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Guide to the Michael Shellens family collection ARC.094

Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn 11201

Brooklyn Historical Society

Collection processed by Charul Gopal

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on November 14, 2018
English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Shellens, Michael
Creator: Shellens, Ruth M.
Title: Michael Shellens family collection
Dates [inclusive]: 1865-1984
Dates [bulk]: 1880-1927
Abstract: The Michael Shellens family collection contains personal and business correspondence, business and financial records, books, photographs, and ephemera related to Michael Shellens (1854-1944) and his family. The materials date from 1865 to 1984 and are principally about Shellens's life and career as a mariner who advanced in rank to captain, afterward becoming a successful real estate businessman in Brooklyn.
Quantity: 5.42 Linear Feet in five manuscript boxes and two oversize boxes.
Language: The collection contains one religious book in Flemish, one invitation in German, and two sports programs in German with English translations. All other materials are in English.
Mixed Materials [Oversize]: ARC.094 2 of 2
Graphic Materials [Box]: ARC.094 5 of 5
Mixed Materials [Oversize]: ARC.094 1 of 2
Text [Box]: ARC.094 2 of 5
Text [Box]: ARC.094 1 of 5
Text [Box]: ARC.094 3 of 5
Books [Box]: ARC.094 4 of 5
Call Phrase: ARC.094
Sponsor: This collection was processed and described in October 2007 by Ilaria Papini. The finding aid was revised and entered into Archivists' Toolkit by Nicholas Pavlik as part of the project, "Uncovering the Secrets of Brooklyn's 19th Century Past: Creation to Consolidation," funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, with additional support from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

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Biographical Note

Michael Shellens was born in Belgium in 1854 and moved to the United States at a young age, becoming a ship's cabin boy in his teen years. He developed a close relationship with Captain George Wilson while working for him as a cabin boy on the Castine, and from that beginning Shellens became a steward for two voyages, one from April 1, 1872 to July 3, 1873 that journeyed to Calcutta via Boston and New Orleans, and one from July 14, 1873 to February 3, 1875 that journeyed to England and the East Indies.

Shellens joined Captain Wilson in 1877 as the third mate of the Daniel I. Tenney and made two consecutive voyages to Calcutta, and a later voyage to Manila. He transferred to the  Susan Gilmore in late 1877 upon being promoted to second mate, and traveled from November 8, 1877 to October 15, 1878. Upon his return in 1878, Shellens became naturalized in Portland, ME as a citizen of the United States.

Shellens joined Captain Wilson on the Daniel I. Tenney in 1880 and made two more voyages, one to Calcutta from May 16, 1880 to June 19, 1881, and another to Manila between August 21, 1881 and November 1, 1882. He then joined the  Lizzie H on November 6, 1882 as first mate. He joined the  Agenor in August 1887 and became its captain in 1892. Shellens made a number of voyages aboard the  Agenor, including trips to San Francisco, Hong Kong, England, and Australia.

The Agenor collided on June 1, 1895 with an Italian ship, the  Giovanni, off Cape San Antonio in the Mediterranean Sea. The  Giovanni sank but all of its crew survived, and Captain Shellens, to considerable acclaim, rescued and fed the Italian crew, and dropped the men off in Gibraltar. More acclaim came for Shellens in 1897 when he piloted the  Agenor to victory in a race against the  Lucille from New York to the port of Melbourne. Shellens made his last voyage to Hong Kong and then retired from the  Agenor in 1898. The  Agenor was lost off the coast of Japan in 1906 under another captain.

Shellens married Ella Mabel Collamore (d. 1944) in Brooklyn in 1899 and lived with her at 291 24th Street in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. The couple moved in that same year to 342 52nd Street in Sunset Park upon the birth of their first child, Marie, who died at the age of 11 months. The Shellens had three more children: Marshall (b. 1903), Ruth (1905-1987), and Hazel (b. 1909). Shellens became active in various social and professional organizations, including the Royal Arch Masons, Masons of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, and the Marine Society of New York.

Shellens made several unsuccessful attempts to find suitable opportunities in seafaring from 1899 through 1902, due reportedly to his lack of experience with steamer vessels. He then became a marine surveyor and at the same time began to acquire property in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn. His real estate venture became notably successful and in 1905 he bought a block of 25 lots in Bay Ridge, from whence his substantial estate derived.

Shellens died on April 22, 1944, just a month after the death of his wife, and he left his personal and business papers to his daughter, Ruth Shellens, along with his property at 371 73rd Street in Bay Ridge, where she resided until her death in 1987. Upon her passing, Ms. Shellens bequeathed this collection, along with a substantial monetary sum, to the Brooklyn Historical Society. The monetary portion of her donation was subsequently used toward the renovation of the Society's first floor gallery space, which is now named the Shellens Gallery in honor of the Shellens family's generosity.

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Scope and Contents

The Michael Shellens family collection spans 5.42 linear feet and is contained in five manuscript boxes and two oversize boxes. While the collection dates from 1865 to 1984, the bulk of the material dates from 1880 to 1927. The collection consists of business and financial records, correspondence, books, newspaper clippings, and ephemera assembled during the course of business in Captain Shellens's sailing and real estate careers. It also consists of the Shellens family's personal materials, including correspondence, employment letters, certificates, property ownership papers, photographs, and professional and social affiliation materials. The collection has been arranged into two series: Papers and  Photographs.

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Shellens, Ella Mabel
  • Shellens, Michael
  • Shellens, Ruth M.
  • Shellens, Hazel
  • Shellens, Marshall
  • Shellens, M. Henry
  • Wilson, George

Document Type

  • Financial records
  • Cabinet photographs
  • Tintypes (prints)
  • Books
  • Photographs
  • Cartes-de-visite (card photographs)
  • Correspondence
  • Clippings (information artifacts)
  • Business records
  • Birth certificates
  • Discharges
  • Balance sheets
  • Inventories
  • Wills
  • Reports
  • Ledgers (account books)
  • Estate inventories
  • Obituaries
  • Accounts
  • Certificates
  • Agreements
  • Logs (records)

Subject Organizations

  • Agenor (Ship)
  • Freemasons. Grand Lodge of Scotland
  • Marine Society of the City of New York, in the State of New York
  • Royal Arch Masons

Subject Topics

  • Real estate business -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Real property -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Families -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Seafaring life
  • Ocean travel
  • Sailing
  • Freemasonry -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Surveyors, Marine
  • Surveying

Subject Places

  • Portland (Me.)
  • Bay Ridge (New York, N.Y)
  • Sunset Park (New York, N.Y.)
  • Antwerp (Belgium)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)

Family Name(s)

  • Shellens family

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Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restriction.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproductions rights for photographs have not been evaluated. Please consult library staff for more information.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date (if known); Michael Shellens family collection, ARC.094, Box and Folder number; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Other Finding Aids

An earlier version of this finding aid, containing a complete container list, is available in paper form at the Brooklyn Historical Society. Item-level descriptions and digital versions of images from the collection are available for searching via the image database in the library. Please consult library staff for more information.

Separated Materials

66 artifacts were separated to the Museum collection. Please see PastPerfect for records M1991.556 and M1987.95 for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Ruth Shellens, 1987.

Processing Information

Minimally processed to the series level.

The collection combines the accessions 1988.001 and V1988.468.

Material found in the repository added to the collection in November 2018 by Lena Evers-Hillstrom.

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Container List

Series 1: Papers, 1873-1984 1880-1927. 5 Linear Feet in four manuscript boxes and two oversize boxes.

Scope and Contents

This series comprises Manuscript Boxes 1 through 4 and Oversize Boxes 1 and 2, and consists of business papers, personal papers, and books. Business papers pertain to Michael Shellens's careers in seafaring and real estate, and personal papers pertain to the private affairs of the Shellens family. The books are from the personal collections of members of the Shellens family.

Business papers include discharge documents received at destination ports, business and financial records, accounts and service agreements, calculation and log books, bills, and correspondence compiled during Shellens's many sailing trips. There are also newspaper clippings on the sea race between the Agenor and the  Lucille and the accident between the  Agenor and the  Giovanni in the Mediterranean Sea. Materials pertaining to Shellens's careers in real estate and surveying include inventories of properties of interest to Shellens, professional certifications, survey reports, and correspondence from colleagues and tenants. Financial records include bank accounts, ledger books, and real estate transactions.

Personal papers consist mainly of correspondence, most of which pertains chiefly to Michael Shellens, though there are also letters concerning other members of his immediate family and members of the Shellens family in Antwerp. The correspondence includes letters between Shellens and his daughter Ruth from her childhood to womanhood, and letters from Shellens's mentor and friend Captain George Wilson, as well as letters between Shellens and other colleagues and friends. Other correspondence pertains to Shellens's brother, M. Henry Shellens, and his cousins in Antwerp. These letters refer to the well-being of family members, requests for funds, Shellens's mother's death, and Shellens's own ill health in the 1940s. Correspondence of Shellens's wife, Ella (Collamore) Shellens, including a letter of condolence from Captain Wilson's wife after the death of the Shellens' first child, Marie, is also present here. Other personal papers include materials related to the wedding of Michael and Ella Shellens, birth records for Ruth Shellens, obituaries of family members, employment letters, certificates, property ownership papers, professional and social affiliation materials, and materials relating to Michael and Ella Shellens's marriage and deaths, such as a wedding announcement, funeral memoirs, wills, bank balances, real estate holdings, and certificates. Included with wedding announcement are geneological notes about the geneology of Ella Mabel Shellens (nee Collamore).

The last portion of this series consists of books on seafaring and religion. While most books are from Michael Shellens's personal collection, there is also one book that formerly belonged to Ella Shellens, and a Masonic Lodge Bible that belonged to Marshall Shellens.

Series 2: Photographs, circa 1865-1970. 0.42 Linear Feet in one manuscript box and one oversize box.

Scope and Contents

This series is contained in Manuscript Box 5 and Oversize Box 1 and consists of over one hundred photographs of members of the Shellens family. The majority of the photographs are portraits, though there are some candid shots as well. Nearly half of the photographs are of Michael Shellens and his immediate family in Brooklyn, while the rest depict members of the extended Shellens family, many of whom seem to be from the Shellens family in Antwerp. The majority of the individuals from the extended Shellens family are unidentified, though some photographs do provide identifications on their versos. There is also a small number of photographs pertaining to Michael Shellens's seafaring and real estate careers. Several different types of photographic media are contained in this series, including cartes-de-visite, cabinet cards, and tintypes.

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