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East India Marine Society

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East India Marine Society

The East India Marine Society (est.1799) of Salem, Massachusetts was "composed of persons who have actually navigated the seas beyond the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn, as masters or supercargoes of vessels belonging to Salem." It functioned as a charitable and educational organization, and maintained a library and museum. It flourished especially in the 1800s-1830s, a heyday of foreign trade.



The society had rooms in the Stearns Building, 1799-1804; and in the Salem Bank Building, 1804-1825.

Member Jonathan Carnes sailed to Sumatra on a secret voyage for pepper in 1795; nothing was heard from him until eighteen months later he entered with a cargo of pepper in bulk, the first to be so imported into this country, which sold at the extraordinary profit of seven hundred per cent. Member Nathaniel Silsbee, his first mate Charles Derby and second mate Richard J. Cleveland were not yet twenty years old at the beginning of their East India voyage of nineteen months. Member Israel Williams while captaining the Friendship (1797) on a voyage to Batavia, improvised a way to distill water when the ship's supply gave out in latitude 22° 50', and longitude 21° 46' west. (22°50′S 21°46′W.)

As of 1821 the society owned a variety of objects including shells; coins; other ethnological artifacts such as costume, musical instruments, statuary, weaponry; and manuscript journals of sea voyages between Salem and Batavia, Bombay, Calcutta, Canton, Ceylon, Isle de France, Manila, Mocha, Sumatra, Tranquebar, and elsewhere. Donors of objects included members, New England locals such as William Bentley, non-member seafarers such as John Derby, and others such as merchant Nusserwanjee Maneckjee of Bombay.

In 1825 the society dedicated the newly constructed East India Marine Hall, designed by architect Thomas Waldron Sumner. It shared the building with the Asiatic Bank and Oriental Insurance Company. Visitors to the society's museum included William Bentley, James Silk Buckingham, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Andrew Jackson, Anne Newport Royall, and Martin Van Buren. Museum staff included Seth Bass, Malthus A. Ward, and Henry Wheatland.

By the 1860s the society suffered financially and its Marine Hall had become "semi-moribund." Consequently, in 1867 the society permanently deposited its collections with the newly established Peabody Academy of Science, which also bought the East India Marine Hall. In 1910 the society reincorporated as "Trustees of the Salem East India Marine Society."

Nathaniel Hawthorne described a fictionalized version of the society's museum in his 1842 short story A Virtuoso's Collection.


East India Marine Society Wikipedia

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