Thomas Adams Norton portrait
Attributed to Captain Richard G. Luce
Oil on canvas
Gift of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Martha's Vineyard Chapter
This is the only known likeness of Captain Norton, the first master of the whaleship Charles W. Morgan, today the last existing wooden whaleship in the world.
The Morgan, launched in 1841, has strong ties to this Island that go back to her earliest days. The ship was built in New Bedford in 1841 by brothers Jethro and Zachariah Hillman, who learned the trade from their father, a shipwright from Chilmark. The crew on her first voyage included seventeen men from Martha's Vineyard. Norton, her first captain, was from Edgartown.
Norton (1809–1885) was already an experienced captain when the Morgan's owner selected him for the job. Between December 1834 and May 1840 he commanded the whaleships Hector and Alexander Barclay, spending all but fourteen months at sea and returning with 5,333 barrels of sperm oil, 4,500 barrels of whale oil, and forty thousand pounds of bone. The Morgan's first voyage was also successful, and long. It lasted for more than three years. After spending almost the entire ten-year span from 1835 to 1845 at sea, Norton decided that was enough for him. He returned to Edgartown when he retired at the age of thirty-seven.
In 2014 the Charles W. Morgan made her first-ever visit to Martha's Vineyard on a voyage celebrating the whaleship's complete restoration and refitting by Mystic Seaport.