Original painting of the American bark Fury, with the captain’s ledgers

Original painting of the American bark Fury, with the captain’s ledgers

Wilson, Samuel H. (1836 – 1888). Ledgers of disbursements for the bark Fury and other vessels under his command, 1865 – 1887. 140 numbered pages, containing about 106 pages of writing plus blanks. 34 cm. Stationers’ label (Hooper & Co., Boston) to front pastedown. Covers detached, some pages loose. Housed in a clamshell case. [WITH] Joseph Honoré Maxime Pellegrin (1793 – 1869), Barque Fury of Boston Capt. S. H. Wilson leaving Marseilles, 1866. Watercolor on paper, 18 x 25 in, framed to 22½ x 29 in. Some light foxing and scuffing.

Held by the family of Captain Samuel H. Wilson until the 1970s, this groups includes a wonderfully evocative painting of the American bark Fury at full sail in the Mediterranean’s frothy seas, along with the financial ledger he maintained over the time of his command of four different vessels.


The listing for the Fury in Lloyd’s Register lists the captain erroneously as "W. Wilson"

The Fury was built in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1860. Constructed of white oak with copper and iron fastenings, it weighed 309 tons, and measured 108 ft 7 in in length, 28 ft 6 in in breadth, and 11 ft 8 in below the water line, with a draft of 13 feet. In the 1860s, the ship was owned by the Boston mercantile firm of Daniel Draper and Sons.


Samuel H. Wilson (photograph from ancestry.com)

According to Lloyd’s Register, the Fury had gone through four different captains before Samuel H. Wilson took the helm in 1866. The painting was executed early into his command, which lasted until 1870. Wilson was a native of Sedgwick, Maine, a small town with deep roots in maritime trade. His father was a farmer, but both he and his brother, along with most of the young men in his district, went to sea -- they are all identified as sailors in the 1860 census. 

Under contract with Daniel Draper & Son, Wilson served on the bark Lemuel under Captain J. W. Friend. In February, 1865, while being towed through the straits of Gibraltar, the Lemuel was driven ashore by gales, and stranded for several days.[1] Friend was relieved, and Wilson assumed command of the ship, which he helmed for the rest of the year. In 1866, Draper gave Wilson command of his own ship, the Fury. 

The evidence of the painting suggests that the Fury was the first Wilson felt he could call his own. For the next four years he led its voyages along trade routes to Spain, France, and North Africa. The painting is in the characteristic style of Joseph Honoré Pellegrin, who executed many paintings of ships off the port of Marseilles. His works typically constitute the only visual record for many of the ships of the era.

Captain Wilson's ledgers name only the ports where he stopped for provisions, but the logs of the Fury are in the collections of the Peabody Essex Museum. In 1871 another bark owned by Daniel Draper & Son, the Scud, suffered a series of mishaps. Under the helm of Captain Crosby, the Scud ran aground on Cape Spartel in August 1870 while carrying 90,368 gallons of refined petroleum valued at $24,926. The vessel lost its rudder and was derelict at sea until towed into Gibraltar. Further damage in October left the Scud waterlogged, and the crew had to abandon ship.[2] Draper sent Wilson to relieve Crosby. He would captain the Scud until 1876 without further incident. 

The ledger is silent as to his activities for the next eight years. Wilson may have taken an extended leave to manage his landed investments. He had bought a parcel of land from neighbors in 1865, and another from his parents in 1867. The 1870s saw him acquiring additional parcels, with a particular flurry of activity between 1877 and 1878, during which time he executed four deeds and signed two mortgages. In 1884, Wilson would return to the sea as the first captain of the Schooner Grace Gower out of Sedgwick, and this would be his last command. Newly built in Calais, Maine, the 120-foot, 241-ton schooner was launched by the firm of Rideout & Lord, bound for the Mexican trade.


From The Daily Eastern Argus, 20 August 1884

Alas, the Grace Gower was an ill-fated ship. In 1885, the chief mate Cyrus E. Edgerly, of Orrington, Maine, fell into the hold while the schooner was loading mahogany at the entrance of the San Pedro; two weeks later, he died of his injuries.[3] In 1890, the ship, then under another’s command, collided with the cruiser Philadelphia in the port of New York; the Philadelphia was unharmed, but the sails and halyards of the Grace Gower were injured.[4] In 1892 the ship ended its short unhappy life at Santa Anna, where it was wrecked on a voyage to Caibarien, Cuba.[5] Before that date, the ship had claimed the life of Captain Wilson. His obituary in the Ellsworth American of Mar. 31, 1888 reads thus:

Capt. SAMUEL H. WILSON. On Thursday of this week, Mar. 29, at Bellevue Hospital in this city [New York], Capt. Samuel H. Wilson of Sedgwick, Maine passed to his eternal rest. Capt. Wilson was in command of the schooner Grace Gower recently arrived here from Mexico. When off Barnegat Mar. 11 and 12, the vessel was caught in the fearful hurricane that raged so fiercely at the time. The sails were blown away, spars broken, some of the crew frostbitten, but by the exercise of fine seamanship, the vessel rode out the gale and 12 days later the property and lives entrusted to Capt. Wilson's care were brought safely into this port, and it appeared only too plainly that the intense strain, physical and mental, together with the exposure, had told heavily on the Captain for after 24 hours he was obliged to be carried to the hospital in an ambulance. He had been a ship master for 25 years, and until the voyage alluded to above, had never met in an accident. His mourning wife and fatherless children have our heartfelt sympathy. -- W. D. Gower

The ledger of cash disbursements for foodstuffs and other supplies, presumably in Wilson’s hand, includes entries for all the ships under his command from 1865 to 1887 – the Lemuel, the Fury, the Scud, and the Grace Gower. With the logbooks held at the Peabody Essex Museum, these materials complete the portrait of the Fury and its captain.


[1] London Times, 15 February 1865, p. 12

[2] Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, 15 August 1870, p. 3; 26 August 1870, p.3; 17 October 1870, p. 3

[3] Lewiston Evening Journal, 1 September 1885, p. 2

[4] Brooklyn Standard-Union, 31 October 1890, p. 1

[5] Baltimore Sun, 20 September 1892, p. 8

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