The 25 Year Old Whaling Captain
In the spring of 1949, the Long Island Forum published an article by James W. Worth with the assistance of his father George Lafayette Worth about his grandfather Captain James Morton Worth. The article tells the story of a young man in his own words going to sea at 15-years old. It’s believed, the article was written from his journal. The US Federal Census, crew list databases, local, national, and international historical newspapers were used to fill in some of the details about the young seaman, who became a captain of the bark Gem, a whaling vessel out of Sag Harbor at 25-years old. James Morton Worth was born May 26, 1820 in Wading River to David Porter Worth, Sr., and Cynthia Jessup. The couple had ten (10) children: Huldah, Theron B., Sanford M., David P, James M., Thomas J., Andrew J., Mary C., Gilbert L., and Cynthia A. Worth. The seven (7) brothers all became seaman, who traveled the world hunting the whale beginning around 1832! James stated, “In 1832 my parents moved to Moriches, where I lived until about 1835.” The older brother Theron Bunker Worth (1815) born in Peconic had gone to sea at a very young age. The couples’ 2nd son Sanford M. Worth (1817) at 16-year old completed a Seaman Protection Certificate application on May 16, 1833 in New York City. He continued, “About that time I left my father, mother and home, and went to Sag Harbor to start on a whaling voyage, and sail on board ship Hamilton.” On September 26, 1836, James sailed as a greenhand with his brother Theron, the 2nd mate on a 21-month voyage to the South Atlantic Ocean. The Hamilton returned to port with 1300 bbls of whale oil on May 7, 1838 for her agent Charles T. Dering according to Alexander Starbuck’s book, History of the American Whale Fishery. After the reality of following the sea in pursuit of the whale for 2-years and $40 dollars, James probably felt it was not as dangerous being a crew member on a steamboat. The same spring, 18-year old James, now an experienced seaman traveled to New York City, and joined the steamboat crew of Captain S. Bartlett Stone on the New Haven Steamship Line for a salary of $15.00 per month. It seemed, he was not content with the routine life, and wanted some adventure. In the fall, James left, and shipped on the steamer New York with Captain Wright on a voyage to Charleston, Key West, Pensacola, and finally New Orleans. The January 25, 1839, Time–Picayune (New Orleans, LA) newspaper placed the steamer New York in New Orleans, “We understand that the packet steamer New York, Capt. Wright, arrived here yesterday morning, is now up for Galveston to leave on Friday, Feb. 1.” The 1949 Long Island Forum article stated, James left the steamer New York, joining the crew of the steamboat Walker sailed by Captain John Alexander Otaway. John Alexander Otaway (c1810-1877), of Pennsylvania, completed a Seaman Protection Certificate on August 25 1830. Until the spring 1839, Captain Otaway, and James steamed down the Mississippi River around to Lake Pontchartrain to carry the US Mail to Mobile, Alabama. The article continued, James became sick with dysentery, and left New Orleans for his parent’s home, working his passage on the brig Long Island with Captain Alfred Davis. The brig Long Island arrived at the port of New York around July 1, 1839. Homesick and tired, he sailed from New York City arriving at the East Moriches dock on July 5. Nineteen-year old James remained home under the care of his mother for the next four (4) months. In October, he traveled again to New York City taking passage on the ship St. Lawrence bound for New Orleans with about 500 other passengers. The National Gazette (Philadelphia, PA), October 9, newspaper announced the ship St. Lawrence had made the Port of Philadelphia on her way to New Orleans. The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD), November 15 believed, “Out sailing the Wind – the ship St. Lawrence, Capt. Chase, arrived at New Orleans, from Philadelphia, in seven days from land to land.” Upon arriving safe, James joined the steamer Walker crew again to carry the US mail. The young Worth did this for about 13-months until the steamboat boiler exploded. The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA) newspaper, December 20, 1840 issue gave the details of the steamboat disaster that happened within 9-miles of Mobile. It further stated that 16 or 18 persons were dreadfully scalded and mangled. “The steersman of the Walker was killed at the wheel and Capt. Otaway severely injured. The hurricane deck was blown off, the lower deck stove in, one of the boilers shattered to pieces and the boat a complete wreck.” James wrote, “Mr. Burk, the mate, and myself soon cleared the boat way and went in pursuit of those that were blown over board and going down with the current. We soon picked up a boat load of poor sufferers and returned to the wretched steamer. The Lady of the Lake soon took us in tow to Mobile dock. I shall never forget that awful time, and never forget to thank my heavenly father for his kind protection to me.” It seems, James was left on board the steamer Walker for some months as “ship keeper,” or security in the Mobile, Alabama port. “It was dismal enough for me to remain alone on board the ill-fated steamer looking so terrible, as she did, but I did so from a sense of duty.” The April 28, 1841 issue of the Times-Picayune newspaper displayed an advertised the steamer Walker, with J. A. Bonnibal, master was now making regular sailing, and “would land passengers and freight at every plantation, and will run up to the city of Covington.” By July 1841, James was ready for home again, so he shipped on the schooner Marmion for Philadelphia with Captain Smith; then traveled by railroad to New York City. Upon arriving he visited his Captain S. Bartlett Stone, and worked a little over 2-months on the new steamer New York on her trial voyage, as well as her regular route from New Haven to Norwich, New London, Orient and Sag Harbor. The same month, the Corrector (Sag Harbor) newspaper, July 21, 1841 announced the arrival on July 19th of the ship Gem with his older brother Captain Theron Worth, and 2230 bbls (whale oil), 50 bbls (sperm oil), as well as 18000 lbs (whale bone) for Captain Hunting Cooper, the agent. Three months later in September 1841, the bark Gem was getting ready for a whaling voyage with Theron Worth, as master for the 3rd time. Now 21-years old, James was offered the job of a boatsteerer for William Payne, 1st mate. At first he declined, however Captain Huntting Cooper, the agent talked him into sailing again on a whaling voyage. The bark Gem sailed with Captain Theron Worth, and a crew of 27 seaman. First, they sailed to the Azores, then around the Cape of Good Hope, and down to the Croyeta Islands in the Indian Ocean in the southern Indian Ocean, where the crew took about 2400 bbls of whale oil. On the return trip to Sag Harbor, the bark Gem stopped in St Helena, an island in the South Atlantic Ocean, midway between South America and Africa for 40-hours to sell surplus provisions and get recruits. Ten-months after leaving Sag Harbor port, the bark Gem arrived back home. After a short visit home to Moriches, James shipped again as 2nd mate to his brother Captain Theron Worth. The voyage took 8-1/2 months to Croyeta Islands again with the results of 2500 bbls (whale oil), and about 20,000 lbs (whale bone) in 1842. “We went ashore on the largest island of the Croyeta Islands, and killed 50 or 60 sea elephants for their oil,” James stated. Before the bark Gem arrived home to Sag Harbor in June 1842, the crew cut-in 28 whales, and James caught one half of them! The 1949 Long Island Forum article did not tell us, the agent, and managing owner of the bark Gem, Captain Huntting Cooper, who had retired from going to sea after being master of the brig Thames, another Sag Harbor whaling vessel. His fleet included the bark Franklin, ship Timor, ship Washington, ship Konohassett, and the bark Gem. Theron had gained the respected of Captain Cooper, who offered him a new ship, and suggested that James should master the bark Gem after another voyage. Captain Theron Worth and his brother James, as 1st mate shipped again, but this time it was for a longer voyage. In 1843, the crew sailed again for Crozet Islands finding whales scare, so they continued for the northwest coast of America, via New Zealand, New Holland and Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). The bark Gem arrived at the Alaska hunting grounds, and found plenty of whales.They caught numerous whales filling the bark! James wrote, “…returned to Sandwich Islands for recruits, and then sailed for home via Cape Horn and Falkland Islands…Lost one man on the voyage by whale line!” He took a large sperm whale off the La Plata River. The bark Gem, then sailed for Rio Janeiro, Brazil, where they sold oil to lighten the ship. The bark Gem, Captain Theron Worth, 1st mate James Worth, and crew sailed into Sag Harbor port after a 20-month voyage in 1845. Captain Theron Worth became master of the ship Konohassett, and James Morton Worth became the captain of the bark Gem. Theron sailed as master on the ship Konohassett in 1845, and the ship Thames II in 1846. By the 1860 US Federal Census Theron was enumerated as a farmer, along with his wife living back in Peconic. The new Captain James Worth stated, “The bark Gem being ready for sea. I bid good bye and sailed by Montauk Point Aug. 10th, 1845.” The crews consisted of James’ younger brothers Andrew (3rd mate), as well as 17-year old Gilbert (greenhand). By the 14-day, Captain James Worth made the decision to return to Sag Harbor for a new 1st mate, since George Halsey was sick. George Chester signed on as the new 1st mate, and they left Sag Harbor port again! Just 7-days at sea, the Captain and crew took a large sperm whale, and when the bark reached the Azores Islands, 100 bbls was shipped back to the agent. After taking another sperm whale, the bark sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, through the Indian Ocean to New Holland, New Zealand. The crew took an old whale, who did not put up a fight! The next day, the whale was cut-in, then the bark proceeded on towards the Society Islands, which included Bora Bora, and Tahiti for fresh fruit. While sailing to the Sandwich Island, the crew took four (4) small sperm whales equaling 300 bbls of sperm oil. The bark soon joined a fleet of about forty (40) whaling vessels. Captain Worth wrote, “I felt myself somewhat flattered when I landed and was told that I was the youngest master (25 years) of a vessel that ever visited these islands, and so that I was commodore of the fleet, for there was not a whale ship that had taken over 150 bbls. And most of them had not taken any oil on their passage out.” The Captain told how they soon got fresh water, crew recruits, and sailed for the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska, where they eventually took ten (10) right whales, which made 1600 bbls of whale oil. At the end of the whaling season, the bark Gem left for the Sandwich Islands on a route home. Captain James Worth got sick and was losing his hair! They stopped at a Cannibal Island for wood, but did not land since the indigenous people were not friendly. The bark Gem rounded Cape Horn in a terrible gale from the west; then sailed to the Falkland Islands, a distance of about 300 miles. The crew took another sperm whale (80bbls) off River La Plata; then proceeded to Bahia for water and fresh recruits. James Worth and his crew arrived July 8, 1847 back at the home port of Sag Harbor with 400 bbls (sperm oil), 1600 bbls (whale oil), and 16000 lbs (whale bone). Captain Huntting, and the other owners insisted that the young Captain James Worth be master of the bark Gem on another voyage, but this time for 1/16 of the profit. James’ parents had moved back to Southold, but he visited Lydia Topping, daughter of Captain Topping, of Moriches. They agreed to be married on August 17, 1847 on her 21st birthday. Around September 20, he bid his new wife good bye, and left for Sag Harbor sailing to the Azores Islands, then around Cape Horn on their way to Sandwich Islands. At the Sandwich Islands, the crew took plenty of fresh vegetables before proceeding to the Japan Sea. James’ wrote, “…we had a grand sight of two burning volcanoes. They were in full action, vomiting out fire and lava high in the air. It truly was an awful but a beautiful sight to behold. On the right hand side as you enter, it is called Volcano Bay – rightly named.” The Polynesian (Honolulu, Hawaii) newspaper, November 25, 1848 reported the arrival on Nov. 18, of the bark Gem at the port of Honolulu with Captain Worth, and 40 bbls (sperm oil), 3300 bbls (whale oil). The ship was heavily loaded, and set sail for home, but a typhoon overtook them causing a shipwrecked on a small island. The Evening Post (New York City, NY) newspaper, August 18, 1849 stated, “A report of the loss of the bark Gem, Captain Worth, of Sag Harbor has been in circulation for the last two weeks, which report is fully confirmed by letters received from Captain Worth to his brother. Although we have not the particulars of the loss of this vessel, we believe the following to be substantially correct as far as it goes: The Gem left the Sandwich Islands late in 1848, either November or December, cruising homeward, with about 2300 bbls of oil, principally whale. Not long after leaving the islands during night time, she struck on a reef not laid down in the chart about 50 miles from an uninhabited island, near the equator. Officers and crew all saved – ship and cargo a total loss. The captain (and it is hoped the crew also) reached the island of Tahiti, where he made a formal protest of the loss of his vessel before the Consul, obtained his documents, and with his letters to Huntting Cooper, Esq., agent of the Gem, sent them home, and left himself for California.” The newspaper continued, “Capt. Worth was at San Francisco last June, bound to the gold mines – had declined the offer of $500 per month to take charge of the ship Huntress, bound for the Columbia River. The Gem was insured for $18,000.” On April 12, 1850, the Evening Post (New York City, NY) reported, at Navigation Islands in June, the ship Elizabeth with Captain Barker, of New Bedford mention saving some sails and rigging from the wreck of the bark Gem, before reporting the lost in January 23, 1849, on a reef off Suwarrow Island in the northern group of the Cook Islands, South Pacific Ocean. Captain James Worth did not return right away to Moriches, but proceeded to the California gold fields, where he is believed to make a gold strike. He remained in California until the beginning of 1851, as a passenger took a ship down the California Coast to Panama. He shorten his trip by crossing the Isthmus by packing train, then took another ship up the Atlantic coastline to New York City. He arriving in Moriches, the latter part of 1851. His family had given him up for lost as no word had been received for him since arriving in California. The couples’ 3rd son David Worth, Jr. (1818-1899), made two trips on the ship India, the first April 6, 1848, then again on the same ship in August 9, 1848. The 1880 US Federal Census enumerated him in Dow Prairie, Humbolt, CA. He had married, later died at Shire, Dowerin in Western Australia in 1899. In 1842, the 5th son Thomas Worth was 2nd mate on the ship Arab. He had become master by 1846 of the ship Phocion, and sailed again on November 26, 1849 on the ship Ansel Gibbs out of Fairhaven, MA. The story was told in James Worth own word of how he went to sea at 15-years old. The US Federal Census, crew list databases, local, national, and international historical newspapers were used to fill in some of the details about the young seaman, who became a captain of the bark Gem, a whaling vessel out of Sag Harbor at 25-years old. Captain James Morton Worth died August 6, 1896, as a farmer, and was buried in the Old Burying Ground of First Presbyterian Church, Southold.