Second Sultana research trip

On Thursday evening, we arrived safely back home from the second research trip to Chestertown, Maryland, to examine the remainder of the log books and the muster books. If you don’t know what this is about, here is a brief run-down; see earlier posts for more. I’m working on a “microhistory” based on the four-year cruise of HM Schooner Sultana, built at Boston in 1767 and taken into the Royal Navy the following year at Deptford naval yard just outside London. The detailed records kept by the Navy allowed for an accurate reconstruction of the little vessel (she is, we think, the smallest vessel ever commissioned in the Royal Navy), and the new Sultana was launched in 2001. She is owned and operated by the Sultana Education Foundation of Chestertown, Maryland, which owns complete copies of all the master’s and commander’s logs and the muster books (lists of crew and their statuses) for the entire cruise, July 1768 to December 1772.

On the first trip, in September 2019, I completed the master’s logs, got about 10% of the commander’s logs, and looked at the muster books enough to know what they contained and how to approach examining them. From the master’s logs, I spent almost three months of full-time work extracting and analyzing sailing data, as well as instances of interception; Sultana‘s role was as a customs interceptor, helping to enforce customs duties and interdict smugglers at British American ports on the Eastern Seaboard, from Halifax to Cape Fear (where I live).

On this trip, I finished it all. (Well, almost; I took high-res images of what I didn’t have time to go through, and I’ll do that here at home.) Working was a little bit different this time; to keep me out of the main building for health reasons, SEF set me up in the rigging shop, at a long work table. I worked through the documents where several of Sultana‘s tackles were hanging, their blocks having been freshly varnished. Below, on the main shop floor, some of her spars rested on saw horses, awaiting fresh coats of paint. Her topsails and yards, wrapped in plastic, hung high up from the walls for the winter.

The President of SEF also made copies of his copies of two student papers on provisioning and clothing, as well as a complete copy of his copy of the sailing directions for various American ports, written in commander Lt. John Inglis’ own hand. (Fortunately, his hand is unusually neat.)

I want to thank Drew McMullen, the aforesaid President, for this and all his help, without which this project would never have started. I want to thank Aaron Thal, Sultana‘s captain, for the interview he sat down for via Skype before we went up, and for his logistical assistance in getting the heat set right and lending me some keys, and generally making me feel welcome. Most of all, I want to thank my patrons, whose donations made this trip possible, and the National Coalition of Independent Scholars, for the Research Grant.

I’ll be working through this stuff over the next two to three months, and I’ll post updates here. I hope to have an edited draft of the book this summer. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

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