Published June 14. 2014 4:00AM
Carleton Landers has a keen interest in the Charles W. Morgan.
His great-grandfather, Thomas C. Landers, was the seventh captain of the whaleship, and Captain Landers' second wife, Lydia Goodspeed, was the first woman to sail aboard the ship.
Now 85 and living in Niantic, Carleton Landers has invested considerable time in researching his ancestry and the 173-year-old Morgan, the last surviving whaleship of a fleet that once numbered more than 2,700. He's unearthed information about the overboard death of Captain Landers' son, and because of his relationship to the ship, he was able to secure a small piece of the Morgan's original hull.
"Doesn't everybody's past interest them?" asked Landers, explaining his devotion to researching his Morgan connection. "I would think so. I mean, you like to know where you came from, don't ya? I think so."
Landers felt a particular closeness to his past, since he was raised by his paternal grandparents when his own parents couldn't afford to keep him.
"It was the Depression, and you know, people didn't have money, and I guess they just dropped me off at my grandparents and that was it," Landers said.
His grandfather died when he was 7 years old, but he lived with his grandmother until he joined the Navy at 17.
He said as a boy, "the old-timers" told him all kinds of stories about Captain Landers, although he doesn't remember all of them. One story he does recall, in part because it is so well documented, is the death of Captain Landers' son.
Captain Landers had two sons with his first wife, who died of lung disease. After her death the captain returned to his parents' home and spent time with family friend Lydia Goodspeed, Landers said. They were married in October 1863 in New Bedford, when she was 21 and he was 46, according to Karlee Etter, who role-plays Lydia at the Mystic Seaport.
"I guess they liked each other; he offered her a trip and she fell for it," said Landers.
That was the seventh whaling voyage of the Morgan, during the Civil War, from 1863 to 1867. Captain Landers and his 14-year-old son, Arthur, started the trip without the other son, perhaps because he was involved in school, said Etter. Initially, Lydia Landers also stayed behind because the company that owned the ship didn't approve of women on whalers, according to "The Charles W. Morgan" by Edouard A. Stackpole.
Lydia Landers either traveled across the country by stagecoach and train and then by ship from Panama to San Francisco to Honolulu to meet her new husband, or perhaps all the way by ship from the Northeast to Honolulu. Once there, they headed to the Pacific and other whaling regions in December 1864, said Etter.
"I am infatuated with the idea of women at sea with their husbands," she said. "It just blows my mind that they would be so courageous and turn their back on the status quo and do that."
A crew was typically 28 to 32 men, so a wife would have been surrounded by men, she said. Only five whaling captains' wives ever sailed on the Morgan.
It is unclear whether Lydia Landers boarded the vessel before or after the death of the captain's son, but experts say her arrival helped to calm the captain who had difficulty running the Morgan after the tragedy.
A brief, four-line entry in the ship's log outlines how Arthur, 15 or 16 at the time, fell overboard while the ship was tacking.
"All means possible were used to save him but with no success," the log noted.
He drowned July 15, 1864.
"Because the captain witnessed the death of his son, that totally affected his ability to be able to be an effective captain ...," said Etter.
The captain put crew members in iron chains for one or two days - some even seven days - for disobeying orders, she said. There are no records of him whipping anyone as other captains had a reputation of doing, she said.
Captain Landers also had a personality conflict with his first mate, Charles Chase. There is a one-page entry in the logbook in which the captain explains his side of a disagreement and states he has relieved his first mate of his duties and confined him to his quarters until he's able to follow the captain's orders. The captain implies the first mate was young, inexperienced and disrespectful, said Etter, who added there is no evidence Lydia Landers was involved in the dispute.
In 1866, Lydia Landers gave birth in Guam to their first son, whom they named Arthur after the child who drowned. The family returned to New Bedford on June 12, 1867, and had five more children in Mattapoisett, Mass., including Carleton's grandfather, Frank.
Carleton Landers said he is always looking for Landers connections on ancestry websites.
"I was down in the Cape one time and I met two people there and their father was Arthur Landers," he said. "He was still alive, he was in his 90s and they wanted to take me over to his house and it was kinda late at night, it was like 9 or 10 o'clock. I thought this guy is probably sleeping right now and I don't want to wake him up because he is 90-something years old and I didn't go. I wish I had gone now because I never did get to see him."
That was about 20 years ago, he said.
Researching ancestry requires patience and is sometimes expensive, said Carleton Landers. He's visited Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard looking for gravestones and other information.
"And it's time consuming when you go to a town hall," he said. "It's time consuming. Once in a while you get a real friendly one and they want to help you out and they'll go right along with you and help you look in the books, and the next one, 'It's over there.' They don't give a damn about anything you know, so it depends on who you meet, but I have met a lot of interesting people."
Carleton Landers regularly keeps his eye on the Morgan. When he was 12 he visited the ship when it was berthed in sand in Dartmouth, Mass. Approximately 18 months ago, he visited the Mystic Seaport while the ship was being restored and asked to get a piece of its planking.
A worker said someone else had made a similar request and offered $5,000, and he had told the visitor, "No way."
But Carleton Landers said another worker heard his request, called him aside and asked him a few questions.
Landers told him who his great-grandfather was and the worker gave him a piece of the ship's hull that had been sitting on his desk.
Today, Landers displays that piece of wood in a glass and wood showcase he built for it and continues his research.
"I am still looking up stuff. I get heck about it all the time because my wife doesn't understand; (she says) 'What do you care about those people? They are all gone. What are you going to do? They didn't leave you nothing. Why are you so interested in that?'" he said.
"I would like to know where I came from. Wouldn't you?" he asks.