Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

Robert Jack


Following are copies of original letters written by Captain Robert Jack from the Maine Maritime Museum, Bath, Maine, provided by author/historian Marilyn L. Darnell of the Jack House in San Luis Obispo. The Jack House is in the National Register of Historic Places.

While my focus is on Robert Edgar Jack of San Luis Obispo, California, while visiting Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, Maine, I found letters of his father, Capt. Robert Jack who was the most tenured employee of the Sewall shipbuilding company.

I have compiled some 70 transcribed letters of Capt. Robert Jack; his routes took him all over the world. There are also copies of some letters in his own hand. Besides San Francisco he went to such ports of call Liverpool and Port Harford (now Avila Beach). His letters contain details of life on board as well as his family left behind in Maine, which reveal the family side of a sea captain. 

Marilyn L. Darnell

Sewall & Co. were shipbuilders and owners of a large coastwise fleet of four, five, and six masted schooners, all built in Bath. Messrs. Dearborn & Co. were Sewall's agents in San Francisco. The evolution of that sailing-ship fleet was forced out of existence by foreign competition.

October 4, 1879, San Luis Obispo Tribune, San Luis Obispo, California, U.S.A.

Capt. Robert Jack, father of R. E. Jack of this city, arrived in San Luis on Tuesday, direct from his home in Bowdoinham, Maine. Capt. Jack's visit to this coast combines business with pleasure. Upon his return he will take charge of the clipper ship Indiana, now loading at San Francisco with produce of our State. He will sail hence to Liverpool, and thence to Portland, Maine. Capt. Jack is a hardy, hearty specimen of New England manhood and although upwards of sixty years of age appears to be as active and vigorous as his son.

The Indiana was built by E. & A. Sewall, at Bath, Maine, and was launched October 31, 1876. She was 208:9 feet by 40 by 23:9 feet and registered 1488 tons. She was owned by her builders until 1898 when the Alaska Packers Association of San Francisco purchased her for operation in connection with their salmon canneries in Alaska.

October 8, 1879, San Francisco
Ship Indiana of Bath, Maine.

Captain Robert Jack. October 8, 1879.

October 8, 1879, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Wheat and Freights: The list of disengaged tonnage at this sport serviceable for the grain trade is now practically reduced to three vessels, viz:

Name Rig Tons
Sintram American ship 1,674
Indiana American ship 1,488
Fresno American bark 1,245

By throwing in the American bark Victor, 696 tons, the only other vessel at all available, we would still have but 5103 tons, as against over 70,000 tons on the same date last year. It naturally follows that the remarkably small number of vessels disengaged In connection with the very encouraging foreign advices regarding the grain markets, should stimulate freights somewhat. The above-named vessels are all wooden, and it is probable that an offer of 70s to Liverpool direct, no options, would not be refused for one or more of them and it is not Improbable that before getting through the list that anything less than 80s would meet with a refusal. This is how the case now stands in respect to freights. With regard to the holders of Wheat there is a corresponding firmness, they evidently meaning "business," with no disposition to be caught lagging behind. This statement may be verified by a perusal of this day's market report. At this time a year ago wooden vessels were quoted at £1 15s (a) 17s to Liverpool direct, and iron £2.

October 25, 1879, San Francisco
Ship Indiana

Captain Robert Jack. October 25, 1879.

November 5, 1879, San Francisco

Captain Robert Jack in San Francisco, November 5, 1879.

November 9, 1879, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

ALONG THE WHARVES: The ship Indiana goes up to Vallejo tomorrow to load for Cork.

December 3, 1879, San Francisco.
From the Ship Indiana.

Captain Robert Jack, San Francisco. Ship Indiana, December 1879.

December 4, 1879, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Along the Wharves: The ship Indiana and the bark Brazos sail this morning -- the former for Cork, and the latter for New York.

December 5, 1879, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Sailed: Ship Indiana, Jack. Queenstown.

October 29, 1880, San Francisco.
From the Ship Indiana.

Letters of Captain Robert Jack. October 29, 1880. San Francisco.
Letter from Captain Robert Jack. Ship Indiana. San Francisco, October 29, 1880.

November 6, 1880, San Francisco.
From the Ship Indiana.

Letters from Captain Robert Jack, San Francisco, November 1880.

Captain Robert Jack Correspondence. San Francisco, November 6, 1880.

November 12, 1880, San Francisco.
From the Ship Indiana.

Letters from Captain Robert Jack. October 12, 1880. November 25, 1880, November 27, 1880, December 2, 1880 , Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.


From Union Street Wharf
the A 1 Clipper Ship


JACKS . . . Master

This splendid vessel is well known, and will receive Quick Dispatch. Having large engagements shippers will please make early application for balance of freight.

JOHN ROSENFELD, 302 California street,

Consignees in New York, Messrs. Sutton & Co.

December 10, 1880, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Cleared: December 9 -- Ship Indiana, Jack, New York: John Rosenfeld.

December 25, 1880, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

Eastern and Foreign Markets

New York, December 24th

WOOL -- The demand for wool keeps up well for the season. Business has been larger since the commencement of the month than in any previous December on record. The transactions this week have been some 3,350,000 lbs, including 1,000,000 lbs of fall California, to arrive per ship Indiana, that left San Francisco December 10th.

Washed fleeces are a shade easier, as quite a number of manufacturers are about trying to bear down prices, and in some instances have picked up lots of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin at some concession, but generally speaking all kinds of wool are held with considerable firmness. For medium fleeces, there has been a better feeling. Reasonable lots are difficult to find, except at some advance on recent prices. Combing and delaine fleeces are quiet, but this is in consequence of the small stock...

The Authority to Sail.The Authority to Sail: The History of U.S. Maritime Licenses and Seamen's PapersThe Authority to Sail.
Robert Stanley Bates, George Marsh (Editor), John F. Whiteley (Forward) (Batek Marine Publishing, 2011; Nominated in 2012 for a Pulitzer Prize)
This book depicts important aspects of our maritime history as a result of original research done by the author, Commodore Bates, the holder of an unlimited master's license who has enjoyed a distinguished fifty-year career in both the Coast Guard and the American Merchant Marine.

The U.S. Coast Guard issues all Captain Licenses for U.S. Ports.
Note: Other countries have different regulations, i.e. the RYA (Royal Yachting Association), conducts certification for Britain and Ireland. As of 2011, they did not recognize the USCG certification; certification through their courses was required.

Master Unlimited is a licensed mariner in ultimate command of a vessel any gross tons. The captain is responsible for its safe and efficient operation, including cargo operations, navigation, crew management and ensuring that the vessel complies with local and international laws. All persons on board, including officers and crew, other shipboard staff members, passengers, guests and pilots, are under the captain's authority and are his or her ultimate responsibility. The STCW defines the Master as Person having command of the ship.

The Sea Chart
The Illustrated History of Nautical Maps and Navigational ChartsThe Sea Chart.
The Sea Chart.The Sea Chart.
John Blake
The sea chart was one of the key tools by which ships of trade, transport and conquest navigated their course across the oceans. Herein is a history and development of the chart and the related nautical map, in both scientific and aesthetic terms, as a means of safe and accurate seaborne navigation. 150 color illustrations including the earliest charts of the Mediterranean made by 13th-century Italian merchant adventurers, as well as 18th-century charts that became strategic naval and commercial requirements and led to Cook's voyages in the Pacific, the search for the Northwest Passage, and races to the Arctic and Antarctic.

Get Your Captain's License. Fifth Edition Get Your Captain's License. Fifth Edition. Charlie  Wing.
Charlie Wing
Considered the quickest, easiest, and least expensive way to prepare for the U.S. Coast Guard captain's ratings exams required for anyone who takes paying passengers on a boat, and useful for serious boaters who want to save money on insurance. 350 pages of seamanship and navigation tutorials. More than 1,500 questions and answers from the Coast Guard exams. Includes an interactive CD-ROM with all 14,000 questions and answers in the USCG database, so you can take an unlimited number of practice exams

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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