Biographical and Scope Note
This statement describes the contents of a small collection, primarily of manuscript letters, about the Williams College Lyceum of Natural History expedition to Greenland conducted in the summer of 1860 by Professor Paul A. Chadbourne, who chartered for that purpose the schooner Nautilus, owned and captained by my great-grandfather, Charles Everett Ranlett (1816-1917), then of Thomaston, Maine. Chadbourne, a professor at Williams and later the President of Williams, was, during the spring semester of 1860, a visiting professor at Bowdoin. The members of the expedition were a small group of students, the largest delegation being those from Williams.
The expedition was by no stretch of the imagination a major expedition of exploration, but it is of interest in giving an illustration of what was going on behind the outer limits of discovery and, from a rather different point of view, demonstrating a largely unknown phase of New England college activity in the mid-19th century.
Members of the expedition, in addition to Capt. Ranlett and Prof. Chadbourne, included eleven students from Williams, three from Bowdoin, two from Harvard, and one from Columbia, plus one young man with no college affiliation. (Those not from Williams were required to pay $100 each to take part in the expedition.) The students were:
William P. Alcott (Williams 1861) of Auburndale, Mass.
Arthur Amory (Harvard 1862) of Brookline, Mass.
Copley Amory (Williams 1861) of Boston, Mass.
S. Russell Butler (Williams 1858) of Northampton, Mass.
William W. Chapin (Williams 1860) of Somers, Conn.
S.A. Evans (Bowdoin) of Fryeburg, Maine
J. Augustus Fay, Jr. (Williams 1860) of Elizabeth, N.J.
James H. Fay (Harvard 1859) of Brookline, Mass.
Benjamin Gregory of Jersey City, N.J.
Frederic H. Hicks (Williams 1861) of Bennington Center, Vermont
Edward P. Hopkins (Williams 1864) of Williamstown, Mass
Charles H. Ingalls of North Adams, Mass.
L.W. Morss (Williams 1860) of Red Falls, N.Y.
Neal of Georgia
Matthias Nicoll (Williams 1861) of Shelter Island, N.Y.
Alpheus Spring Packard, Jr. (Bowdoin 1861) of Brunswick, Maine
Walter Poore (Bowdoin) of Andover, Maine
George G. Smith (Williams 1861) of Allegheny, Penn., and
Morris A. Tyng (Williams 1861) of New York City.
The papers, marked in Capt. Ranlett?s handwriting ?Prof. Chadbourne & Letters connected with the Greenland Expedition,? are a small bundle of twenty-seven letters, mostly to Charles Everett Ranlett from Prof. Chadbourne seeking to make arrangements for the expedition to Greenland in the summer of 1860. Chadbourne wrote the bulk of these letters from Brunswick, where he was teaching at Bowdoin for the spring semester of 1860. In the fall of 1860, after the Greenland expedition, Chadbourne returned to Williams. Chadbourne?s proposal of February 1 ?is that you will go as Navigator. We propose to hire a schooner, provision and man it as you please, so that you shall have nothing to do but to tell us where we are.? As plans continued through the spring, Ranlett became more central to the project than the initial letters had suggested, his schooner, the Nautilus, being chartered for the journey. At one time Chadbourne sought a guarantee that they would reach Greenland and that they would be back at Boston by September 20, in time for the fall semester. Ranlett apparently replied that he could guarantee one or the other of these objectives, but not both, so Chadbourne settled in his letter of 2 April on ?a reasonable prospect of seeing Greenland. That is all we can ask.? A payment of $2,000 was agreed upon for chartering the vessel; Chadbourne once asked whether that sum included a payment for Ranlett?s services. Apparently it did. As the time of sailing approached the volume of letters increased and Ranlett began to receive letters about the shipment to Thomaston of various supplies, including receptacles for storing specimens to be collected in Greenland. There is also discussion about the protective containers required for the shipping of gunpowder. Chadbourne wrote on May 28: ?I hope to have 19 or 20 passengers, but it does not look like it, for the courage fails some of them.? There was also correspondence from Charles Amory of Boston, who apparently put up much of the money.
Letters came even more frequently as the sailing date approached. On June 15 Chadbourne wrote: ?Where does the schooner lie? I hope we do not have to sail down the St. George River, do we? I have not the slightest notion whether you came in there or at South T[homaston]. I am anxious to be in the open sea as quick as possible.? On June 18, in the last pre-sailing letter, Chadbourne wrote: ?I am anxious that the young men shall sleep on board the night of the 26th unless you have objections to it, as I want them to be accustomed to their place and have their ?togs? packed before sea-sickness commences . . . I have supposed all along that there would be 18 at least, but as the time draws near their courage fails or the courage of their mothers . . .?
The collection contains nothing written during the journey itself. It continues with five post-expedition letters. One is from William Parker Foulke of Philadelphia, who writes on 18 September to ask whether Ranlett heard in Greenland or vicinity any news about Dr. Hayes?s north pole expedition, which departed the U.S. in July of 1860. (For the Hayes expedition of 1860/1, see Pierre Berton, The Arctic grail (1988, pp. 353-363) and Fergus Fleming Ninety degrees north (New York, 2001, pp. 62-79), where Foulke is identified as a financial backer of Hayes.) Post-expedition letters from Chadbourne deal with the whereabouts (Thomaston, Brunswick, or Williamstown?) of a souvenir kayak and a few of the expedition?s specimens and hint at surprise that Ranlett is charging less than the agreed-upon $2,000. In another letter, Chadbourne apologizes for the article that he has been prevailed upon to write about the expedition for the Williams quarterly: ?if you see any nautical mistakes remember I am no sailor, and if there are any mistakes in facts, remember I was sea sick and now write from memory alone.? And there is a letter of October 3 informing Capt. Ranlett that he has been made an honorary member of Williams?s Lyceum of Natural History. (Later, the diaries of Capt. Ranlett?s son, Frederick Jordan Ranlett, show Capt. Ranlett attending gatherings of the Williams College alumni association, and Chadbourne frequently visited Capt. Ranlett in Auburndale, Mass., Ranlett?s retirement residence.)
The collection also contains two lists of the members of the expedition, one a rather formal and well-written list of 19 names and another undated rough list of 21 names, containing the note, after the first ten names, ?all dead except for last four.?
Additional items are two letters (Christmas 1896, and February 10, 1897) to Capt. Ranlett from Admiral Sir F.L. McClintock who, in the summer of 1860, had used his steamship to pull the Nautilus out of the encroaching ice pack. McClintock, who had discovered the fate of the Franklin expedition, was one of the best-known 19th-century Arctic explorers.
There is also a small envelope on which Capt. Ranlett has written: ?This contains a Greenland Christmas hymn, written by Mrs. Signe Rink wife of the governor of South Greenland. Also a letter from a very intelligent Esquimaux to Mrs. Rink. Presented to me by Mrs. R Aug. 1860 at Godthaab Greenland. CER.? The envelope in fact contains the items mentioned.
Two other items complete the collection, 1) a cabinet card identified as ?Copley Amory of Greenland Party?, and 2) a book of 111 pages illustrated with woodcuts, some colored, entitled Gronlandske folkesagn published in 1860 in Godthaab in Greenlandish and Danish, signed by Capt. Ranlett and identified by him on its paper cover as ?A Greenland curiosity.? This Gronlandske folkesagn is nearly identical in format and style to the periodical Atuagagdluitit in the Lyceum of Natural History?s collections.