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Merchant Mariners Muster

From the late 1700s to the early twentieth century, tens of thousands of merchant sailors worked tirelessly aboard Maine ships transporting and delivering cargoes between ports around the world. It was an extremely hard and often hazardous occupation, and the men and women who chose it labored for the most part in relative obscurity, their identities relegated to crew lists, pay records and the other essential paperwork of the ship’s owners – UNTIL NOW!

Merchant Mariners Muster is an online repository of information about those common sailors of yesteryear extracted from millions of pages of shipping company and personal documents that are maintained in Maine Maritime Museum’s library vaults. The papers include numerous Maine sea captains’ business papers, crew lists and voyage accounts, some ship owners’ and customs house records, and a shipping agent’s records. Collection highlights include important and revealing correspondence between captains and owners, correspondence with families, construction details of ships, detailed documentation of port visits and charter, cargo and insurance information.

Merchant Mariners Muster exists thanks to the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives awards program of the Council on Library and Information Resources, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which was created to support the identification and cataloging of special collections and archives of high scholarly value that are difficult or impossible to locate.  Vital additional funding for the project was provided by The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

Today (2013) the database contains only data from the 45 manuscript collections of the original grant-funded project. Soon, we plan to add data from other collections in our holdings.

Although all the collections are Maine-related, many of the source documents are records of travels to major and minor ports all over the world, and therefore contain names of mariners who signed aboard those Maine ships.

The sailors whose identities are contained in Merchant Mariners Muster may have been common sailors, but the work they performed was anything but common.

Maine Maritime Museum