59 School Street, Box 1310, Edgartown MA 02539 - 508.627.4441
Martha's Vineyard Museum MV Museum

A Finding Aid to the John M. Leavens and Catboat Association Collection, 1902-1994, 2010, 2013, undated

Descriptive Summary

Repository Martha's Vineyard Museum, Gale Huntington Research Library
59 School Street
P.O. Box 1310
Edgartown, MA 02539
Call Number RU 457
Creator Leavens, John M., 1907-1987
Title John M. Leavens and Catboat Association Collection
Date [inclusive] 1902-1994, 2010, 2013, undated
Extent 2 boxes (1.008 cubic feet)
Location For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's staff.
Language The materials are in English.
Abstract The collection contains materials related John Leavens, his research on Catboats, and his affiliations with the Catboat Association of Martha's Vineyard.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Access to some of the bound volumes of Catboat Association Bulletins acquired in 2001 is limited due to preservation concerns. Please contact the Chief Curator for further information regarding the availability of these materials.

Use and Reproduction Restrictions

Requests to reproduce material from this collection should be directed to the library's staff. Reproduction fees may apply.

Preferred Citation

Martha's Vineyard Museum, RU 457, John M. Leavens and Catboat Association Collection.

Acquisition Information

Examples include the following:

  • Series I includes photographs and negatives of Manual Swartz Roberts, the Chappaquiddick ferry and snapshots of Oscar Pease scalloping, the Gay Head lifeboat and other subjects, gift of Mrs. John Leavens, October 16, 1992. (Accession no. 1992.087).[Donation]
  • Gay Head Museum materials were donated by Mrs. John Leavens in 1997. (Accession no. 1997.016). [Donation]
  • Approximately 104 photographs of catboats, Menemsha, Menemsha Creek, Menemsha Basin and specifications for the catboat Goldenrod, gifted by Mr. and Mrs. John Leavens, October 24, 1986. (Accession no. 1986.055). [Donation]
  • The immediate source of acquisition and date of accession of the remainder of the materials in Series I are unknown, however they were created by John M. Leavens and it is possible that they formed part of the 1986 donation. Series II materials gifted by Marion Leavens, August 20, 2001 and October 17, 2001. (Accession no. 2001.043).[Donation]


  • John Leavens: Founder No. 1's friends remember….Catboat Association. Bulletin 83 (June 1987).

Publication Information

Martha's Vineyard Museum

Gale Huntington Research Library
59 School Street
P.O. Box 1310
Edgartown, MA 02539

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared and machine-encoded by Clint Johnson in August 2015.

Related Materials

Related Materials

  • See also, publications including; The Catboat Book, by John M. Leavens (Camden, Me.: Published for the Catboat Association, by the International Marine Pub. Co., 1973), (Accession no. 1974.003)
  • See also, loose issues of the Catboat Association Bulletin, (Accession no. 2001.043)
  • See also, oral history interviews with Marion Leavens, conducted by Linsey Lee, 2002 and 2003. Additionally, the oral history department holds recordings created by John M. Leavens in the course of his research on Menemsha history and catboats

Index Terms

Corporate Name(s)

  • Mystic Seaport, Inc.


  • Black-and-white photographs
  • Bulletins
  • Manuscripts
  • Negatives

Geographic Name(s)

  • Aquinnah (Mass.)
  • Chilmark (Mass.)
  • Cottage City (Mass.)
  • Edgartown (Mass.)
  • Gay Head (Mass.)
  • Oak Bluffs (Mass.)

Personal Name(s)

  • Cook, Marshall
  • Cornell, Enoch
  • Larsen, Daniel L.
  • Norton, Harry F.
  • Parke, Ward
  • Pease, Oscar C., 1912-1995
  • Plummer, Henry M., 1865-
  • Poole, Emily H.
  • Swartz, Manuel
  • Richardson, Allen


  • Boats and boating
  • Catboats--History
  • Catboats--United States--Periodicals
  • Docks
  • Dories (Boats)
  • Fish traps
  • Fishing
  • Lifeboats
  • Sailboats
  • Sailing
  • Scows

Biography/Historical Note

John MacDonald Leavens was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1907. Leavens attended the University of Vermont and obtained a law degree from the Harvard Law School. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, rising to the rank of colonel. In 1932, he married Marion (Pinkie) Wright Backus Leavens, 1907-2008. The pair lived in Summit, New Jersey and had a summer home called Roxbury, in Chilmark, Massachusetts overlooking Menemsha Creek. They raised three sons; John, Peter and Douglas. Leavens was a management expert and from 1952 to 1971, served as Executive Director of the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit, civic watchdog group in New York City. After his retirement in 1971, John Leavens and his wife moved to Jungapeo, Mexico for the winter months, but they ultimately settled in Naples, Florida. John and Marion Leavens were avid sailors and plied Vineyard waters in their Crosby catboat Pinkletink. In 1962, John Leavens co-founded the Catboat Association with Paul and Mollie Birdsall. He served as its secretary until 1981 and also edited the organization's Bulletin. Leavens' interest in local history and the catboat led him to publish several articles in the National Fisherman (1969) and the Dukes County Intelligencer (1983 and 1986) regarding Menemsha and Martha's Vineyard catboats. He also edited The Catboat Book (1973), and authored a volume titled, The Catboat Era at Newport, Rhode Island (2005). Leavens was a decoy collector and interested in the restoration of classic Rolls Royce automobiles. John M. Leavens died in Naples on May 5, 1987 at the age of 80. He is buried at the Abel's Hill Cemetery in Chilmark. Marion W. B. Leavens died in Naples on July 3, 2008, at the age of 100.

Scope and Content of Collection

In the course of his extensive research on the catboat, Leavens conducted interviews with catboat builders, sailors and enthusiasts and he gathered original photographs and copy prints from a variety of sources. These included Catboat Association members, institutional archives and private collections. Leavens did research at the at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum Hart Nautical Collections, Mystic Seaport, Inc. and he was allowed to reproduce images from the collections of Edith Blake, Marshall Cook, Ward Parke, Henry M. Plummer, Mrs. Everett A. Poole, Allen Richardson and many others. A number of the images in this collection were reproduced in The Catboat Book (1973) and the Catboat Association Bulletin, others were collected as illustrations to an unpublished manuscript, Catboats and the Fisheries of Lobsterville and Menemsha, (1966). This manuscript formed the basis for a November 1983 Dukes County Intelligencer article titled;  When Menemsha was Creekville, and later February 1986 articles;  Up-Island Catboats and  When Power Came to the Cat. The bulk of the images in this collection are copy prints, created in the 1950s or 1960s. They are reproductions of historic photographs and postcards dating from the 1890s through the 1940s. There are a few contemporary images shot by Leavens in the 1960s. The collection also contains research notes, manuscripts, drafts, correspondence, clippings and black-and-white photographs created by John M. Leavens from the 1960s through the 1980s. It also includes primary source material related to Harry F. Norton and the catboat Victor, which Leavens received from Sonny Packer, via Oscar Pease. The photographic images in the collection were gifted by John and Marion Leavens, in several accruals over the years, were separated from the textual materials at the time of accession or sometime thereafter. Whenever possible these photographs have been reunited with the textual collections however it was not possible to identify from institutional records all of the images which were originally gifted. Only those images which bear the donor's names, accession numbers related to their gifts or date stamps which match other items gifted by the Leavens family are included in this collection. Other images remain integrated with the museum's photograph collection. The collection also contains publications of the Catboat Association, including bound volumes of the organization's Bulletin, 1962-1982, indices for the Bulletin (no. 1-54 and 58-90), and Yearbooks Listing Members and Their Boats, 1977-1985, as well as an essay and several black-and-white photographs. The Bulletin was initiated by John M. Leavens to allow members to exchange information on catboats, association activities and summer racing schedules. The periodicals include; historical essays on catboats and catboat builders, articles on vessel design and construction, how-to explanations, race results, member lists, lists of catboat owners, memorials, anecdotes and classified advertisements. The issues of the Bulletin in this series were professionally bound for John M. Leavens. In some instances they include annotations, drawings, hand-drawn maps, blueprints, correspondence, black-and-white photographs, color photographs, newsletters, entry blanks, clippings and other ephemera addressed to John Leavens. Due to the presence of these archival materials, the volumes have been retained with the archival collection. From 1962 through the early 1970s, John Leavens served as editor, publisher and frequent contributor to the Bulletin. Eventually other members of the association became involved in its production. Early Bulletins consisted of typescript text with few illustrations. Over time, Leavens solicited photographs from association members which were incorporated with the text and bulletins took on a more professional appearance. The collection also includes a volume titled,  The Design Elements of a Catboat, by Fenwick C. Williams. Williams' articles were published in installments in the Catboat Association Bulletin between June 1964 and June 1967. Several Bulletins, 1975-1985, also contained bound, annual membership rosters tucked into pockets affixed inside the rear cover boards. These have been removed to separate folders for preservation reasons. In addition, the series includes a typescript essay,  Some Points of the Compass, by S. A. Mitchell, 1982, and four black-and-white photographs from John M. Leavens' collection. Images depict catboats on Menemsha Creek in 1903, the steamboats Gay Head and Nantucket at the steamboat wharf at Nantucket in 1898, the catboat Faustina at Oak Bluffs, circa 1875-1900, and catboats racing off the Oak Bluffs steamship pier. Loose issues of the Bulletin from the same accession were transferred to the library collections by a previous staff member. Loose ephemera found interleaved in several of the bound periodicals were removed and filed with the collection.


The Collection is arranged by accession number and therein alphabetically by folder title.

Contents of Collection

Box Folder

Copy of Goldenrod (Catboat) Specifications and photograph, undated 

1 1

Photographs of Daniel L. Larsen, undated 

1 2

Photographs of Historical images of Dutcher Dock Dedication, Menemsha and Catboats, 1964 December, undated 

1 3

Photographs of Menemsha in the Snow and Ice, 1966 February 

1 4

Photographs of Menemsha Creek, Creek Hill, and Menemsha Catboats, 1950s-1960s, undated 

1 5

Photographs of Menemsha Catboats and Anna W. (Catboat), undated 

1 6

Photographs of Menemsha Creek Postcards and Creekville Post Office, undated 

1 7

Suggested Illustrations for Catboats and the Fisheries of Menemsha and Lobsterville, undated 

1 8

Suggested Illustrations for Catboats and the Fisheries of Menemsha and Lobsterville, undated 

1 9

Negatives of Chappaquiddick Ferry and Manuel Swartz Roberts, 1950-1960 

1 10

Snapshots of Gay Head lifeboat, Schooner and Hunting, 1950-1960 

1 11

Snapshots of Oscar Pease Scalloping Aboard the Vanity, 1965 February 

1 12

Gay Head Museum Poster and Clippings, 1960 or before 

1 13

Index, Catboat Association Bulletin No. 1-51 (1962 January-1976 November), circa 1976 

1 14

Supplemental Index to the Catboat Association Bulletin, No. 52-54 (1977 March-November), circa 1977, undated 

1 15

Index, Catboat Association Bulletin No. 58-90, 1990 January 15 

1 16

Loose Materials from Bulletins, 1965-1994 

1 17

Photographs, undated 

1 18

Preservation photocopies from Bulletins, 2013 

1 19

Preservation photocopies from Bulletins, 2013 

1 20

Some Points of the Compass, 1982 March 17 
Author/Creator:  Mitchell, S.A.

1 21

Yearbook Listing Members and their Boats, 1975 

1 22

Yearbook Listing Members and their Boats, 1976 

1 23

Yearbook Listing Members and their Boats, 1977 

1 24

Yearbook Listing Members and their Boats, 1978 

1 25

Yearbook Listing Members and their Boats, 1981 

1 26

Yearbook Listing Members and their Boats, 1982 

1 27

Yearbook Listing Members and their Boats, 1985 

1 28

Catboats and the Fisheries of Lobsterville and Menemsha, 1966 
Author/Creator:  Leavens, John M.

2 1

Catboats and the Fisheries of Lobsterville and Menemsha, 1966 
Author/Creator:  Leavens, John M.

2 2

Catboats and the Fisheries of Lobsterville and Menemsha, 1966 
Author/Creator:  Leavens, John M.

2 3

Catboats and the Fisheries of Lobsterville and Menemsha copy, undated 

2 4

Catboats in Japan, 1968 
Author/Creator:  Leavens, John M.

2 5

Catboats and Other Vineyard Recollections of Manuel Swartz Roberts, undated 
Author/Creator:  Leavens, John M.

2 6

Copies of Harry F. Norton Records, undated 

2 7

Correspondence and Notes, 1981, 1984, undated 

2 8

Correspondence between Leavens and Joseph Chase Allen, 1967 

2 9

Correspondence between Leavens and Manuel Swartz Roberts, 1959 

2 10

Everett A. Poole Catboat Construction specifications, undated 

2 11

Log of the Hookah and the  Victor (Catboat) and Accounts, 1902-1924 
Author/Creator:  Norton, Harry F.

2 12

Manuel Swartz Roberts Boatbuilding Invoices, 1913-1929 

2 13

Manuel Swartz Roberts Catboat Building newspaper clippings, 1954-1993 

2 14

Menemsha in the Catboat Age: A Photostory, undated 
Author/Creator:  Leavens, John M.

2 15

National Fisherman correspondence and Miscellaneous clippings, 1970, undated 

2 16

Notes on Conversation with Emily H. Poole, circa 1964 

2 17

Photograph of Menemsha before 1903 and Notes about the Image, 1977, undated 

2 18

Typed Transcription of Excerpts of the Log of the Hookah, circa 1967 

2 19

Vessel License issued to Harry F.Norton, 1942 June 10 

2 20

Yearbook Listing Members and their Boats, 2010 

2 21