The Boston Marine Society (established 1742) is a charitable organization in Boston, Massachusetts, formed "to 'make navigation more safe' and to relieve members and their families in poverty or other 'adverse accidents in life.'"[1] Membership generally consists of current and former ship captains. The society provides financial support to members and their families in times of need; and also actively advises on maritime navigational safety such as the placement of lighthouses and buoys, and selection of Boston Harbor pilots.

Brief history


The society first formed as a fellowship in 1742, and officially incorporated in 1754. Founders included William Starkey, Edward Cahill, Isaac Freeman, Richard Humphreys, Edward Freyer, Moses Bennet, Jonathan Clarke, John Cullum, Joseph Prince, and Abraham Remmick.[2] In its first century the society conducted meetings at the Concert Hall, Bunch-of-Grapes tavern, and the Sun Tavern. In 1851 it kept an office on Commercial Street[3] and later in the Merchants Exchange. Since the 1980s it has operated from offices in the Boston Navy Yard.

According to maritime historian Samuel Eliot Morison, the society's meetings "were common ground where all Bostonians interested in seaborne commerce met. The secretary describes it in 1811 as 'composed of upwards of 100 former shipmasters who have retired from sea with adequate fortunes, many of whom are largely interested in the insurance offices and as underwriters, and about 50 of the most respectable merchants and shipowners and gentlemen of the highest stations in the commonwealth. The rest of the Society is composed of the more active and younger mariners who still follow the seas as a professional business.' These last were the men who made the name of Boston famous from Archangel to Smyrna, and east by west to the River Plate and Calcutta."[4]

Nixes Mate

The society has borne responsibility for safe pilotage in the Boston Harbor since the 18th century. "Beginning in 1791 and continuing through the present, the society through its trustees is vested with the authority to appoint Pilot Commissioners, who in turn appoint Boston Harbor pilots."[5] It has also published guides such as the 1832 Rules and Regulations for the Pilotage of the Harbor of Boston.[6]

Along with others, the society caused the creation of the Cape Cod Light in 1797.[4] In 1805 the society built the current granite base of the beacon on Nixes Mate in Boston Harbor.[7] The society also produced studies including one that led to the building of Long Island Head Light in 1819.[8]

Among the society's many accomplishments in the area of navigation safety are the publication in 1768 of Directions for Sailing in and out of Plymouth Harbour[9] (issued in connection with the building of Plymouth Light in that year); the production in 1790 of charts of the coast of North America;[10] and the 1797 publication of Directions for Sailing by Cape-Cod Light-House.[11]

Other activities


In addition to maritime safety, the society has devoted itself to collection and distribution of funds to aid members and their families in times of financial need.

USS Enterprise

The society has also hosted a number of lectures. In the 19th century speakers included John Pickering (on "telegraphic language")[12] and Robert Bennet Forbes.[13]

In 1893 the society began supervising "the operation of school ships Enterprise (1892-1909) and her successor Nantucket (1909-1917, 1921-1940)," affiliated with the Massachusetts Nautical Training School.[5]

As a focal point for seafaring in general the society has stewarded donations of model ships, telescopes, paintings, scrimshaw, and travel souvenirs. Visitors to the society's present-day quarters in Charlestown may view some of these objects on display.

Members and officers


Members in the 18th century included William Furness, Daniel Malcom,[14] John Foster Williams,[5] James Magee;[15] 18th-century presidents included Thomas Dennie and Mungo Mackay. Among the members in the 19th century: J.D. Farrell,[5] F.W. Macondray,[5] and Daniel McLaughlin.[16] In the heyday of the clipper ship "many were captained or owned by such society members as Bacon, Eldridge, Emmons, Forbes, Glidden, Howes, Lodge, Ropes, Upton, Wales, Watkins and Weld."[5] Some of the 19th-century presidents were Jonathan Chapman, Eben Davis,[17] Charles Emery,[18] Luther Fisk, Robert Bennett Forbes,[19][20] William Humphrey,[21] James P. Martin,[18] William F. Sturgis, and Israel Whitney. Members and officers in recent years include William A. Baker, Barry Clifford, William M. Fowler, Jr., and Soren Willensen.[22]


  1. ^ 1754 charter, quoted in: "Boston Marine Society". Archived from the original on May 6, 2009. Retrieved September 10, 2009.
  2. ^ Nathaniel Spooner (1879), Gleanings from the Records of the Boston Marine Society: through its First Century, 1742 to 1842, Boston Marine Society
  3. ^ Nathaniel Dearborn (1851). Dearborn's Reminiscences of Boston.
  4. ^ a b Samuel Eliot Morison (1922). Maritime History of Massachusetts, 1783-1860. Houghton Mifflin Company.
  5. ^ a b c d e f (Brochure), Boston Marine Society, 1982
  6. ^ Additional Rules and Regulations for the Pilotage of the Harbor of Boston, Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1832, Approved by the governor, with advice of Council, July 5, 1832
  7. ^ King's Handbook of Boston Harbor. Moses King. 1882.
  8. ^ "Historic Light Station Information and Photography: Massachusetts". United States Coast Guard Historian's Office. Archived from the original on 2017-05-01.
  9. ^ Directions for sailing in and out of Plymouth Harbour, Boston, 1768, Taken by Moses Bennet, William Rhodes, Thomas Allen, and Nathaniel Green, being a committee of the Marine Society of Boston, appointed for this survey, by the desire of a committee of the General Court of the Massachusetts-Bay, appointed to build a light-house on the Gurnet, near Plymouth-Harbour, in said province, in July 1768
  10. ^ Charts of the Coast of America from Cape Breton to the Entrance of the Gulf of Mexico, Boston: Matthew Clark, 1790, Each chart certified and signed in manuscript by Osgood Carleton on behalf of the Boston Marine Society
  11. ^ Directions for Sailing by Cape-Cod Light-House, Boston: Boston Marine Society, for the benefit of their sea-faring brethren, 1797
  12. ^ John Pickering (1833), Lecture on Telegraphic Language, delivered before the Boston Marine Society, 5 February 1833, Hilliard, Gray, and Co.
  13. ^ R.B. Forbes (1854), Appeal to Merchants and Ship Owners on the Subject of Seamen; a lecture delivered at the request of the Boston Marine Society, March 7, 1854, Boston: Sleeper & Rogers
  14. ^ Benjamin L. Carp (2007), Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution, Oxford University Press
  15. ^ Lee, Henry (1969). "The Magee Family and the Origins of the China Trade". Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society. 81: 104–109. JSTOR 25080670.
  16. ^ D. Blethen Adams Levy (ed.). "Ship Captains in the Port of San Francisco". Maritime Heritage Project. San Francisco. Retrieved September 10, 2009.
  17. ^ "Boston Marine Society", Boston Daily Globe, p. 8, November 7, 1874
  18. ^ a b "Boston Marine Society meet; Many Commanders of the 'Noble East-Indiamen.' Dine at the Quincy", Boston Daily Globe, p. 3, November 10, 1887
  19. ^ Boston Marine Society. "About".
  20. ^ "Honors to Captain Forbes; His Sixtieth Anniversary of Membership in the Boston Marine Society", Boston Daily Globe, p. 4, December 6, 1887
  21. ^ "Opposed to a Bridge; Boston Marine Society in Annual Meeting Appoints a Committee to Say so --New Officers", Boston Daily Globe, p. 5, November 11, 1891
  22. ^ "Boston Marine Society Names New President", New York Times, p. S14, November 23, 1958

Further reading


42°22′29.46″N 71°3′17.92″W / 42.3748500°N 71.0549778°W / 42.3748500; -71.0549778