Several years ago, I first learned of USS Mayflower, a presidential yacht. I was studying about the 1905 Portsmouth Peace Conference at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine. I was curious but didn’t have time to delve into the ship’s history.
Since then, I keep “bumping into” stories about this ship as I study and learn more about other topics. I read Erik Larson’s Dead Wake about the sinking of Lusitania and then read more about Woodrow Wilson’s relationship with Edith Bolling Galt. Turns out, they spent much of their time getting to know one another while on board USS Mayflower.Read more
A great deal of our collection is related to explorations and discovery, because so many of those took place by way of the oceans and rivers of the world. We have objects related to the big names in exploration and also some who are not as famous. So I was interested a few months ago to hear a news report refer to an explorer I had not heard of: Matthew Henson. I went straight to our database to learn more!
The report I heard discussed the conservation of 20 dioramas built for the American Negro Exposition held in Chicago between July 4 and September 2, 1940. There were originally 33 dioramas but 13 have disappeared. The Legacy Museum at Tuskegee University is using the conservation of the dioramas to help teach Black art students who have preservation experience. This will help build diversity within the conservation field. The dioramas each displayed significant stories in American history that prominently featured Black Americans such as Crispus Attucks, the WWI Harlem Hellfighters, surveyor Benjamin Banneker, and Arctic explorer Matthew Henson.Read more
2020 has been a rocky year but humor has definitely helped me along the way. So when I stumbled onto this print and couldn’t stop laughing, I knew that I had to share it. The print is titled “The Success wedged on a Rock, being at the same time between the fire of the Spanish Fort at Umata and a Ship in the Harbour.” Irony anyone?
With such a hilarious title I dug deeper and just laughed more. The captain of Success was John Clipperton, a British sailor who was born in 1676 and joined Captain William Dampier on Saint George for an expedition to the Pacific from 1703-1704. This voyage gave Clipperton knowledge of the Pacific islands, which he put to good use when he led a mutiny against Dampier and left in a prize ship. That didn’t end well: the Spanish captured and imprisoned him in Panama for four years under Juan Antonio Rocha Carranza, Marquis de Villa-Rocha.Read more
In the spirit of Halloween I searched the collection looking for something unique to share. I came across a small candy tin with two ships on the lid. The name across the front said Riley’s Rum and Butter (Flavoured) Toffee, which sounded fun so I started to research.
The British company had fairly humble beginnings on a mother’s dining room table. Ellen Riley was born in 1848 to William and Mary Ann Bates. She worked as a dressmaker until she married John Henry Riley on August 7, 1872. John Henry was a woolstapler, meaning that he sorted and traded wool between the producers and the manufacturers. It kind of sounds like he was a middleman to sort out the details and grade the wool for sale. They had two sons, Frederick William and John Herbert Riley. John Herbert became a bank clerk and Fred initially followed in his father’s footsteps working as a woolstapler by 1901. Those career plans changed a few years later.Read more
I have recently spent a lot of time with an artist named William Henry Bartlett (1809-1854*). Not really him, more like the printed engravings made from his artwork, but we have over 100 in the collection so I kind of feel like he is family now. After cataloging so many of his prints I started to notice that I was typing the same thing over and over: steamship in the background, steam coming from the funnels. The more I looked the more I saw them, sometimes featured in the image but often in the far distant background. That made me wonder, what was it about these steamships that fascinated Bartlett so much that he included them in his artwork on a regular basis?
*As an aside, there is a second British artist named William Henry Bartlett who lived from 1858-1932.Read more