Return to Long Island Genealogy
Return to Long Island Genealogy
Island Whaleman's Own Story
by James W. Worth
    I, James M. Worth, was born in Wading River May 26th, 1820.  My parents: David Worth and Cynthia (Jessup when a girl) had a family of ten children.  Huldah, Theron B., Sanford M., David F., James M., Thomas J., Andrew J., Mary C., Gilbert Lafayette, and Cynthia A.  In 1832 my parents moved to Moriches, where I lived until about 1835.  About that time I left my father, mother and home, and went to Sag Harbor to start on a whaling voyage, and ship on board ship Hamilton of that port for the 180th.  I was to share in the proceeds of the oil.  Capt. Wm. Jones, Master, Harvey Robinson, 1st officer, Theron B. Worth, 2nd officer.  We were gone 21 months, most of the time in South Atlantic Ocean.  Caught about 1700 bbls.  Of oil, which made a poor voyage.  My share amounted to $40.00, after paying for my outfits and a suit of clothes, which cost $14.00.  The balance I let J. S. Smith have, and lost the most of it through his rascality.
    I thought I would like steamboating better than whaling.  I went to school the winter of 1837 to Leath Raynor.  In the Spring I went to New York, and shipped on the New Haven line of steamers with Capt. Bartlet Stone for $15.00 per month.  In the Fall I left him and shipped on steamer New York.  Capt. White.  (Old Bully they called him) for New Orleans, via Charlotte, Key West, Pensacola.
     We arrived safe at New Orleans then I shipped on the steamer Walker, Capt. Otaway. Steamed down the Missippi and around to Lake Pontchartram to carry the U. S. mail to Mobile.  I remained on the Walker until the next Spring, then I became sick and soon left New Orleans for New York on brig Long Island - Capt. Alfred Davis.
     I could not work much (for I worked my passage) on account of dysentery which was very bad at times with me.  Arrived at New York about July 1st 1839.  I took passage home with Capt. John Terry, in his sloop.  Arrived at East Moriches dock about 8 P. M. the 5th of July.  I hastened home sick and tired.
     Oh how happy I was to see my parents and home and get my good motherís nursing, which I did until October.  I improved much, but was far from well when I left for New York and took passage on board ship St. Lawrence for New Orleans with some 500 other passengers.  Arrived safe and soon shipped on Steamer Walker again with an old capt. to carry the mail between two cities.
     About the 20th of December, 1840, one cold day, we were racing with Steamer Lady of the Lake up from the shipping (or mouth of Alabama) some five miles below Mobile, when the Walkerís boiler exploded and made terrible havoc on board, killing several and scalding many badly so they died soon after.  I had been standing near the boiler that burst, for nearly four hours.  Just before it took place I passed through the engine room to call the other watch, when the loud report took place.  It was heard miles away.
     Mr. Burk, the mate, and myself soon cleared the boat way and went in pursuit of those that were blown over board and going down with the current.  We soon picked up a boat load of poor sufferers and returned to the wretched steamer.  The Lady of the Lake soon took us in tow to Mobile dock.  I shall never forget that awful time, and never forget to thank my heavenly father for his kind protection to me.
     I remained ship keeper of the Walker for some months.  It was dismal enough for me to remain alone on board the ill fated steamer looking so terrible as she did, but I did so from a sense of duty.  I thought the Lord would protect me still, as he had done through so many dangers seen and unseen.     
     Mobile was a very bad city and many temptations presented themselves to me, but many thanks to my old grandfather Worthís advice to me when I was a boy.  He would say: My son its easier to keep clear than to get clear.  And I always tried to think of it when temptations were near me and also my good motherís advice which has profited me so many times through my life of perils.
     In the Spring I went back to the mail boat again.  The weather being very to in July, I left and shipped in the schooner Marmion for Philadelphia - Capt. Smith, then came to New York by R. Road, and called on my old Capt. Stone.  He said I must go on his new steamer N. Y., which would be finished in a few weeks and was to run from New Haven to Norwich, New London, Orient and Sag Harbor.  I told him I must go home first, but he said no, so I shipped in her, and after her trial trip, we proceeded on our route.
     In Sept., 1841, while at Sag Harbor, the bark Gem Capt. Theron B. Worth, was about ready to sail on a whaling voyage and my brother Theron wanted to ship me as boat steerer for his 1st officer Wm. Payne.  I declined but after much persuasion by the agent, Capt. Cooper, I shipped and bid good bye to steamboating, which I had followed for nearly three years.  The Gem soon sailed with about 27 men on board.  The Capt. Made the best of his way to the Azores Islands and then round Cape Goodhope and so on down to Croyeta Islands in Indian Ocean, where we took about 2400 bbls. Of oil and quantity of bone.
     We made the best of our way home, stopping at St. Helena forty hours to sell the surplus provisions and get recruits.  We had a pleasant passage home.  When we arrived at Sag Harbor, making a fine voyage in about ten months.  The owners were well pleased and praised us much.  I soon left for Moriches to see my friends and parents, after an absence of twenty months.  I did not tarry but a few weeks before I shipped again in the Gem as 2nd officer to go another voyage, and soon left port.  Theron B. Worth master, and Wm. Payne 1st officer.
     We made a handsome voyage down to Crozets Islands again in about 8 ½ months.  Caught 2500 bbls. Of whale oil and about 20,000 lbs whale bone.   We went ashore on the largest island of the Croyeta and killed 50 or 60 sea elephants for their oil.  The islands abound with sea elephants and penquins, for a short time of the year.  Albatross and other beautiful sea birds we found in great abundance.
     I have been in rookerys of acres of penquins after their eggs and had to kick them over in every direction to get them.  We got a boat load of eggs in a short time.  Those beautiful amphibons bird was the finest sight I ever beheld.  No inhabitance on those islands. (Lat. 45 D. Long. 49 E.)  We cut in 28 whales on the voyage and I caught one half of them, which was quite a feather in my cap, for I had two old whalemen to whale against me.  We arrived home about June 1842.
     My brother, Theron stood very high with the ship owners of Sag Harbor.  They offered him a new ship, and wanted me to take command of the Gem, but we concluded to try another voyage together, so we shipped in the Gem the third time.  Theron master and myself 1st officer.  We soon sailed for Croyets Islands again, arriving there and cruising some time, found whales scare, so we soon left for north west coast of America, via of New Zealand, New Holland and Sandwich Islands.
     Arriving on the whale ground (Alaska) we found hales plenty and filled our ship and returned to Sandwich Islands for recruits, and then sailed for home via of Cape Horn and Falkland Islands.  Off the river LaPlata, I struck a large sperm whale, which gave me a fight, nearly eating up my boat and one man was in his mouth but he did not shut down on him.  The Capt. Got a lance at him and set him spouting blood, which soon killed him.  He was a terrible fighter.  Made 100bbls. of oil.  We let our water go and took bread from the casks to put the oil in.  In fact we filled every conceivable thing that would hold oil.  Then sailed for Rio Janerio, where we sold oil to lighten the ship, fer she was so deeply laden we dare not come home in her.
     We soon sailed from this beautiful harbor and pleasant city for there was much to be seen and I enjoyed it exceedingly.  We arrived home after a pleasant 20 months cruise around the world and to the delight of crew and owners.  (Lost one man on the voyage by whale line) Cargo turned out nearly 2800 bbls, a rich voyage in a few days.  I accepted the offer.  Brother Theron took charge of the ship Konohasetts.
     I went home in a few days to Moriches to see my parents.  I enjoyed myself much with old acquaintances.  I formed quite an attachment to Miss Lydia L. Topping, who I married after making another voyage around the world.  My happiness was soon disturbed because it was time to sail again in a few weeks.
     The bark Gem being ready for sea.  I bid good bye and sailed by Montauk Point Aug. 10th, 1845.  George Halsey 1st mate.  Sylvenus Brown 2nd mate and my brother Andrew J. Worth 3rd mate.  My brother Lafayette M. Worth sailed with me as green hand.  He was about 17 years old.  Seven days out I spoke ship Daniel Webster Capt. Curry of Sag Harbor.  Lowered my boat and went on board.  There I saw Edward Topping, my wifeís brother.  Itís the last time I ever saw him, it being his first voyage.
     I concluded to return home and get another mate for Mr. Halsey was sick.  I arrived back to S. H. in just 14 days from the day I sailed.  I soon shipped George Chester in Halseyís place and sailed again.   Seven days out Mr. Brown and myself took a large sperm whale, which made 100bbls. of oil.  I shipped it home from the Azore Islands.  Latitude 14 S.  We took another sperm whale.
     I then made the best of my way round Cape Goodhope and so on through Indian Ocean to New Holland, New Zealand, then took another sperm whale.  He was very old and gave us but little trouble to capture him, although two of the boats was out all night with him.  Next day we cut him in, then proceeded on towards the Society Islands, touched at Emeo and got fruit of various kinds.  The French were at war with Quiun Pommair, as I sailed between Otahita and Emeo, I saw the contending Armies in battle.  The French took Otahita from her and made a naval seaport there.
     I sailed for the Sandwich Islands in a few hours, and a few days after we took four small sperm whales, which made me about 400 bbls. of sperm oil taken on the passage.  Arrived and dropped anchor off Mohe in a fleet of about forty whalers.  I felt myself somewhat flattered when I landed and was told that I was the youngest master (25 years) of a vessel that ever visited these islands, and so that I was commodore of the fleet, for there was not a whale ship that had taken over 150 bbls. and most of them had not taken any oil on their passage out.
     I soon got water and recruits and sailed for the N. W. coast of America (Alaska) where I helped take the previous voyage, but could not find whales until the last part of the season, then we succeeded in taking ten wright whales which made us about 1600 bbls. of whale oil.  The season being up, I left for the Sandwich Islands, and home via of Cape Horn.  Before I rounded the Horn, my hair all came out, caused by sickness.
     I touched at a Cannibal Island for wood, but dare not land.  The natives came off to the ship in large numbers.  I would not allow but a few on board at a time, for they would have killed and eaten us with a relish if a half a chance had been given them.  I bought some of their war implements of them.  They were without exception the largest race of human beings I ever saw.  Average weight about 200 lbs.
     I had a terrible gale from the W. when I rounded Cape Horn.  The seas ran mountains high, and the good bark was bravely sounding before the tempest almost like a bird of the air.
    She was an excellent sea boat.  I sailed from the w. side of the cape to the Falklands Islands in 24 hours, distance about 300 miles.  Took my boat and crew and landed in Burkley Sound, where we found plenty of ducks and geese.  Went into Port Wm. Harbor and found ship Ootario of S. H. Capt. James Green.  Stayed all night with him.  Next day he took his anchor and sailed home.  I soon joined my ship, which was laying off, and on shore all night.
     Took a sperm whale off River La Plata (80bbls.)  Went into Bahia for water and fresh recruits.  Found the most beautiful oranges I ever saw or tasted.  Brought some home with me.  When we arrived the 8th of July, 1847, it being my second voyage around the world.   The owner was well pleased with the amount of oil I had taken, which was 400 sperm and about 1600 of whale, and 16000 lbs. of bone.  The agent said I must take the ship again.  We soon made a bargain and I shipped for 1/16 of the proceeds of another voyage.
    I soon left Sag Harbor to see my parents, who were living in Southold.  In a short time I went to Moriches to visit Miss Lydia L. Topping.  I found her in fine spirits and we were very glad to meet again after so long as absence.  We enjoyed one anotherís society much and soon pledged ourselves to be married, the 17 of Aug. 1847, it being her 21st birthday.
     The ceremony took place in the morning and was pronounced by the Rev. Harris.  Brother Theron and Susan Osborn stood up with us and we had a good time, and a beautiful breakfast.  Brother Theron, Sister Huldah, Brother Lafayette and myself went up from home to Capt. Topping the day before, about 10 a. m.
     My wife and I started on a tour to N. York and Ithica to visit my sister Mary.  Theron, Lafayette and Susan accompanied us to Manor Station, and after about two weeks we returned to Moriches and home, and in four weeks, about the 20th of Sept. as near as I can recollect, I bid my dear wife and friends goodbye and set sail on the Gem for another voyage around the world, without one word of written instructions from my owners.
     My ship was well fitted for a three year cruise.  Elijah Jennings 1st officer, Jeremiah Eldrige 2nd mate and Isaac Steinbrong cooper and shipkeeper.  Augustus Reeve was my boatsteerer.  Had a good crew of 27 men.  I made the best of my way to Sandwich Islands via Cape Horn, touching at the Azore Islands.  Cape Deverd Islands, St. Antonia, saw plenty of Negroes there, so on across the line to Cape Horn, and to Juan Fernanders Islands where Robinson Crusi figured with the goats (that we read about).  I landed to shoot some of the wild goats but could not get near enough to kill them.  Saw plenty and plenty of wild horses and jackasses.  Caught a fine mess of fish..  Peaches abound there some seasons of the year.
     I then proceeded for the Gallopaqoes Islands.  Did not stop, but whalemen frequently do as those islands abound with land snopin (a turtle).  From there I made a straight course to the Sandwich Islands, where I took plenty of  fresh vegetables on board, and proceeded for the Japan Sea.  Killed one sperm whale on the passage, but lost him in the night.
     Arriving at the straits of Triqar, which separates the islands of Jesseo and Nipon.  Upon entering the straits at 8 P. M., we had a grand sight of two burning volcanoes.  They were in full action, vomiting out fire and lava high in the air.  It truly was an awful but a beautiful sight to behold.  On the right hand side as you enter, it is called Volcano Bay - rightly named.
     We proceeded on through the narrow straits accompanied with many Japanese junks, and a hard wind blowing after us.  Next morning we were one half way through and by 12 M. the Gem was in the Japan Sea.  The country looked rough and barren.  It is about 112 miles through the straits.
     This was in June 1848, about the same time that gold was discovered in California.  After cruising a few days, I sailed across the sea to the E. coast of Tarary, and in the lattude of 41 N. I found whales, and a great many cow and calf whales. Which were bad to capture.  However, we succeeded in taking over 30 of them, which made us a good voyage.  I landed among the Tartars one day, the ship being close in shore, found them rather treacherous.  Did not give them an opportunity to take us, and march us about the country as they did Capt. Sylvester Smith and crew for a show to the people.  ------them shou- 10 days before they were -------to return to their ships.

 (The following information was given to me, Wilfred W. Worth, by my father, George Lafayette Worth, to complete my grandfatherís autobiography.)

    The ship Gem was heavily loaded and they set sail for the U. S. A. typhoon overtook them and they were shipwrecked on a small island.  When the storm subsided they salvaged navigating instruments, whale boats, etc.  In a few days they chartered a course for an island where missionaries were located.  Landing there, they awaited a supply ship which contacted the island every 6 months.  Boarding the supply ship, they sailed for San Francisco arriving there the latter part of 1849.  My grandfather proceeded to the gold fields of California and was fortunate in a making a gold strike.  He left California the first part of 1851, taking a ship down the California coast to the Isthmus of Panama.  Crossing the Isthmus by packing train, he took a ship up the Atlantic coastline to New York arriving in Moriches, Long Island the latter part of 1851.
    The family had given him up for lost as no word had been received for him since leaving on his last voyage in 1847.My father, George Lafayette Worth was born in my grandfatherís absence.  He was three years old when his father returned.

For anyone interested there is a related page on Newsday's LI History entitled In Search of Whales http://www.lihistory.com/5/hs508a.htm

This article first appeared in The Long Island Forum April 1949 - no copyright data was found