William Dane Phelps (1802 - 1875)

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Birthplace: Gloucester, Essex, Massachusetts, United States
Death: Died in Gloucester, Essex , Massachusetts, United States
Occupation: Mariner
Managed by: Erica Howton, (c)
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Immediate Family

About William Dane Phelps

William Dane Phelps

  • Birth: Feb 14 1802 - Gloucester, Essex, MA
  • Parents: Henry Phelps, Mary Forbes Coffin
  • Wife: Mary Cushing, Lusanna Tucker Bryant
  • Death: Aug 15 1875 - Magnolia, Essex, MA


  1. Mary Ann Coshing, died 16 Dec. 1831, daughter of Henry of Boston
  2. 18 May 1834 Lusanna T. Bryant, born 11 July 1804, died at Providence, R. I., 23 Aug. 1885, daughter of Josiah6 and Sally (Withington).

Children by the second wife, all born at Lexington:

  • i. Lusanna,8 b. 18 Nov. 1836; d. unm. 80 Apr. 1872.
  • ii. Alice Dodge, b. 18 Oct. 1838; m. 15 Oct. 1862 Charles C.s Goodwin.
  • iii. Edwin Buckingham, b. 14 Apr. 1845; d. 4 Sept. 1849.

From Americana Magazine, Volume 13

VII. Captain William Dane Phelps, son of Dr. Henry and Mary Forbes (Coffin) Phelps, was born February 14, 1802, at Gloucester, Massachusetts. He inherited a love for the sea from several of his ancestors, who had been mariners, and ran away from a boarding school, where he had been sent by his parents to prepare for college, embarking as a cabin boy on board a vessel sailing from Boston, and working his way through the different grades to that of master. He made many voyages to Europe and the Levant, around Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope, in command of some of the finest ships of the times. He was wrecked when a boy at the Cape of Good Hope, and also when captain at the entrance of Plymouth Harbor, in the winter of 1836, which was one of the most distressing shipwrecks known for many years on our coast. In one of his early voyages, when a boy, he was left with seven others on a desert island, in the Indian ocean, to procure a cargo of sea elephant oil and fur seal skins. The captain promised to return for them in nine months, but did not appear for twenty-eight months, when he hoped to collect his oil and furs without any men to pay off. But although they had lived Robinson Crusoe lives, replete with dangers and hardships, they were all alive, with a full cargo ready for him. He made several trading voyages, generally of three years' duration, to California, in the days when San Francisco was called Yerba Buena, and consisted of only three houses where the famous city now stands. With two of his boats and a part of his crew he explored the river Sacramento, displaying the Star and Stripes for the first time upon its waters. He commanded the ship "Alert," (which has been made famous in connection with the book entitled "Two Years Before the Mast," by Richard H. Dana, Jr.), the following year after Mr. Dana returned in it from California as a passenger.

In 1849 he was in California, at the time when gold was discovered, and on his return soon after he brought some of the first gold specimens to Boston, with reliable information about the mines. For his last voyage he went on a trip around the world, after which he retired in 1857, passing the remainder of his life in his pleasant Lexington home. He was well known for his dry wit and humor, and his family and friends spent many happy hours as he related to them his entertaining and strange experiences in many parts of the world. He was a ready writer and was the author of a book entitled "Fore and Aft, or Leaves from the Life of an Old Sailor," under the nom de plume of "Webfoot."

He died August 15, 1875, at Magnolia after a brief illness at the summer home of his daughter, Mrs. Charles C. Goodwin, within a few miles of Gloucester, the place of his birth.


  1. Merchants and Sea Captains of Old Boston, State Street Trust Company, Boston, Mass., 1919. "He was fortunate enough to sell his ships in California during the gold craze and was one of the first to return in 1849 with a small amount of gold to show his friends. His arrival in Boston caused quite a sensation, and for many days visitors came to his house seeking information concerning the gold-mines and the best way to reach California.  Extravagant statements were made in the Boston papers as to the huge amount of gold he brought with him, but the final account in the papers stated merely that he had only one barrel of gold, but that he was a jolly good fellow."
  2. History of the Town of Lexington, Middlesex County, Massachusetts: Geneologies (Google eBook) Charles Hudson, Lexington Historical Society (Mass.), Lexington, Massachusetts Historical Society. Houghton Mifflin, 1913 - Lexington (Mass. : Town). Page 526 "Capt. Phelps came to Lexington to reside about 1835. His profession was that of a mariner. He began as a cabin-boy, and worked his way through the different grades to master. He made many voyages to Europe and the Levant, and around Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope, in command of several of the finest ships .... During a voyage which extended over six years, by force of circumstances he left the ship, and was obliged to take service under flags of various nations. During which time he visited most of the ports of the Pacific, parts of Australia and Van Diemen's Land, and returned home around Cape Horn in 1828."


MOSCOW was built by the Portland, Maine yard of David Spear and Son, circa 1830. She originally was rigged as a full ship and weighed 300 tons. Her configuration here is after conversion to a bark, with her identity not only twice written by the artist, but shown in the Boston Flag Code high on the mizzen mast, a pre-cursor to the developing International Merchant Flag Codes. MOSCOW served as an Atlantic Packet for a succession of Boston owners, as is most remembered under the command of Captain William Dane Phelps, when he sailed her to San Francisco and came home to much fanfare in 1849 with one of the first barrels of California gold.


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Capt. William Dane Phelps's Timeline

February 14, 1802
Gloucester, Essex, Massachusetts, United States
August 15, 1875
Age 73
Gloucester, Essex , Massachusetts, United States