Detail from the top of shipping articles for the Eureka, a bark mastered by Joseph A. Young
My name is James King and I interned at the Phillips Library this spring as part of my course work at Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science. My first task was to put my learning from class to the test and process the Young Family Papers, with the experienced help and guidance of Tamara Gaydos. This collection is on the somewhat smaller side, being 2.5 linear feet, but the amount of correspondence and meticulous accounts that have been kept really impressed me, especially from a time when these activities took a lot more time and effort to complete than in today’s technology-driven world. Read more
In the 17th and 18th centuries, ships large and small carried Europeans from the British Isles, European colonists and American natives from the Eastern Seaboard and the West Indies, Africans from the slave forts, and all sorts of goods across and around the Atlantic and Caribbean, as a British Atlantic empire grew in population, wealth, and exploitation. The ships were the principal technology and most complex and expensive machines of their world—in fact they made that world possible, and thus in time made our own world possible. But in the general course of maritime technological history, the merchant ships of the Atlantic World have not been the subject of much attention, either popular or academic. From a macro perspective, they are considered rather static technology, treading water or marking time between the development of the ocean-going European ship of the late 1400s and the viable steamship and “clipper ship” of the 19th century. But given the dynamism of the British Atlantic World between its tentative establishment and its commercial re-integration after the American Revolution, it is difficult to believe that this core technology was indeed static; perhaps an examination of the continuity and change in British Atlantic ship technology has something to teach us about how this world worked, how technology works in human society, and how our ability to design and build ocean-going watercraft has evolved.
At the Peabody Essex Museum Phillips Library, I found a tea chest and an envelope of gunpowder tea from the nineteenth century. Two Chinese characters 奇種on top indicate that this purplish-red, wooden tea chest stored top-rated Fujian black tea, Qizhong, from China to the United States on the ship Eliza in 1801. The life story of the gunpowder tea is clearer than the chest, thanks to the contributor’s notes on the envelope. Gunpowder (珠茶) is a sort of green tea in the shape of pearls, one of the most popular green teas exported to America. Cherished and treasured by the owners, the time-tarnished chest and the fragile leaves traveled a long way to PEM, witnessing a century-long thriving trade between China and the United States. Read more