovereign of the Seas, Flying Cloud, Stag Hound and the largest
wooden sailing ship ever built, Great Republic, were all launched
from McKay's Yard. Although most of the Boston-built clippers flew
the house flags of New York or British merchants, many were captained
or owned by such Society members as Bacon, Eldridge, Emmons, Forbes,
Glidden, Howes, Lodge, Ropes, Upton, Wales, Watkins and Weld.
Boston, the age of the clippers was a sunburst of glory-dazzling in
its effect, but short lived. The Civil War and the advent of steam
dealt harsh blows to the port. As the nineteenth century progressed,
Boston fell further behind as an international port, but at the same
time her role as a coastwise entrepot continued. Wooden schooners,
many of them built Down East, dominated the coastal trade, carrying
bulk commodities - coal, ice, timber, and stone. Coastwise trade was
booming and Boston captains were in the thick of it. Membership in
the Society increased and reached its peak in 1893, with 475 marine
and honorary members.
part of its concern for the safety of navigation, the Society had
long been interested in the proper training of American seamen.
In 1891 the Massachusetts Nautical Training School was organized.
Two years later the Society agreed to perform supervisory duties
in relation to the school similar to the supervision it exercised
over the harbor pilots. Of special interest to the Society was the
operation of the school ships Enterprise (1892-1909) and her successor
Nantucket (1909-1917, 1921-1940). Many members of the Society received
their nautical training aboard these two vessels.
into its third century of activity, the Boston Marine Society has
remained true to the original charter. Distressed mariners and their
families continue to receive support from the "Box," and
the safety of navigation remains an active concern. Having had several
homes, the first at the Charlestown Navy Yard, now part of the Boston
National Historical Park. The items on display here, so generously
donated by its members, and carefully preserved by the Society,
reveal not only the history of a distinguished institution but also
help tell the story of one of America's oldest and most important
M. Fowler, Jr.