The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Benson, Charles A., 1830-1881
Charles A. Benson (1830-1881) Papers
.25 linear feet (1 box)
This collection consists of four journals kept by Charles A. Benson, a black steward, aboard the merchant bark Glide during voyages to Zanzibar, Mozambique, and Madagascar.
Scope and Content Note
This collection consists of four journals kept by Charles A. Benson, a black steward, aboard the merchant bark Glide during voyages to Zanzibar, Mozambique, and Madagascar. The journals cover almost two decades. Written during lengthy sea voyages from Benson's home port of Salem, Massachusetts, to trading destinations throughout the Indian Ocean and Red Sea, the journals were intended to be private, for personal reflection. In the journals, Benson describes life aboard the ship, health problems, and family matters. These journals are unique, as they are one of the few existing narratives composed by a black mariner in the nineteenth century.
Charles Augustus Benson was born into the oldest and largest black family in Framingham, Massachusetts, on January 26, 1830, to George and Elizabeth (Simpson) Benson. His great-great grandparents were both brought to Massachusetts as slaves from Africa; their son William, Charles' great-grandfather, attained his own freedom shortly before Charles' grandfather, Abel, was born in 1766. By the time Charles was eighteen he had found a position as either a cordwainer or shoemaker, and moved from his family home in Framingham to Natick. In February 1848, he married Martha Ann Thompson, and their daughter Henrietta was born in March 1852. Later in 1852, Charles left his daughter and pregnant wife in Natick, and moved to Salem, Massachusetts. Mary, Charles' second daughter was born in early 1853; she never knew her father.
Soon after his arrival in Salem, Charles got a job with a black oyster dealer and restaurateur, James Sherman. Charles married his second wife, Margaret Jenny Francis, in early 1853, although he was never legally divorced from Martha. Jenny was the daughter of Joseph Francis, a mariner. In October 1853, their daughter Fransisca G. was born. In need of greater financial opportunity, Charles accepted the job as cook and steward aboard the merchant brig Gem, which was bound for Canada in early 1854. Finding success as a mariner, Charles would also serve on board the trading bark Miquelon, the brig M. Shepard, the bark Elizabeth Hall, the bark Nubia, the bark Wyman, the bark Swallow, the bark Taria Topan, and the bark Glide.
After ten years at sea, Charles returned home to Salem in 1864, where he remained until the summer of 1875. While in Salem, Charles worked as a cook and in other low-paying jobs. During this time, Charles and Jenny had four more children: Charles W., Ida Lois, Hannah J., and William Henry D. Not finding enough financial opportunities on shore, in the summer of 1875 Charles accepted the position as steward, returning to a life at sea. He died from an illness at sea on July 12, 1881.
This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.
Benson, Charles A., 1830-1881
Restrictions on Access
This collection is open for research use.
Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.
Charles A. Benson (1830-1881) Papers, MSS 15, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.
This material was found in the collection.
Collection processed by Hilary Streifer, September 2014.
Sokolow, Michael. Charles Benson, Mariner of Color in the Age of Sail. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003.