Is your surname Melville?

Research the Melville family

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Herman Melville

Birthplace: New York, NY, United States
Death: September 28, 1891 (72)
New York, NY, United States (Cardiac Dilation)
Place of Burial: New York City, Bronx County, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Allan Melville and Maria Peterse Melville
Husband of Elizabeth Knapp Melville
Father of Malcolm Melville; Stanwix Melville; Elizabeth Melville and Frances Thomas
Brother of Helen Maria Griggs; Gansevoort Melville; Augusta Melville; Allan Melville, Jr.; Catherine Gansevoort Hoadley and 2 others

Occupation: Common Seaman, Author, Poet, Teacher, Lecturer, Customs Inspector
Managed by: Seth Wheatley, III
Last Updated:

About Herman Melville

Wikipedia Biographical Summary:

"...Herman Melville (August 1, 1819 – September 28, 1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd. His first three books gained much contemporary attention (the first, Typee, becoming a bestseller), but after a fast-blooming literary success in the late 1840s, his popularity declined precipitously in the mid-1850s and never recovered during his lifetime. When he died in 1891, he was almost completely forgotten. It was not until the "Melville Revival" in the early 20th century that his work won recognition, especially Moby-Dick which was hailed as one of the literary masterpieces of both American and world literature..."

"...Herman Melville was born in New York City on August 1, 1819, the third of eight children of Allan and Maria Gansevoort Melvill. After her husband Allan died, Maria added an "e" to the family surname. Part of a well-established and colorful Boston family, Melville's father spent a good deal of time abroad as a commission merchant and an importer of French dry goods. The author's paternal grandfather, Major Thomas Melvill, an honored participant of the Boston Tea Party..."

"...Allan Melvill sent his sons to the New York Male School (Columbia Preparatory School). Overextended financially and emotionally unstable, Allan tried to recover from his setbacks by moving his family to Albany in 1830 and going into the fur business. The new venture, however, was unsuccessful; the War of 1812 had ruined businesses that tried to sell overseas and he was forced to declare bankruptcy. He died soon afterward, leaving his family penniless, when Herman was 12..."

"...Melville attended the Albany Academy from October 1830 to October 1831, and again from October 1836 to March 1837, where he studied the classics..."

"...The three years after Albany Academy (1837 to 1840) were mostly occupied with teaching school, except for the voyage to Liverpool in 1839. From 1838 to 1847, he resided at what is now known as the Herman Melville House in Lansingburgh, New York. Near the end of 1840 he once again decided to sign ship's articles. On January 3, 1841, he sailed from New Bedford, Massachusetts on the whaler Acushnet, which was bound for the Pacific Ocean. He was later to comment that his life began that day. The vessel sailed around Cape Horn and traveled to the South Pacific. Melville left little direct information about the events of this 18-month cruise, although his whaling romance, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, probably gives many pictures of life on board the Acushnet..."

"...Melville completed Typee in the summer of 1845, though he had difficulty getting it published. It was eventually published in 1846 in London, where it became an overnight bestseller..."

"...Melville married Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Lemuel Shaw, on August 4, 1847..."

"...They had four children: two sons and two daughters. In 1850 they purchased Arrowhead, a farm house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, now a museum. Here Melville lived for 13 years, occupied with his writing and managing his farm. While living at Arrowhead, he befriended the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, who lived in nearby Lenox..."

"...To repair his faltering finances, Melville listened to the advice of friends and decided to enter what was for others the lucrative field of lecturing. From 1857 to 1860, he spoke at lyceums, chiefly on the South Seas..."

"...As his professional fortunes waned, Melville's marriage was unhappy. Elizabeth's relatives repeatedly urged her to leave him, and offered to have him committed as insane, but she refused. In 1867, his oldest son, Malcolm, shot himself, perhaps accidentally. While Melville worked, his wife managed to wean him off alcohol, and he no longer showed signs of agitation or insanity. But recurring depression was added to by the death of his second son, Stanwix, in San Francisco early in 1886. Melville retired in 1886, after several of his wife's relatives died and left the couple legacies that Mrs. Melville administered with skill and good fortune..."

"...Melville died at his home in New York City early on the morning of September 28, 1891, age 72. The doctor listed "cardiac dilation" on the death certificate. He was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York..."

"...Moby-Dick; or, The Whale has become Melville's most famous work and is often considered one of the greatest literary works of all time. It was dedicated to Melville's friend Nathaniel Hawthorne. It did not, however, make Melville rich. The book never sold its initial printing of 3,000 copies in his lifetime, and total earnings from the American edition amounted to just $556.37 from his publisher, Harper & Brothers. Melville also wrote Billy Budd, White-Jacket, Israel Potter, Redburn, Typee, Omoo, Pierre, The Confidence-Man and many short stories, including "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street" and "Benito Cereno," and works of various genres..."

SOURCE: Wikipedia contributors, 'Herman Melville', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 September 2011, 09:35 UTC, <> [accessed 15 September 2011]


Author. Born in New York City to Allan Melvill, an importer of French dry goods and Maria Gansevoort, the third child of eight. He and his brothers attended the New York Male School where they could get something more than a common education. Allen Melvill overextended himself, however, and in 1830 moved his family to Albany, New York, and went into the fur business, a venture that ended in disaster. Mental collapse and illness lead to Allan Melvill's early death leaving the family in poverty. At twelve young Melville was forced to leave Albany Academy, and take a job as a bank clerk. He also taught irregularly in various schools. Melville shipped out in 1839 as a cabin boy on the whaler Achushnet. He later joined the US Navy. He lived briefly among the Typee cannibals in the Marquesas Islands. In his mid-20's Melville returned home and wrote of his journies. His early novels of South Seas adventures were quite popular; by age thirty had published five books in five years. His sixth book was a departure from his earlier style and Moby-Dick was probably misunderstood and the book ran counter to the mood of the times. It sold only about 3,000 copies during Melville's lifetime. In 1847 Melville married Elisabeth Shaw, daughter of the chief justice of Massachusetts. After unsuccessful lecture tours in 1857-60, Melville lived in Washington, D.C. for the first two years of the Civil War. He moved back to New York in 1863 where he was appointed customs inspector on the New York docks. Work that secured him a regular income, necessary with his plumeting popularity as a writer. When Melville died from heart failure in New York, a few respectful obituaries of the kind written about a man who has outlived his renown were printed. His unfinished work, Billy Budd, Foretopman, remained unpublished until 1924. His career had spanned fewer than 20 full length books. Soon after the second world war, a Melville society was organized after which, for the next two decades Melville and his writing attracted more research and scholarship than any other American author. (bio by: Iola)

view all

Herman Melville's Timeline

August 1, 1819
New York, NY, United States
February 16, 1849
Age 29
Boston, MA, United States
October 22, 1851
Age 32
Pittsfield, MA, United States
May 22, 1853
Age 33
Pittsfield, MA, United States
March 2, 1855
Age 35
Pittsfield, MA, United States
September 28, 1891
Age 72
New York, NY, United States
New York City, Bronx County, New York, United States