Westward by Sea: A Maritime Perspective on American Expansion, 1830-1890

About the Collection

This online collection presents pictorial and textual materials that illustrate major themes in the history of maritime westward expansion. These themes include, but are not limited to, the California Gold Rush, the roles of women, the immigrant experience, whaling life, life at sea, shipping and native populations. The materials are drawn from the Mystic Seaport Museum and the G.W. Blunt White Library and cover a wide geographical area including California, Texas, Hawaii, and the Pacific Northwest. The collection focuses mainly on primary sources such as ships' logbooks and secondary sources, including nineteenth-century published narratives of voyages and travels. For most items, both page images and transcriptions are available. A number of photographs, paintings, maps, and nautical charts have been selected to illustrate more vividly the story of Americans' western seaborne travel. Most of the items date from the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Drawn from many individual named collections, the materials comprise a rich look at the events, culture, beliefs, and personal experiences associated with westward expansion from the maritime perspective.

Highlights of the collection include personal accounts of shipboard travels west, such as Papers of Thomas Boyd of Boston, who made a voyage to San Francisco aboard the clipper ship GOLDEN FLEECE in 1852. This fascinating first-person account of his trip is recorded with letters that Mr. Boyd sent to his daughters back home, a map he kept of his route, and two sketches he made of Cape Horn. A letter from 12-year-old Maud Maxson to her mother offers a rare child's view of the same voyage, in contrast to Mr. Boyd's experience. Another child, William Douglas Goldsmith, wrote a series of letters to his younger sister Mary that document his experiences and coming of age in New Orleans, Galveston, and the California goldfields from 1838 to 1849. An anonymous woman's diary describes life at sea and the details of her new home in Santa Barbara include clippings of recipes and household hints. Sheet music for "Sail On, Thou Gallant Bark, or the Departure of the Californians," demonstrates how western migration had quickly become the subject of popular culture.

About the Maritime Collections at Mystic Seaport Library

The Library at Mystic Seaport was named in honor of G.W. Blunt White (1895-1962), an ardent yachtsman and a devoted officer and trustee of the Seaport for many years. The library opened in 1965 and is home for the Munson Institute of American Maritime Studies. Its collections now number 65,000 printed volumes and periodicals; 700,000 pieces and 2,500 volumes of manuscript material; 9,000 charts and maps; and 700 sound recordings which include 400 oral history interviews. The collections are quite broad and include in-depth sections on ancillary trades and crafts, economics, literature, and ocean sciences.

Museum Collections: From Boats to Broadswords, from the Mystic Seaport web site, points to resources and materials from the Mystic Seaport Museum, the G.W. Blunt White Library, and other sources near Mystic.

Return to Westward by Sea: A Maritime Perspective on American Expansion, 1820-1890