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Guide to the New-York Historical Society Collection of Ships and Shipping Records
 MS 563

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Alison Barr and Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on July 24, 2017 using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Scope and Contents Note

The collection, which was formed by New-York Historical Society over time from various donations and purchases, includes a wide variety of documents with a loosely-defined thematic connection to ships and shipping. Roughly 175 ships are represented in the collection, though often with just one document. Bills of lading and invoices, receipts, account statements, and other financial papers are most commonly found, though other documents include passes for ships; cargo manifests; depositions and other statements in connection with legal or other matters; sailing instructions and agreements; records of prizes won from captured ships; logbooks; crew lists; insurance policies; import certifications; and others.

The collection also ranges widely over time, from a 1660-1663 journal (in Dutch) kept aboard the ships Golden Beaver and  Golden Otter to a 1942 transcript concerning a fire aboard the S.S.  Normandie at New York’s Pier 88. Most documents, though, seem to date from the second half of the 1700s and the first half of the 1800s.

Despite the random nature of the collection and the lack of deep documentation for most ships, there are several folders that include particularly rich materials. These include, for example, the papers of the sloop Experiment (1785-1787), which document in detail the outfitting of the ship for a voyage from New York to Canton and back, along with payments to crew (portage bill), articles of association among its investors, and the eventual sale of the sloop and distribution of the proceeds. As another example, a folder includes the articles of association, stock certificates and other corporate documents concerning the Schuyler Steam Tow Boat Line and the Express Propeller Line (1847-1881). Although most ships are represented by only one or a few documents, these are often very rich documents, including an account of a British military expedition to the West Indies aboard the  Boyne (1793-1794); signals to be used by the convoy of the  Roman Emperor (1760s?); prize roll of the officers and seamen of the  Constellation after the capture of the French frigate  L'Insurgente (1799); logbook of the master of the  Amphion on a voyage from New York to Montevideo (1820); the descriptive muster roll of the steamship  General Grant (1864); morning reports of the prisoners in the brig of the  St. Paul (1898); and orchestra programs and a captioned photograph of the band on the flagship  Kentucky (1901-1904). Given the diverse nature of the materials in the collection, detailed scope notes are provided for each folder in the container list.

Arrangement Note

The bulk of the collection is arranged in alphabetical order by name of ship. At the close of the collection are three folders with documents related to various ships. Two of these folders have a rough theme (Hudson River ships and import certifications). The third folder includes miscellaneous documents, which are itemized by ship in the container list.