by Joan Lowenthal
A 1918 call for supplies mirrors the health crisis today. The Red Cross made an urgent plea for masks for the doctors and nurses in quantities and at once. The Cold Spring Harbor branch spread the word that, “A special order for contagious ward masks has been received and the masks are being made at the Red Cross room and every evening in the Library. Members and their friends are urged to help with this work until the order is completed.” (The Long Islander, Huntington, NY, October 04, 1918, Page 7)
In 1918, not only was there a worldwide flu pandemic, but World War I was still being fought. Gas masks for men at the front line were desperately needed and the local Huntington Red Cross encouraged people to collect peach pits, nuts and other fruit pits also called stones and drop them into the receptacles found in several local stores. The government needed 750 tons of peach stones, plum stones, olive pits, and all hard nut shells especially coconut shells to supply charcoal for gas masks each day. The charcoal derived from these stones was forty times as strong as ordinary charcoal. Two hundred peach stones were needed for one gas mask. This was a nationwide nut-gathering campaign. (The Long Islander, Huntington, NY, September 13, 1918, Page 1)
By the beginning of October 1918 Huntington had done very well in saving their peach stones and other nut shells. Barrels and barrels were collected and shipped to a carbon plant where machinery ground up the bits and the material was distilled to uniform-sized carbon pieces.
The powder was then shipped to the Gas Defense Plant New York located in Long Island City, NY where factory workers assembled gas masks. (Laura Corley. “How peach pits helped American allies win World War I,” The Macon Daily Telegraph, November 12, 2018.)
People in the Huntington area responded so enthusiastically that it was not necessary to ask the Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls to canvas for nuts door to door. But these boys and girls were asked to pick up the peach stones in the local orchards. “There should be no peach stones left in the orchards doing no one any good, when they might save some precious life. (The Long Islander, Huntington NY , October 04, 1918, Page 2)
There was an urgent appeal for nurses all over the country to replace the nurses that were sent overseas and to home military camps. The Long-Islander attempted to entice young women to become nurses. “The profession of nursing is one that should appeal to the ambition of young women fitted for the work; the pay is good and it is never overcrowded. In its higher branches it closely approaches the profession of the surgeon in its educational requirements.” The Long-Islander, Huntington, September 13, 1918.
The first wave of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic was fairly mild and many people recovered and the death rate was low. By the end of the summer of 1918 the second wave of the virus was virulent, highly contagious and deadly. In fact, the highest fatality rate of the pandemic was October 1918. Victims of the disease died within hours or days of developing symptoms and many were young adults. Local Long Island newspapers only mention the flu in the spring of 1918 infrequently, but by the fall especially in the month of October there are numerous accounts of local people dying and closings of churches, schools, and cancelling of events. The Jones family whose descendants started the Whaling Company in Cold Spring Harbor lost a member of their family due to the “Spanish Flu.” Philip Livingston Jones died at the Jones Manor Farm in Oyster Bay, NY. He was only 28 and left a wife and young son.(The Long Islander, November 01, 1918, Page 5). Sadly his mother Mary Elizabeth passed away the week before of a stroke at the age of 64 and his older brother Oliver Livingston Jones passed away the previous March at the age of 38. His death certificate lists bronchial pneumonia as the reason for death which were complications of the Spanish Flu.
The devastating second wave of the “Spanish Flu” occurred in the US because returning soldiers infected with the flu spread it to the general population. Especially hard hit were densely populated cities. Many city governments were not ready for the onslaught. Philadelphia went ahead and had a Liberty Loan parade which was attended by tens of thousand of people. The disease spread like wildfire. In 10 days about 1,000 Philadelphians were dead and about 200,000 sick. By contrast citizens in San Francisco were fined $5 if they were caught in public without masks.
The “Spanish Flu” took a toll on the economy. Even mail delivery and garbage collection was impeded and in many places there were not enough farm workers to harvest crops. Nonessential businesses were not mandated to shut down, but they were forced to shut down because so many employees were sick. Does history actually repeat itself?
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By Joan Lowenthal
We are in unprecedented times. Many of us never thought a quarantine of practically the entire world could happen in 2020. It seems like science fiction.
When did the practice of quarantine as we know it begin?
It actually began during the 14th century as an attempt to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships coming into Venice from infected ports were mandated to sit at anchor for 40 days before anyone could come to shore. The word quarantine was derived from the Italian words quaranta giorni which means 40 days.
When the United States was first established there was no federal involvement in quarantine regulations. It was not until 1878 that the United States Congress passed federal quarantine legislation. Up to this point protection against imported infectious diseases fell under local and state jurisdiction.
By 1846 all ships coming into New York Harbor had to anchor off near Staten Island for quarantine inspection. The ships were boarded and if any signs of disease were found all the passengers were taken to the Quarantine Hospital on Staten Island which was opened in 1799 and called the Quarantine. First-class passengers were taken to St. Nicholas Hospital at the Quarantine and steerage passengers were taken to smelly, overcrowded bunkhouses stripped naked and disinfected with steaming water.  The ship then had to remain in quarantine for at least 30 days and sometimes as long as six months. There were as many as eight thousand patients in the hospital in a year. It was very dangerous work for the staff and funeral expenses for employees was a category in the accounting books. Many people who lived on Staten Island did not like the nearness of the hospital and in 1858 angry well-prepared vigilantes set fire to the buildings. Two people died that night.
Check out When New Yorkers Burned Down a Quarantine Hospital by Matthew Wills (September 19, 2019) daily.jstor.org.
Quarantine facilities were then moved off-shore to a boat named after Florence Nightingale, then two islands off of Staten Island. The two islands were built with land fill in the Lower Bay - Swinburne Island in 1860 and Hoffman Island in 1873. These small islands were used as quarantine islands until the 1920s. The conditions were horrifying. Today these islands are uninhabited and off limits to the general public although you can go past them in a boat.
In the summer of 1892 there was a terrible cholera epidemic and several ships that came from Hamburg, Germany were kept quarantined. Many of the people on board were refugees from Russia fleeing the reign of Czar Alexander III. A cholera epidemic swept through Russia and passengers both in steerage and cabin class died from the disease during their voyage. They were seeking a better life in the United States. What is little known is that the Governor of New York at the time, Governor Flower, authorized the purchase of the Surf Hotel, an aging hotel on Fire Island to be used as a quarantine station for some of the passengers from the infected cholera ships in New York Harbor.
There was tremendous opposition and two hundred deputized officers of the Islip Town Board of Health tried to stop the passengers from getting off the ship. The Islip Town Board of Health disputed the right of the State to use the island as a quarantine station.  Local baymen feared their livelihood was at stake when oyster houses in New York City began cancelling orders. According to Shoshanna McCollum in an article posted February 23, 2020 “600 healthy cabin class passengers of the Normannia were transferred to a day boat to take the passengers to the Surf Hotel. Unfortunately the baymen turned vigilantes and crossed the bay with clubs and shotguns.” The trip should have taken the day boat several hours, but instead took several days. This must have been awful as the boat was overcrowded and did not have sleeping accommodations nor enough food provisions. Troops were sent by Governor Flower to Fire Island to permit the asymptomatic passengers to disembark. The Surf Hotel served as quarantine headquarters until early October of 1892. Amazingly only two documented cases of illness were reported on Fire Island during this time and those two cases turned out not to be cholera at all.
One other interesting note about the Surf Hotel. The owner of the hotel at the time was David Sammis and he sold the hotel to the state for $210,000 which is a value of about $60 million today. This was definitely over-priced. Check out the article by Shoshanna McCollum Plague & Prejudice When Quarantine Came to the Shores of Fire Island. fireisland-news.com
There have been pandemics throughout history, but probably the most famous at least up to this point has been the 1918 Flu Pandemic also known as the Spanish Flu. It lasted from January 1918 to December 1920 and as reported by the CDC it was the most severe pandemic in recent history. It infected about 500 million people which was about a third of the world’s population at the time and killed at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,00 occurring in the United States. cdc.gov 1918 Pandemic (H1N1) virus)
Many people on Long Island were affected by the 1918 Flu Pandemic. Just one page in The Long-Islander, October 25, 1918, Page 6, Image 6 describes the state of affairs. In Huntington Station “Garrett Van Wicklen, who has been with influenza, was improved, but this week suffered a relapse from which he is recovering.” “The influenza is quite prevalent here this week, and in one family there were four ill with it.” “Owing to the epidemic it has been deemed wise to indefinitely postpone the dance of the Huntington Manor Firemen, which was to have been held in Liederkranz Hall Saturday evening.” “In effort to help the health authorities to stamp out the influenza, no churches were open in this section Sunday. In order that his people should not be deprived of worship, the Rev. Francis X Wunsch had an altar erected on the lawn adjoining St. Hugh’s R.C. Church and celebrated mass out of doors.” “The Greenlawn School is closed by order of the Board of Health during the influenza epidemic.
As today, nurses during the Spanish Flu Pandemic galvanized and worked extremely hard putting their own health in peril to save victims of the Spanish Flu.
One of these nurses was the daughter of George W. Barrett of Cold Spring Harbor who trained on Cold Spring Harbor whaling ships, The Alice and The Sheffield. The Long-Islander, December 13, 1918, Page 7, Image 7 states that “Miss Laura G. Barrett, who has been visiting her sister has returned to her work at the Henry Street Settlement in lower New York City. When the dreadful Spanish Influenza struck New York City, Miss Wald, who is at the head of the Henry Street Settlement, offered her large staff of 150 nurses to the city. During the time the epidemic raged the amount of work the Settlement was called upon to do was very heavy and taxed them to the utmost. Miss Barrett had much responsibility in her office and was given a short leave of absence for complete rest and has been much benefited by her stay in Cold Spring Harbor.”
There was good advice in The Long Islander, October, 4, 1918:
“HEALTH PRECAUTIONS: Don’t get frightened after reading that learned dissertation in our columns this week on Spanish Influenza and take to your bed. It is after all the old-fashioned grip and every time you cough or sneeze it does not signify you are going to have it. Keep your courage up and avoid overcrowded cars and other meeting places. Do not get too tired from overwork and eat moderately. Live in the open air as far as possible.” This is probably good advice for today, too.
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Between Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month, you probably have hearts on the mind this February. Check out these facts of the heart of the world's largest creature, the Blue Whale.
A Blue Whale Had His Heartbeat Taken for the First Time Ever — And Scientists Are Shocked https://www.livescience.com/first-blue-whale-heartbeat.html
National Geographic: Education Blog – How Big is a Blue Whale’s Heart? https://blog.education.nationalgeographic.org/2015/08/31/how-big-is-a-blue-whales-heart/
By Nomi Dayan
If you showed a whaler a picture of a contemporary American family celebrating Christmas, he likely would have no idea what holiday he was looking at. Many of the familiar traditions we associate with Christmas today are relatively new. Christmas trees, a rosy-cheeked Santa Claus, and even the seasonal spirit of generosity only took hold in the mid-to-late 1800s. Yet as modern yuletide customs took shape during the Victorian era, Christmas was a different story for whalers at sea.
The Captain decided if and how the day was observed. Eldred Fysh was one of the lucky whalers. He wrote aboard English ship Coronet in 1837: “This being Christmas day, there was no work done and the Capt. gave the men the means of making themselves as comfortable as they could do."
William Morris Davis aboard the Chelsea (1834-36) of Connecticut was left disheartened. “I wish the world a merry Christmas, but there is no use in wishing a merry Christmas to that unfortunate race, generally known and vulgarly called Blubber Hunters. They have not wherewith to make a merry Christmas. This with us is plain Friday, only that occasionally someone bawls out, ‘I wish you a merry Christmas.’”
A more intimate view of Christmas at sea can be found in the diaries of whaling wives. Many remark celebrating Christmas with a special meal (a delight which may not have extended to the lower-ranked crew members). Eliza Edwards, who sailed from Honolulu on the Splendid of Cold Spring Harbor with her husband Eli, the first mate, wrote: “I don’t believe if you were home on Christmas and I at sea that you had any better dinner than I did. We had roast turkey just as tender and nice as it could be besides vegetables, oyster stew, and mince pie.”
Annie Ricketson spent several years aboard the whaleship A. R. Tucker. She must have found herself quite bored on Christmas 1871, because all she wrote for that day was, “This is Christmas Morning. Last Christmas, Husband and I were home and we enjoyed ourselves very much.” The next year she found the day just as unremarkable: “Dec 25. The past two days have been very quiet, seen nothing.” The highlight of the day was wishing others Merry Christmas. “This morning before I was up the boy tip toed down the stairs and wished me a Merry Christmas...Mr. Bourne came and looked down the stairs and wished me. But I wished Mr. Harris and Mr. Vanderhoop. But the cook got a head of me. He looked down the sky light just as I sat down to breakfast and wished me. They all seemed very anxious to wish me first.” Nostalgically, she ends her entry, “I suppose they are having nice times at home now, wish I was there to enjoy it with them.” Christmas the following year was not much more exciting for Annie. “Nothing…worth writing about. But cannot pass Christmas by and not have something to write about. This morning I gave Daniel a present of a Cigar holder that I got him in St. Helena. He was very much pleased with it for he had been wanting one for a long time.” It was then back to work as usual: “Raised whales his forenoon – saw them jump out of water once, but it was so rugged saw nothing more of them. We thought we were going to have a nice Christmas present.”
The captain’s children, if present, expected full stockings, even if at sea. When Clara Ryder on the N. D. Chase told her young son there was no chimney for Santa Claus aboard a ship, he thought “he should come down the stove pipe into the galley.”
Mary Chipman Lawrence, who sailed with her young daughter Minnie on the whaler Addison, described four Christmases during her life at sea, each where she was careful to fill her daughter’s stocking:
Some whaling wives enjoyed making Christmas surprises for crew members. Mary Stickney on the whaler Cicero in 1881 journaled how she sent the Steward to get the cabin boy’s stockings and secretly fill them with “candy, peanuts, coconuts, and a calico shirt” she had sewed.
One Christmas celebration at sea was planned a year in advance among three whaling families who agreed to meet at the tiny Norfolk Island east of Australia on December 25, 1856. And met they did, dining together on board one of the ships. Seventy five years later, three of those children shared the memory again in Nantucket – this time on dry land.
Nomi Dayan is the Executive Director of The Whaling Museum & Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor.
Upcoming December 2019 Events:
We recently asked our honoree, Senator Jim Gaughran, about his life on Long Island and his views on the environment. Tickets for this annual fundraiser, Ports of Call can be purchased here.
Senator, what are some of your first memories of Long Island Sound? How old were you?
Some of my first memories of the Long Island Sound involve my childhood spent enjoying the beautiful beaches in Centerport and Northport. I created many great memories of swimming, picnics on the beach, and warm summer days spent with family. These experiences influenced my love, appreciation, and deep admiration for the natural beauties of our world.
When and why did you first become interested in environmental causes?
As a kid growing up on Long Island my parents bought one of the first major new subdivisions being built. Growing up there were ponds, fields, ice skating, you name it. We spent a lot of time enjoying the outdoors and nature. Slowly one development after another came up, and the ponds and fields and farmland we had enjoyed growing up slowly disappeared and were replaced by houses. This made me acutely aware of the challenges facing our region and the need to champion environmental causes.
What would you encourage Long Islanders to do / think about to improve local water quality?
I would encourage Long Islanders to continue supporting upgrades to sewage treatment systems that our outdated and lack the safest, modern technology. I would also encourage Long islanders to connect cesspools to existing treatment plants, and where they cannot connect to treatment plants, to connect to other individual treatment systems. I'm a strong supporter of natural methods such as rain gardens and oyster gardening which help improve local water quality. We need to advocate for funding from the federal government to comprehensively address the challenges facing water quality on Long Island.
Is there one piece of environmental legislation of which you are most proud?
My legislation to close loopholes in the statute of limitations, which will hopefully be signed by Governor Cuomo, will be a tremendous help to public water authorities. This bill will ensure corporate polluters cannot evade their financial responsibility to clean up the pollution they've caused. This will ensure polluters, not ratepayers, pay for the cost of removing contaminants like 1,4-dioxane from our water.
By Joan Lowenthal
This post follows up on a previous blog post, What Happened to Scudder Abbott?
In the fall of 2018, a visitor to the Museum read an excerpt from the Logbook of the whaleship the Sheffield. He read that on Thursday, May 21st, 1846 while taking in sail at sunset, Scudder Abbott, a crew member on the Sheffield, lost hold and fell about 70 feet from the topsail yard to the deck. He became delirious and blood ran from his mouth and nose. He was immediately taken to the cabin and medically bled and made as comfortable as possible. The next day he was at times sensible and then again quite deranged. The visitor wanted to know if Scudder survived the fall. Did he?
Over the next several months Scudder Abbott is mentioned in the ship’s log. Some days he was able to sip some soup and drink some tea and even managed to go up on deck. The last entry about Abbott that our Museum had was on Friday, October 8th, 1846. It simply stated that Abbott was rather better. Our next logbook for the Sheffield begins with November 1847 and there was no mention of Abbott.
Recently someone commented on the blog that in fact Abbott had a tragic ending. Our Museum is not in procession of the logbook of this entire voyage of the Sheffield. But the New Bedford Whaling Museum has a transcription of the Sheffield’s entire 1845-1849 voyage. Sadly, it states that on October 11, 1847 “At 10 minutes past 11 am, poor Scudder breathed his last - when he has left up a fond father and mother to morn his melancholy and being their only child - his memories will be committed to the dead tomorrow morning.”
By Nomi Dayan, Executive Director
The cook would have then passed the dough on to the crew on deck, who took care of the cooking. The fritters were deep-fried in none other than whale oil in trypots - enormous, black cauldrons filled with shimmering whale oil rendered from whale blubber. The dough balls were lowered into these vats of oil, the crew watching them bob in the boiling gold before lifting them out with a skimmer. This long-handled strainer was designed to separate blubber from oil, but was perfectly suited for lifting doughnuts out as well. The crew would have wiped their dirty hands on the backsides of their pants and closed their eyes as they bit into these fresh, hot, puffy doughnuts, literally eating their bounty - a welcome change from the monotonous, paltry fare normally served on a whaleship.
Several whaling wives who traveled with their husband-captains at sea recorded the serving of doughnuts. On Sunday, July 26, 1846, Mary Brewster wrote in her journal, “At 7PM boats got fast to a whale, at 9 got him to the ship. Men all singing and bawling [boiling] Doughnuts, Doughnuts tomorrow, as this will certainly make us 1000 bbls [barrels] and it is custom among the whaleman a bache [batch] of doughnuts to every thousand. Thus ends with good weather.” The next day, she noted, “This afternoon the men and frying doughnuts in the try pots and seem to be enjoying themselves merrily.”
On another occasion, Henrietta Deblois stepped in to help with the cooking process. She recorded on the Merlin in 1858: “Today has been our doughnut fare, the first we have ever had. The Steward, Boy, and myself have been at work all the morning. We fried or boiled three tubs for the forecastle [sleeping area for crew] - one for the steerage. In the afternoon about one tub full for the cabin and right good were they too, not the least taste of oil – they came out of the pots perfectly dry. The skimmer was so large that they could take out a 1/2 of a peck at a time. I enjoyed it mightily."
While whale oil was typically off-tasting, those who ate the donuts described only deliciousness. One exception was missionary Betsey Stockton, who sailed on a whaler to Hawaii in 1822. She wrote, “The crew [is] engaged in making oil of two black fish [whales] killed yesterday… we have had corn parched in the oil; and doughnuts fried in it. Some of the company liked it very much. I could not prevail on myself to eat it.”
Keep an eye out for special offers from local donut shops in celebration of this day!
In Celebration of National Nurses Week: May 6-12, 2019
By Nomi Dayan, Executive Director of The Whaling Museum of Cold Spring Harbor
***In honor of National Nurses Week, the museum is offering pay-as-you-wish admission for nurses (with current ID) and their families (up to 6 people) from Tues-Sunday, May 7-12 2019 as the museum recognizes the importance of nursing roles which whaling wives often took in the whaling industry.***
Becoming ill is never fun. Becoming ill when away from home is worse. And becoming ill at sea on a whaling ship is the worst of all. “Let a man be sick anywhere else - but on shipboard,” wrote whaler Francis A. Olmstead in 1841 in Incidents of a Whaling Voyage.
Whalers who fell ill could find little comfort. Francis continued to explain, “When we are sick on shore, we obtain good medical advice, kind attention, quiet rest, and a well ventilated room. The invalid at sea can command but very few of these alleviations to his sufferings.”
There were no ‘sick days’ for whalers, who were expected to work during busy times if they could stand. The incapacitated whaler would lie on his grimy, cramped straw mattress in his misery, listen to the nonstop creaking of the ship, roll from side to side with the swaying of the ship, and breathe the fishy, putrid air. He would eventually be visited by the “doctor,” a.k.a. the captain. The skipper would rely on his weak medical and surgical knowledge as he opened his medicine chest and offered some powdered rhubarb, a little buckthorn syrup, or perhaps mercurial ointment, chamomile flowers, or cobalt. The whaler would then either recover or die. If he passed, the captain would casually mention his death in the next letter home, and perhaps pick up a replacement at the next port.
If the whaler was lucky, he might awaken from his burning fever and shivering chills to hear a soothing voice, feel a cool cloth being gently placed on his forehead, and perhaps taste a bit of food offered to him. He would sit up to catch a glimpse of this angel visiting him with her wide skirt and billowing sleeves.
Most wives were happy to feel valuable and help contribute to the voyage’s success. Some took the initiative to go beyond their nursing roles: Calista Stover of Maine persuaded the crew of a sailing ship to swear off tobacco and alcohol while in port (the pledge didn’t stick). Others tried to reform men’s swearing. However women tried to improve the crew, their support gives understanding to the root of the word “nurse,” which is Latin for nutrire – nourish. No wonder Charles. W. Morgan wrote, “There is more decency on board when there is a woman.”
Whaling Museum Acquires 4 Artifacts of Jedediah Conklin: Master Blacksmith, Gold Digger, and Oldest Resident of Sag Harbor
by Nomi Dayan, Executive Director
The Whaling Museum recently acquired 4 objects into its collection, one harpoon and three boat spades, dated from the 1820’s-50’s. All objects had a maker’s mark: “J. Conklin.” Who was he?
Jedediah Conklin was born in Amagansett on February 17, 1798 to Henry Conklin and Esther Baker. His Conklin side (sometimes spelled Conkling) could be traced back to one of the four original families who broke away from comfortable East Hampton to bravely start new families in what was then the wilderness. Given the same name as his uncle, Jedediah was baptized that June. His parents let no disciplinary opportunities slide, as he later recounted: “My people never spare the rod and spoil the child; my father whipped me today for throwing stones at my grandfather.”
Henry likely chose Jedediah’s trade for him, and he chose well: blacksmithing, a highly skilled occupation held in the highest esteem. In an era when each nail and each link in a chain was handmade, this trade was in high demand in many communities at the time – and perhaps Sag Harbor most of all as the village boomed into the 5th largest whaling port in the country. Young Jeremiah learned to work with extreme heat for twelve-hour shifts, pounding a heavy sledge over glowing-red metal, sparks bouncing off his thick leather apron. Over the heat of fire, he used his strength and knowledge to perfect the transformation of iron into whatever tool his customers demanded. Those items were whaling gear: arrow-straight harpoons, razor-sharp lances, flat cutting spades, and barrel hoops, all designed to bring back the richest oil the world had ever known. Into each of his creations, he stamped his maker’s mark: J. CONKLIN.
Jedediah’s career bloomed marvelously with the golden age of whaling. Sag Harbor was thriving, and he was the mechanical backbone of it. With a good job and steady income, he married Frances Puah Terry (b. 1807) of Aquebogue in his mid-twenties. For the first time, he appears as Head of Household on the 1830 census.
The earnings of a blacksmith were lucrative, but chasing people to settle their bills was another matter. In 1831, he placed an ad in the paper informing “all those who are indebted to him, or whose accounts with him are unsettled” that unpaid debts will be placed in the hands of an attorney for settlement. No doubt he needed the money: his family would quickly grow to have six children: John Barker, Dorliska, Catherine, Henry, Evelyn, and Mary.
In 1832, he took the career-affirming step by advertising his desire to take on two young apprentices, who would agree to work for a number of years to learn the “art and mystery” of the trade. One of his apprentices was John Fordham, who was only 12 when he became Jedediah’s apprentice, sleeping in the attic with mice running over his legs. In his late teens, John progressed to earn a dollar a day, and continued to work for Jedediah after he married (and later even purchased his shop). His apprenticeship served him well, because John became an expert smithy who at one point employed 12 men in his shop.
Business continued to grow. Jedediah could hardly get harpoons out fast enough as demand for blacksmiths soared. After moving several times, in 1833 he purchased a lot near the water in Sag Harbor measuring 60 feet by 100 feet for $135. Soon, whaling companies not only in Sag Harbor were relying on him, but the relatively new Cold Spring Whaling Company paid him for lances, an assortment of spades, hooks, and knives for the Tuscarora’s 1843 voyage and again in in 1844 for the Alice and newly purchased Hunstville.
He wasn’t the only blacksmith on the block: that same year, new neighbor John Cook, a fellow blacksmith, planted himself right next to Jedediah and advertised his harpoons and whale craft sold from his blacksmithing shop “opposite the shop of Jedediah Conklin.”
Although there was more than enough work to go around, the close competition didn’t matter, because Sag Harbor suffered an epic and disastrous fire the next year on a windy November morning in 1845, wiping out provisions just before winter. Both blacksmith shops were reduced to ashes among 95 other buildings. 40 families were homeless.
Sag Harbor was not the same after the fire. Although the whaling industry peaked over the next few years, the trade declined into a collapse shortly after. Jedediah himself was also perhaps not the same: his eldest son John died at the age of 21 in September 1848. He likely tried to throw himself into his work, but less people were waiting in line for his harpoons. When gold fever swept through Long Island, Jedediah was no exception among the Sag Harbor men whose imaginations were hit hard. He joined a group of men from Sag Harbor and the Hamptons who formed the Southampton and California Mining and Trading Company and became one of 60 excited stockholders.
If Jedediah hadn’t learned to swear well by then, he certainly picked it up from the 16 whaling captains aboard. After supper one day, he was standing mid-deck chatting with several others when the person at the ship’s wheel played a trick and angled the ship to meet a good-sized wave, which doused Jedediah. The reteller of the story said, “I cannot repeat his language, but you may suppose - it was no song of praise.”
Two weeks out, the Sabina began to leak in the middle of the Atlantic, but the seasoned crew kept going. The Sabina finally arrived in San Francisco in August 1849. As described by a fellow crewmember, Jedediah saw busy harbor which “resembled New York on the Pacific… The buildings are of the frailest and cheapest kind. A great many businesses operate under large tents… We shall probably start as soon as Monday for the diggins.” The crew raced into the wilderness, sleeping in an enclosure made with a tier of logs and blanket for a roof. No doubt Jedediah’s muscular pounding arm came in useful for digging. Life quickly turned difficult. Not only was there no gold, but men starting getting sick, and Jedediah stayed with the ill in Sacramento as other hired wagons and mules to search further. Just one month after arriving, the team decayed; it was now every man for himself. After half a year, Jedediah gave up for good and departed home January 23, 1850, his golden dream gone, the Sabina sadly abandoned in port to rot.
Life moved on – and in exciting ways. While Jedediah was in California, the whaling world had been taken by storm when Lewis Temple, a freed slave and New Bedford blacksmith, improved the toggle harpoon in 1848, dramatically increasing whalers’ success at sea. This tool quickly became the standard in the industry. Jedediah must have studied this curious hinged barb with excitement; he fired up his forge again and tried his own hand copying this design, which he was free to do, as no patent had been filed. When the harpoon was complete, he didn’t know where to press his maker’s stamp. As if out of respect for the new design, he chose an unusual spot – low down on the harpoon’s shank. He then slathered the iron in red primer, followed by a thick black coat of paint, and placed his proud harpoon for sale. The object never found a buyer. It quietly sat on a shelf collecting dust as buyers reached past it for other things.
No matter - Jedediah had other inventions up his sleeve. In 1854, he announced “Lightning Rods!” were for sale, acting as agent for the east end. He promised a conductor “uniformly pronounced by scientific men to be the safest and best means of protection against lightning ever offered to the public.”
Jedediah continued his progressive stance by sending at least one of his daughters to school. Flushing Female College, an institution “for the solid and ornamental education of Young Ladies,” listed Jedediah as a reference in 1855, along with fellow Sag Harbor whaling Captain Wickham Havens, who also sent his daughter there.
For the first time, Jedediah’s family started thinning: Dorliska married in 1857, and Catherine followed in 1859; his second son, Henry, died in his early twenties in 1864. Jedediah decided to downsize, sell his house, and rent elsewhere. In 1866, he advertised the sale of a “two story dwelling house, situated on Division Street, and nearly opposite the rear of the store of William H. Tooker,” a merchant of a country store.
Even as Jedediah aged, he continued adapting to a world where he was not needed to build tools anymore; factories were taking care of that. He turned his attention to the next big thing – machine and equipment repair. He announced in the newspaper in 1860 that in addition to his former business, he was partnering with his old apprentice John Fordham “to do all kinds of Machine work, especially repairing Horse Powers, Mowing Machines, Thrashing Machines, all of which will be done in the best possible manner, and warranted to give satisfaction.” His shop continued to rent space to other blacksmiths. One advertised in 1869 that he was working in Jedediah’s shop repairing stoves, flat irons, locks and keys, tools, and farming work, machines and wagons. In 1871, Jedediah advertised that he was selling axes, stalk-hoes, and wagon tires. He also advertised selling 2,000-3,000 second hand bricks, which possibly came from the rear and east wall of his shop which caved after a bad storm, which he promised to sell at a good price.
Jedediah likely noted the good price because Sag Harbor was in a depression. In the 1870’s, the neighborhood was described as “one deserted village – a seaport from which all life has departed.” Nevertheless, Jedediah hung on and continued to branch out by becoming an owner of the Mansion House, a four-story stately 1846 building built with Philadelphia pressed bricks. In the Long Island and Where To Go publication by the LI Railroad Company in 1877, “Mrs. Jedediah Conklin” was listed as a good place to stay. In the 1880’s, he became a trustee of the Sag Harbor Savings Bank, a position he would hold for the rest of his life.
Jedediah watched the world continue to change around him as new technology and mass production edged out the once-secure blacksmithing craft. Although he had weak eyes later in life, Jedediah seemed to outlast everyone around him, with newspapers calling him a “conspicuous example of Long Island longevity.” Half of his children (that we know of) died in his lifetime. His wife died suddenly in 1885 after falling in a fit while cleaning the house. But Jedediah kept going: in 1890, he found himself the oldest person in the township.
Oldest or not, he continued to stay active, and not even ice would hold him back. The Newton Register noted on a frigid March day in 1890: “From Sag Harbor: Notwithstanding the mercury ranged down about ten degrees on Friday, and our streets were glazed with a coating of slippery ice, one of our vigorous old citizens was seen making two or three trips up and down one of our thoroughfares. Mr. Jedediah Conkling is 93 years old, and yet hale and hearty and active as many men at twenty his junior.” He must have loved walking, because that year the newspaper reported he walked 5 miles to Hardscrabble.
His active lifestyle came to an end one Saturday morning when he got up from his chair and fell, stricken with paralysis. Bruised and unconscious, he died the following Wednesday on April 8, 1891 at 93 years old, 1 month, and 22 days. The bank noted he was “known and honored by us all for his personal kindness, for his unfailing zeal,” and “he was the gift of the eighteenth century to the nineteenth.” He was buried in Oakland Cemetery in Sag Harbor. His surviving grandchildren blew around the country, including Oregon and Minneapolis.
After Jedediah’s passing, his creations remained behind – those rods of iron he painstakingly and masterfully fashioned for whaling voyages were now on collectors’ shelves. One collector was Bob Hellman of Nantucket, a scholarly enthusiast of whaling gear. After he passed away in 2018, his wife Nina Hellman, owner of a marine antiques shop who had appraised the museum’s collection years back, privately sold the items at a reduced price to the museum.
While the portraits of whaling captains often get the glory of our country’s long history of whaling, those silent maker’s stamps frozen into iron are lasting testaments to blacksmiths’ essential contributions to the industry. Before whalers’ eyes could scan the seas for whale spouts, they first visited East Water and Main Street in Sag Harbor and waited, just as Melville described the blacksmith in Moby Dick:
"Often he would be surrounded by an eager circle, all waiting to be served; holding boat-spades, pike- heads, harpoons, and lances, and jealously watching his every sooty movement, as he toiled."
Thank you to Rebecca Grabie of the John Jermain Memorial Library for research assistance.
Armbruster, Eugene L. Amagansett / Wainscott, Long Island: Jedidiah Conklin House, north side of Main Street.. 1923. New York Historical Society, New York. Eugene L. Armbruster photograph collection, 1894-1939. Series II: New York City Negatives
Brewster-Walker, Sandi. The gold rush of 1849: we got a little gold! Part 2. Amityville Record. February 17, 201.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb 25 1889
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 17 1889
Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Many Long Island Men Among Gold Seekers in 1849. October 26, 1849
The East Hampton Star. (East Hampton, N.Y.), August 09, 1929, Page 6, Image 6
The East Hampton Star. (East Hampton, N.Y.), July 25, 1940, Page 2, Image 2
Conklin, Joseph Inglish Jr. Copy of Conklin genealogy 1875-1908. Presented to the Huntington Historical Society through Tarrytown Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution, Copied from the original February 1947
The Corrector. (Sag-Harbor, N.Y.), June 11, 1831, Page 4, Image 4
The Corrector. (Sag-Harbor, N.Y.), February 09, 1833, Page 4, Image 4
The Corrector., (Sag-Harbor, N.Y.), October 27, 1838, Page 3, Image 3
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The Corrector. (Sag-Harbor, N.Y.), September 01, 1855, Page 3, Image 3
The Corrector. (Sag-Harbor, N.Y.), May 16, 1891, Page 2, Image 2
The Corrector. (Sag-Harbor, N.Y.), May 2, 1885
The Corrector. (Sag-Harbor, N.Y.), May 23, 1885, Page 2, Image 2
The Corrector. (Sag-Harbor, N.Y.), February 26, 1910, Page 5, Image 5
The County Review., (Riverhead, N.Y.) August 15, 1924, Page 9, Image 9
Field, Louise M., ed. Amagansett: Lore and Legend. 1948. Amagansett Village Improvement Society. Amagansett, NY.
Islip Bulletin., (Brentwood, N.Y.) May 16, 1974, Page 12, Image 12
Mallmann, Jacob E. Historical Papers on Shelter Island and Its Presbyterian Church. 1899. Shelter Island, NY.
Newton Register, March 13, 1890
Sag-Harbor Express. (Sag-Harbor, N.Y.), June 27, 1867, Page 3, Image 3
Sag-Harbor Express. (Sag-Harbor, N.Y.) Feb 17, 1870
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Sag Harbor Express., (Sag-Harbor, N.Y.), April 03, 1952, Page 2, Image 2
Sag Harbor Express. (Sag-Harbor, N.Y.), August 31, 1972, Page 1, Image 1
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The Traveler. April 17, 1891. Southhold, NY. Obituary
Wiley, Nancy B. John Fordham, Harpoon Maker. Aug 1851. Long Island Forum.
Additional: Whaling Museum Archives
By Joan Lowenthal
Recently a visitor to the Museum was reading an excerpt from the displayed logbook of the whaleship the Sheffield. He read that on Thursday, May 21st, 1846 while taking in sail at sunset, Scudder Abbott, a crew member on the Sheffield, lost hold and fell about 70 feet from the topsail yard to the deck. He became delirious and blood ran from his mouth and nose. He was immediately taken to the cabin and bled and made as comfortable as possible. The next day he was at times sensible and then again quite deranged. The visitor wanted to know if Abbott survived the fall. Did he?
Whaleships and the nature of the whaling industry were dangerous, and the Sheffield was no exception. She was the largest whaler sailing out of Long Island, and the third largest whaler in the US. She was purchased in 1845 by the Cold Spring Whaling Company and boasted an impressive history of speedy, having broken records by crossing the Atlantic in only 16 days.
Onboard whalers, there were commonly shipboard accidents, fighting, illnesses, food poisoning, drowning, and of course the dangers of hunting a powerful whale. Captains were responsible for dealing with illnesses and injuries aboard. They used their limited medical knowledge and supplies from the onboard medicine chest. Starting in 1790, the medical chest was part of legal required equipment on all American ships of 150 tons or more with ten or more people on board. The chest contained vials of drugs from powdered rhubarb to arsenic, identified by numbers which corresponded to recommendations outlined in a list of symptoms. During a time when doctors may not have been much more knowledgeable than the captains themselves, many times the treatments were worse than the injury or illness!
After Scudder Abbott fell, as the logbook records, he "was taken up senseless in the cabin and bled and everything that we know of to make him comfortable." Considered one of medicine’s oldest practices, bloodletting was the standard treatment for various diseases. The logbook continues to document his recovery. The following day, he was "at times sensible and then again quite deranged." On Saturday, May 23, 1846, Abbott was "still out of his head but he was able to sip some soup and drink some sage tea." Sage tea has been used medicinally throughout history to help improve a variety of health issues.
Two days later, the logbook records light squalls of wind and rain, and states Abbott seemed more rational and appeared to be “in the gaining hand.” Thursday, May 28th, after noting fog and unpleasant weather, the logbook records: “The invalid Abbott is much the same as yesterday, rather stronger but rather out of his head.”
Abbott is briefly mentioned thereafter. On Sunday, June 14th, 1846, the logbook states, "Right Whales were chased sometime without success. Abbott was well enough to stay on deck all day for the first time since he fell from aloft." But the very next day, he remained forward in his bunk. The last entry about Abbott was on Friday, October 8th, 1846. The logbook simply stated that "S. Abbott rather better."
Nothing is known about Abbott past this point, even after searching crew lists. With his lucky survival, he quietly vanished back into the workforce of thousands of crew members who faced incredible and serious risks in order to light the world.
For more information on medical practices on board a whaleship check out Hen Frigates Passion and Peril, Nineteenth-Century Women at Sea by Joan Druett (A Touchstone Book Published by Simon and Schuster, 1998).
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