Tuesday, June 2, 2015

William Dane Phelps: His Life and Family

About Capt. William Dane Phelps William Dane Phelps
  • Birth: Feb 14 1802 - Gloucester, Essex, MA
  • Parents: Henry Phelps, s.of Mary "Polly" Forbes Coffin d of Peter Coffin and Mary Forbes
  • Wife: Mary Cushing, Lusanna Tucker Bryant
  • Death: Aug 15 1875 - Magnolia, Essex, MA
  1. Mary Ann Cushing, died 16 Dec. 1831, daughter of Henry Cushing of Boston
  2. 18 May 1834 Lusanna Tucker Bryant, born 11 July 1804, died at Providence, R. I., death 23 Aug. 1885, daughter of Josiah Bryant and Sally (Withington).
Children by the second wife, all born at Lexington:
  • Lusanna, b. 18 Nov. 1836; d. 80 Apr. 1872.
  • Alice Dodge, b. 18 Oct. 1838; m. 15 Oct. 1862 Charles Goodwin.
  • Edwin Buckingham, b. 14 Apr. 1845; d. 4 Sept. 1849.

Frémont's private Navy: the 1846 journal of captain William Dane Phelps
William Dane Phelps Two Letters to H.H. Bancroft: Lexington, Mass
Alta California, 1840-1842: the journal and observations of William Dane Phelps, master of the ship "Alert", Volumes 1-2
Fur Traders from New England: The Boston Men in the North Pacific, 1787-1800 : the Narratives of William Dane Phelps, William Sturgis, and James Gilchrist Swan
History of the Town of Lexington, Middlesex County, Massachusetts: Geneologies
Alta California 1840-1842 Edited by Briton Cooper Busch
This book is subtitled “The Journal and Observations of William Dane Phelps, Master of the Ship ‘Alert’, where Mr. Phelps recounts his voyage to Mexican California during the era of the hide and tallow trade. The author compares California with Spain, referring to an ancient Arab proverb that Allah gave Spain land, climate and inhabitants, a veritable paradise with one exception: good government.
On one of the trips to Northern California, Mr. Phelps travels to New Helvetia, the domain at the foothill of the Sierra Nevada mountains belonging to John Sutter, who has successfully controlled the local Native Americans and has become a comfortable rancher and farmer. Sutter mentions that he is planning to build a millrace for a new saw mill that he is planning to build on the American River. That turned out well.
The journal gives us a great amount of information about the hide and tallow business as his ship visited the major ports of California, trading goods from the United States in return for the hides and tallow. The hides must be cured and stored for later transport, along with the tallow, to the United States. In order to make the voyage profitable, the ship must carry as many hides as physically possible without threatening the seaworthiness of the ship.
Mr. Phelps’s observations are tinged with his perspective as a Protestant, white, Anglo-Saxon. He believes that individuals with his background could make California into an agricultural paradise, teeming with wild game. It is only because of the lazy Californios that the land does not produce. Sharing the blame is the Catholic Church who, Phelps believes, is only interested in its own aggrandizement and the afterlife. This attitude frequently offends the native Americans and excuses the indolence of the Californios.
In his voyages, Phelps meets up with many ships of various nations that are trading in California. Many also trade with Hawaii. The voyages face difficulties with the weather along the California coast, which is treacherous and has few protective anchorages. Toward the end of his stay, there is an abortive attempt by Americans to take over California.
Mr. Phelps also notes that, on July 26, 1841, he heard of the death of President Harrison, who had died on April 4, 1841. This was the California that William Workman arrived at.

  Thomas B. Wales, Captain Charles Hunt, Captain William D. Phelps, Benjamin Burgess
From Sixty Years in California: A History of Events and Life in California William Heath Davis

The ship " Alert" arrived at the beginning of 1840, from Boston, in command of Captain William D. Phelps, the vessel and cargo consigned to Alfred Robinson and Henry Mellus. Captain Phelps was a Boston man, an extensive traveler, and became popular on the coast. My brother Robert and myself were once invited to spend an evening on board the " Alert," when Captain Phelps entertained us with an account of his travels over the world. He said that while his vessel lay in the Mediterranean Sea, he conceived a great desire to visit Jerusalem—which he found means to gratify, so impressed was he with that city and its relation to the events narrated in the Scriptures. When in the sacred city, his religious emotions overcame him and he knelt and prayed several times. On his return to Boston, he was impelled to join a church, and had retained his connection with it continuously since. At the same time, he was not bigoted, but entered heartily in all little festivities. He believed his visit to Jerusalem was the most valuable part of his experience, and his observations there to be worth more than all he had seen in the rest of the world.

Captain Phelps was an excellent shot with the rifle, very fond of hunting deer, elk, rabbits, ducks, geese, quail and other birds; and kept his vessel in game while in port. Being an epicure, he always selected the choicest game to supply his table and that of his friends—Rae, Spear and others. Phelps approaching the store on landing of mornings from the vessel, would meet Spear on the outside, leaning against the gate near the water, looking for the captain. The latter would call out, "Good morning, Don Natan," (foreigners having adopted the California style of addressing each other by their first names) and Spear would respond in the same cordial way. Captain Phelps had a curious peculiarity of hesitating and stammering as he commenced to talk, his right cheek quivering rapidly until he got along farther in his speech and warmed up a little, when his language came fluently and the pulsation of the face ceased. He was a good observer, and a man of excellent judgment, and also entitled to much credit, with others heretofore mentioned, for making California known on the Atlantic side, by letters, recording his observations and experiences. They were well written, and calculated to make a good impression in regard to the department of California. He frequently read to us portions of the letters, and we recognized their truthfulness and his happy mode of communicating impressions of the country. He also visited Wilkes, and was handsomely entertained, and, like Paty, became a favorite of the commodore.
From Other Merchants and Sea Captains of Old Boston: Being More Information about the Merchants and Sea Captains of Old Boston who Played Such an Important Part in Building Up the Commerce of New England, Together with Some Quaint and Curious Stories of the Sea
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 teacher, 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 stole 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 seaman 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 with 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 Boston, 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 "plough 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 Years 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 in 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 the 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 capsized 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 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. 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 was accidentally drowned while visiting his family at their summer home in Magnolia.
From From the Life of an Old Sailor 
From Americana, American historical magazine, Volume 13 National American Society Lusanna Tucker Bryant Phelps, wife of William Dane Phelps, was born in East Lexington, July 11,1804. She attended the Young Ladies' Seminary at Ipswich, under the instruction of Mary Grant and Mary Lyon, afterwards becoming a very successful teacher. She married Captain Phelps in 1834. She accompanied him on one voyage up the Mediterranean sea, but the most of her life was spent in Lexington. Her memory of places and people was remarkably clear and exact, and she often entertained her friends with narrating her experiences. Both she and her husband were members of the Baptist church, and were actively engaged in promoting benevolent work at home and abroad. She died August 23, 1885.Tuesday, August 17, 1875  Paper: Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, MA)

On October 15, 1862, Charles Clinton Goodwin was united in marriage with Alice Dodge Phelps, who was born October 18, 1838, a daughter of Captain William Dane and Lusanna Tucker (Bryant) Phelps, of Lexington, Massachusetts. Her father, Captain William Dane Phelps, was a native of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and was a noted sea captain. He had sailed the coast of California for several years before the discovery of gold in that country, and he was the first man to carry the American Flag up the Sacramento river. The ship "Alert," famous in song and story, immortalized in the book written by Richard H. Dana, Jr., entitled, "Two Years Before the Mast," was commanded on its return voyage to California by Captain William Dane Phelps. Richard H. Dana, Jr., returned from the coast aboard the "Alert" and his adventures are recorded in his most interesting sea tale. The "Alert" subsequently became a prize of the Confederate steamer, "Alabama." Captain Phelps also brought to Boston the first California gold, after its discovery in 1849, and was the author of a book, which related his many exciting and dangerous experiences, entitled, "Fore and Aft," which he wrote under the nom de plume of "Webfoot." When a boy, on a voyage in the South Seas, he and seven others were left by their captain on Prince Edward Island, in one of the South Sea groups, to collect oil. The captain promised to return for them in nine months. The captain, however, did not return, and for twenty-eight months young Phelps and the small party lived a Robinson Crusoe life on the desert island, until they were finally rescued. In 1835, Captain Phelps was shipwrecked in Plymouth Harbor, Massachusetts, and he was one of only three or four of the crew who were saved. After he retired, he decided to take one more voyage, and this time took a trip around the world. He passed the remainder of his life in his pleasant Lexington home, among his old friends and neighbors. He was well known for his wit and dry humor, and his family and closest friends spent many happy hours listening as he related his many strange experiences in all the corners of the world.

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Clinton Goodwin were the parents of three children, as follows: 1. George Clinton, born November 24, 1863; unmarried; he is connected with the Northern Pacific Railroad, at Tacoma, Washington. 2. Grace Elise, born September 21, 1870, who became the wife of Edward Porter Merriam, the son of Matthew Henry and Jane Merriam, of Lexington; they are the parents of two children, Robert Clinton and Gordon Phelps. 3. Alice Phelps, born October 20, 1875; she is a graduate of Smith College, and studied at the University of Berlin, Germany; she is a graduate nurse of the Boston Homeopathic Hospital, and took an allopathic course at the Boston Floating Hospital, where she served as superintendent of Nurses for two seasons; she also served as superintendent of Nurses at the Medical Mission.

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