The Fifty Year Debt: The Contentious Voyages of the Ship Benjamin and Samuel, 1760-1761


  • Sandra Webber retired, Freelance author and artist


Years ago I discovered the Hallowell shipwrights of Boston, resulting in a published study of the family’s long-running seventeenth and eighteenth century shipyard. At that time brief mention was made of their extensive Atlantic trading, although a follow-up essay featuring their ship Benjamin and Samuel had been planned. A focused cache of documents reveals the quarrelsome tale of this ship, launched during the French and Indian War (1756-1763) and freighted in cooperation with their London in-laws. Decisions concerning her cargoes set the stage for a family dispute which ran on for decades. Because of this disagreement, their accounts and correspondence were assembled thirty years after the original events and preserved within a larger collection. The story takes us in and out of Boston, London, and Portugal with famous passengers, mixed cargoes, and an uncommon wealth of detail. Revealed are the potential problems associated with merchant shipping in the mid-eighteenth century: slow trans-Atlantic communication; risks associated with purchasing, freighting, and selling cargoes; and the uncertainties of wartime market fluctuations and speculations… and working with relatives.