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About Capt. 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
- Mary Ann Coshing, died 16 Dec. 1831, daughter of Henry of Boston
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
Captain William Dane Phelps, who was born in 1802, followed the sea for over forty years. He was a lively youngster and played many mischievous pranks at school. Many years afterward, on returning from one of his voyages he called upon his old tea cher, who did not at first recognize him. Finally Captain Phelps said, "Master Moore, can you tell me who was the biggest rogue among all the boys who ever came to your school?" "Ah, Billy Dane, you scamp, I know you now!" was the teacher's reply .
At an early age Captain Phelps showed a strong love for the ocean, and spent all his spare time on the docks or in learning how to sail boats. His family sent him to school to avoid the sea, but a year of this life was enough for him and he stol e away in the capacity of cabin boy on the "Corporal Trim." He then sailed with the "Pickering" of Boston again as cabin boy, the object of the voyage being to procure a cargo of fur-seal skins for the Canton market. While the Captain was a good s eaman and skilful trader, he was what the sailors called a "Tartar." His plan was to leave gangs of men on different uninhabited islands where there might be seals and to call about nine months later for the men and cargo. Young Phelps was left wi th six others to reside on an island in the Indian Ocean where they lived almost "Robinson Crusoe" lives until called for twenty-eight months afterward. Some years later he was made captain of the "Mermaid," owned by Robert Edes & Brother of Bosto n, and then took charge of the "Herald" with the first cargo of ice ever sent to Malta.
Some years afterwards he decided to settle down to a farming life in Lexington. He, therefore, sold his Bowditch Navigator and his almanac and purchased some books on agriculture; but he soon decided, as his daughter expressed it, that he could "p lough the deep more successfully than he could plough the land."
Trade opened between California and Boston about the year 1840, and Captain Phelps decided to sail for that coast in command of the ship "Alert," the vessel that Richard H. Dana had served on a few years before and about which he wrote "Two Year s Before the Mast." While in California, Captain Phelps penetrated the River Sacramento in one of the ship's small boats, the first trip up the river with the Stars and Stripes. He again went to California in the "Moscow."
His daughter, who now lives in Lexington, remembers sitting on her father's shoulder while he "paced the deck" of his parlor and she also distinctly remembers being taken to Boston to see the "Moscow" just before sailing. They made the journey i n a clumsy stagecoach which plied daily between Lexington and Boston and which was driven by old Deacon Brown. The family all had pictures taken, which were then hung in the cabin of the vessel. Captain Phelps often declared that he considered th e stage ride between Lexington and Boston as the most dangerous part of his voyage, and as proof of his statement he used to relate an amusing incident that happened once on the way home. He and his sister were among the travellers and the coach c apsized at a bad place in the road. His sister's new bonnet, which was being taken home in a big band-box, was pitched into a mud puddle and sustained considerable damage.
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 ca me 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 state d merely that he had only one barrel of gold, but that he was a jolly good fellow.
Captain Phelps thought he would retire for good, but in a few years decided he would make another voyage around the world, which he succeeded in doing successfully. He died at Magnolia after a brief illness at the summer home of his daughter, Mrs . Charles C. Goodwin.
Source: Other Merchants and Sea Captains of Old Boston, State Street Trust Company, Boston, Mass., 1919
Capt. William Dane Phelps's Timeline
February 14, 1802
Gloucester, Essex, Massachusetts, United States
November 18, 1836
October 18, 1838
April 14, 1845
August 15, 1875
Gloucester, Essex , Massachusetts, United States