“Feelings I know”: Laboring and Feeling Through Sailors’ Journals at the Phillips Library

Mark Kelley

"Sailors - Companion to the Tailors", ca. 1855, Photo © Peabody Essex Museum

“Feelings I know very well to experience, but not how to discribe.” So wrote Horace B. Putnam, first mate aboard the trading bark Emily Wilder. Despite this claim, Putnam ably described a range of feelings in the journal of his 1850-1851 voyage from Salem to the east coast of Africa. Even the sailor’s claimed incapacity reveals something easily recognized, but often overlooked: like many shipboard experiences, sailors’ feelings required new language. Indeed, Putnam was far from alone in his disposition. Sailors, as he noted, “are as a class, of as fine natural feelings as any persons within the pale of the Americas.” The multitude of sailors’ journals housed at the Phillips Library provide a rich stock of feelings successfully expressed. Feeling through the archive provides a singular opportunity to understand and appreciate sailors as a class of laborers and writers.

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New Digital Collection Open

The Phillips Library is pleased to announce the opening of a third digital collection – The American Neptune Collection.  The quarterly journal of maritime history and arts, founded by a group of maritime enthusiasts, which included Samuel Eliot Morison and Walter Muir Whitehill, is available for your perusal and research. Read more