Marine Society of the City of New York Records
The collection is approximately 30 linear feet and includes historical documents and memoirs, biographical and membership information, correspondence, financial records, invoices, ship manifests, charter parties, mortgage papers, photographs, maps, board minutes, and log books. Of note, the collection includes the original 1770 charter and a letter addressed to the Society signed by George Washington.
Luce Library Archivist is working on a revision project to clarify the intellectual description of the Marine Society records and to bring the finding aid in line with current standards, including Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS).
In November 1769, thirty-two people met in the Exchange Building to discuss the formation of a society to provide relief for distressed ship masters, their widows and children, and to promote maritime knowledge. A committee was appointed to draw up articles, which served as the basis of the charter granted by King George III in April 1770 (the organization was originally registered as “The Marine Society of the City of New York in the Province of New York in America”). During the Revolutionary War, Society members could be found in both loyalist groups and the Sons of Liberty. After the war, in 1786, by Act of Legislature, the Society became “The Marine Society of the City of New York, in the State of New York.”
Early members of the Society included prominent merchants and attorneys as well as ship captains. Leonard Lispenard (1714 -1790), the Society’s first president, was a member of New York City's revolutionary committees that seized control of the city after the American Revolutionary War broke out, and led a small militia that seized a British supply ship in the harbor. Alexander Hamilton was a Charter Member, and early honorary members included President George Washington and New York Governor DeWitt Clinton.
The Marine Society of New York played a central role in the establishment of SUNY Maritime College (then the New York Nautical School) in 1874, and the Sailors’ Snug Harbor retirement home, built on Staten Island in the 1830s for “aged, decrepit, and worn out” sailors. The President and Vice-President of the Marine Society serve, by office, as members of the Trustees of Sailors' Snug Harbor. In 1854 the Society also founded the Mariner's Family Home on Staten Island to provide for the wives and relatives of seamen.
In 1882 the Marine Society purchased the Seaman's Retreat, Staten Island's first hospital (originally founded in 1831) and leased it to the U.S. government. On the top floor of the main building in 1887, a young doctor in the Marine Hospital Service, Joseph J. Kinyoun, set up a lab, creating the original National Institutes of Health (the center was moved to Washington in 1902). The federal government acquired the Seaman's Retreat in 1903 and the proceeds from the sale were shared equally by the Marine Society, the Mariner’s Family Asylum, and the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children of Seamen.
The Marine Society has provided assistance to over 5,000 distressed shipmasters, their widows and orphans. Today, the organization continues to thrive, dedicating itself to the founding principles set forth in its charter over two hundred years ago.