Logbooks as Art

The Peabody Essex Museum has its origins in the East India Marine Society. In 1799, twenty Salem, Massachusetts ship captains and supercargoes that had sailed around the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn formed a society and one of the stipulations for membership was that they keep a log of their journey, recording wind, weather, ship sightings, and other points of interest. The Phillips Library now owns almost 3,000 of these ship logs, dating from 1748 to the mid-1900s.

This log from the Brig Cossack details a voyage from Salem, Massachusetts, to Savannah, Georgia; Copenhagen, Denmark; Elsineur [i.e. Helsingør], Denmark; Cronstadt [i.e. Kronshtadt], Russia; Saint Petersburg, Russia; and back to Salem (April 1815 to November 1815). The ship’s home port was Salem, Massachusetts. The brig was owned by Joseph Peabody and Gideon Tucker. The master was Thomas Cheever and the log keeper was Benjamin Dimond. It is a daily log describing wind, weather, ship’s location, sightings of other ships, provisions, shipboard occupations, and port activities. It also includes poetry and profile views of coastlines. Here is a nicely illustrated page from July 4, 1815 noting the significance of the day. On the opposite page is a drawing of the shape of Fair Island. The Phillips Library has many more examples of illustrated logbooks.

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