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Catalog entry

inv. 343
Lumber Schooners at Evening on Penobscot Bay
1863
Oil on canvas
24 5/8 x 38 1/8 in. (62.6 x 96.8 cm)
Signed and dated lower right: F.H. Lane / 1863

Commentary

From simple elements Lane created in Lumber Schooners at Evening on Penobscot Bay a landscape of remarkable evocative and formal power, and of quiet beauty. Two motionless ships guide the eye diagonally across the water towards the embers of the dying sun. Most of the composition is taken up with calm water and a tranquil evening sky, set apart by the pale, blue-green silhouette of the shoreline. Compared with earlier works by Lane, the emptiness of the composition is striking; documentary qualities have become secondary to poetic ones. The simple scene is reduced to its essence; the four figures of sailors, about to enjoy the contentment of finishing a day's labour, are minute in relation to the wide vista of sea and sky. The sheer emptiness of the evening landscape, for all its beauty, inevitably lends the work a melancholy overtone.

Although until recently the work was dated to 1860, close examination of the inscription has revealed that the correct date is 1863, only two years before Lane's death, which was preceded by a period of severe ill health. It is possible that intimations of his own mortality subtly coloured Lane's vision of the end of the day in this work. Equally, Lane might be alluding with pious reverence to the beauty of the works of God. His work could, also, be seen in the context of mid-nineteenth century transcendentalism as glorying in the beauty of every object in the natural world. Our very limited knowledge of Lane's life and thought, which yields no clear sense of his artistic intentions for such a painting, allows all these avenues of interpretation to remain open.

The compositional elements from which Lane creates this memorable image are extremely straightforward. In the foreground sailors are lowering the sails of a schooner, heavily loaded with lumber, to moor her for the night; another schooner, its sails already down, can be seen in the distance. In the background is the low-lying coastline of Penobscot Bay, where the Penobscot River meets the Atlantic Ocean. The river, 350 miles in length, provided one of the main navigable routes into the richly wooded interior of Maine: accordingly it was busy with ships carrying timber out to the Atlantic coast, and from there, south to Boston. Maine white pine and spruce were in demand for ship-building and for domestic use in the growing northeastern cities.

Although Lane may have been influenced to some extent by Frederic Church's work of the period, notably the great sunset painting of 1860 Twilight in the Wilderness, he seems not to have been interested in pursuing the detailed, almost obsessive, naturalism of Church, or the younger artist's pursuit of ever more dramatic effects of light and atmosphere. Rather, Lane's last works reduce all elements – content, composition and surface – to the very minimum, creating effects of considerable originality. There is virtually no impasto on the surface of Lumber Schooners at Evening on Penobscot Bay; rather, the image seems insubstantial; its textures, like its meanings, are fugitive and suggestive.

—Tim Barringer, from his essay for "American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States 1820-1880"

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Explore catalog entries by keywords view all keywords »

Subject Types:   Coastal Scene »
Seasons / Weather:   Sunset »
Vessel Types:   Schooner »   //   Yawl Boat/ Dory/Wherry »
New England Locales:   Maine »

Historical Materials
Below is historical information related to the Lane work above. To see complete information on a subject on the Historical Materials page, click on the subject name (in bold and underlined).

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"Penobscot Bay is Maine's grandest stretch of water, and its largest, measuring 20 miles across from Whitehead Island to Isle au Haut and trending 30 miles north to the mouth of its equally superlative namesake river. Encompassing almost 1000 miles of shoreline and encircling 624 islands and ledges, Penobscot Bay is also the second-largest embayment on the east coast of the United States, after Chesapeake Bay. Giovanni da Verrazano, an early explorer, captivated by the site of the bay's channels and islands, wrote "all near the continent; small and pleasant in appearance, but high, following the curve of the land; some beautiful ports and channels are formed between them, such as those in the Adriatic Gulf in Illyria and Dalmatia…"

Penobscot Bay was, in every respect, a maritime community in the nineteenth century. The Island Kingdoms, with their cod fisheries, shipyards, and small farms, were tied commercially and economically to such large ports on the mainland as Rockland, Belfast, Bangor, Castine, and small ports of Mount Desert. The Islanders owned their own small fleets of coasters, finding cargo all along the coast, from the Maritimes to Portland and beyond. The glue that held this community together was family, extended family, there were no strangers in Penobscot Bay, among the coastal towns, or among the islands, for family members, as shipwrights, sailors, fishermen, merchants, and farmers, or by the simple act of marriage, formed close knit bonds which established a unique maritime culture.

– Mark Honey

References:

Conkling, Philip W, "Islands in Time," A Natural and Cultural History of the Islands of the Gulf of Maine, Island Institute, Rockland, and Downeast Books, Camden, page 64.

Honey, Mark E, "Abigail & Sarah Hawes of Castine," Navigators & Educators, with Lois Moore Cyr, 1996.

Honey, Mark E, "Before the Mast," Volume IV, articles 7-9, Holbrook Island and the Holbrook family, and in particular, Robert Applebee, "Vessels of the Penobscot Customs District," Stephan Phillips Memorial Library, Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, which source also has the diaries of Capt. Jonathan Holbrook and the genealogy of the Holbrook family in the Priscilla Jones collection. The "Before the Mass" series can be found in the collections of the Castine Historical Society and the Wilson Museum, both in Castine.

Honey, Mark E, "King Pine, Queen Spruce, Jack Tar," An Intimate History of Lumbering on the Union River, Volumes 1-5. This source, in its entirety, lays down the foundation of Downeast Maine's unique culture which was built upon pine lumber and timber, the cod fisheries, coasting, shipbuilding, and the interrelationships of family and community. 

Jellison, Connee, "Hancock County," a rock found paradise, A Bicentennial Pictorial, The Donning Company, Norfolk, Virginia, 1990.

McLane, Charles B, and McLane, Carol Evarts, "Islands of the Mid-Maine Coast," Penobscot Bay, Volume 1, Revised Edition, Tilbury House, Publishers, Gardiner, Maine, and the Island Institute, Rockland, Maine.

McLane, Charles B, and McLane, Carol Evarts, "Islands of the Mid-Maine Coast," Mount Desert to Machias Bay, Volume 2, The Kennebec River club Press, Incorporated, Falmouth, 1989.

 

chart
Chart of fishing grounds from Penobscot Bay to Cape Ann
c. 1850
Chart
Fishery Industries of the United States, Sect. 3

Also filed under: Fishing »

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chart
Chart showing Lane's location for drawings made in 1850
Erik Ronnberg/U.S. Coast Survey chart
c. 1875
Chart
U.S. Coast Survey
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chart
Chart showing Lane's location for drawings made in 1851
Erik Ronnberg/U.S. Coast Survey chart
c. 1875
Chart
U.S. Coast Survey
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chart
Chart showing Lane's location for drawings made in 1855
Erik Ronnberg/U.S. Coast Survey chart
c. 1875
Chart
U.S. Coast Survey
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chart
Chart showing route of Lane's 1852 cruise from Castine to Bar Harbor
Erik Ronnberg/US Coast Survey chart
c. 1875
Chart
U.S. Coast Survey

Chart with key showing the route of an excursion on the sloop "Superior" out of Castine made by William H. Witherle, Lane, Stevens and friends during which Lane made several sketches of Mt. Desert scenery. The trip was chronicled by Witherle in his diary of 1852.

Image: Erik Ronnberg
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map
Topographical Map of Hancock County Maine
H. F. Walling
1860
Wilson Museum, Castine, Maine.
Library of Congress Catalog Number 2011588006

1860 map, including census of towns. 

Image: Library of Congress

Also filed under: Castine »   //  Maps »   //  Mount Desert Island & Rock »

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Schooners in Lane’s time were, with few exceptions, two-masted vessels carrying a fore-and-aft rig having one or two jibs, a fore staysail, gaff-rigged fore- and main sails, and often fore- and main topsails. One variant was the topsail schooner, which set a square topsail on the fore topmast. The hulls of both types were basically similar, their rigs having been chosen for sailing close to the wind. This was an advantage in the coastal trade, where entering confined ports required sailing into the wind and frequent tacking. The square topsail proved useful on longer coastwise voyages, the topsail providing a steadier motion in offshore swells, reducing wear and tear on canvas from the slatting of the fore-and-aft sails. (1)

Schooners of the types portrayed by Lane varied in size from 70 to 100 feet on deck. Their weight was never determined, and the term “tonnage” was a figure derived from a formula which assigned an approximation of hull volume for purposes of imposing duties (port taxes) on cargoes and other official levies. (2)

Crews of smaller schooners numbered three or four men. Larger schooners might carry four to six if a lengthy voyage was planned. The relative simplicity of the rig made sail handling much easier than on a square-rigged vessel. Schooner captains often owned shares in their vessels, but most schooners were majority-owned by land-based firms or by individuals who had the time and business connections to manage the tasks of acquiring and distributing the goods to be carried. (3)

Many schooners were informally “classified” by the nature of their work or the cargoes they carried, the terminology coined by their owners, agents, and crews—even sometimes by casual bystanders. In Lane’s lifetime, the following terms were commonly used for the schooner types he portrayed:

Coasting schooners: This is the most general term, applied to any merchant schooner carrying cargo from one coastal port to another along the United States coast (see Bar Island and Mt. Desert Mountains from Somes Settlement, 1850 (inv. 401), right foreground). (4)

Packet schooners: Like packet sloops, these vessels carried passengers and various higher-value goods to and from specific ports on regular schedules. They were generally better-maintained and finished than schooners carrying bulk cargoes (see The Old Fort and Ten Pound Island, Gloucester, 1850s (inv. 30), center; and Gloucester Inner Harbor, 1850 (inv. 240), stern view). (5)

Lumber schooners: Built for the most common specialized trade of Lane’s time, they were fitted with bow ports for loading lumber in their holds (see View of Southwest Harbor, Maine: Entrance to Somes Sound, 1852 (inv. 260)) and carried large deck loads as well (Stage Rocks and the Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor, 1857 (inv. 8), right). Lumber schooners intended for long coastal trips were often rigged with square topsails on their fore masts (see Becalmed Off Halfway Rock, 1860 (inv. 344), left; Maverick House, 1835 (not published); and Lumber Schooner in a Gale, 1863 (inv. 552)). (6)

Schooners in other specialized trades. Some coasting schooners built for carrying varied cargoes would be used for, or converted to, special trades. This was true in the stone trade where stone schooners (like stone sloops) would be adapted for carrying stone from quarries to a coastal destination. A Lane depiction of a stone schooner is yet to be found. Marsh hay was a priority cargo for gundalows operating around salt marshes, and it is likely that some coasting schooners made a specialty of transporting this necessity for horses to urban ports which relied heavily on horses for transportation needs. Lane depicted at least two examples of hay schooners (see Gloucester Harbor, 1850s (inv. 391), left; and Coasting Schooner off Boon Island, c.1850 (inv. 564)), their decks neatly piled high with bales of hay, well secured with rope and tarpaulins.

– Erik Ronnberg

References:

1. Howard I. Chapelle, The History of American Sailing Ships (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1935), 258. While three-masted schooners were in use in Lane’s time, none have appeared in his surviving work; and Charles S. Morgan, “New England Coasting Schooners”, The American Neptune 23, no. 1 (DATE): 5–9, from an article which deals mostly with later and larger schooner types.

2. John Lyman, “Register Tonnage and its Measurement”, The American Neptune V, nos. 3–4 (DATE). American tonnage laws in force in Lane’s lifetime are discussed in no. 3, pp. 226–27 and no. 4, p. 322.

3. Ship Registers of the District of Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1789–1875 (Salem, MA: The Essex Institute, 1944). Vessels whose shipping or fishing voyages included visits to foreign ports were required to register with the Federal Customs agent at their home port. While the vessel’s trade or work was unrecorded, their owners and master were listed, in addition to registry dimensions and place where built. Records kept by the National Archives can be consulted for information on specific voyages and ports visited.

4. Howard I. Chapelle, The National Watercraft Collection (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1960), 40, 42–43.

5. Ibid., 42–43, 73.

6. Ibid., 74–76.

photo (historical)
Coasting schooner "Polly"
Photograph
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Lumber schooner in Gloucester Harbor
1852
Photograph

Also filed under: Lumber Industry »

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illustration
Topsail Schooner
In R. H. Dana, The Seaman's Friend, 13th ed. (Thomas Groom & Co. Publisher, 1873)

A topsail schooner has no tops at her foremast, and is fore-and-aft rigged at her mainmast. She differs from an hermaphrodite brig in that she is not properly square-rigged at her foremast, having no top, and carrying a fore-and-aft foresail instead of a square foresail and a spencer.

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object
1892 Gloucester Harbor Diorama (detail of marine railway)
Lawrence Jensen, Erik. A.R. Ronnberg, Jr.
Detail views: marine railway and hauling cradle for vessel
Wood rails, metal rollers, chain; wood cradle. Scale: ½" = 1' (1:24)
Original diorama components made, 1892; replacements made, 1993.
Cape Ann Museum, from Gloucester Chamber of Commerce, 1925 (2014.071)

A schooner is shown hauled out on a cradle which travels over racks of rollers on a wood and metal track.

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photo (historical)
Lobsterman and dory at Lane's Cove
Photographer unknown
c. 1900
Glass plate negative
Collection of Erik Ronnberg

Also filed under: Lobstering »

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PDF
view ]
publication
Maine Register for 1855 (Lumber)
George Adams, publisher
"The Maine Register for the Year 1855, embracing State and County Officers, and an abstract of the law and resolves; together with a complete business directory of the state, and a variety of useful information."

Details about Maine's lumber trade in 1855, see pp. 250–52

Also filed under: Castine »   //  Lumber Industry »

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illustration
View of the Old Fort and Harbor 1837
Fitz Henry Lane, attr.
1860
In John J. Babson, History of the Town Gloucester (Gloucester, MA: Procter Brothers, 1860)
Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, Mass.

See p. 474.

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The yawl boat was a ninteenth-century development of earlier ships' boats built for naval and merchant use. Usually twenty feet long or less, they had round bottoms and square sterns; many had raking stem profiles. Yawl boats built for fishing tended to have greater beam than those built for vessels in the coastal trades. In the hand-line fisheries, where the crew fished from the schooner's rails, a single yawl boat was hung from the stern davits as a life boat or for use in port. Their possible use as lifeboats required greater breadth to provide room for the whole crew. In port, they carried crew, provisions, and gear between schooner and shore. (1)

Lane's most dramatic depictions of fishing schooners' yawl-boats are found in his paintings Gloucester Outer Harbor, from the Cut, 1850s (inv. 109) and /entry:311. Their hull forms follow closely that of Chapelle's lines drawing. (2) Similar examples appear in the foregrounds of Gloucester Harbor, 1852 (inv. 38), Ships in Ice off Ten Pound Island, Gloucester, 1850s (inv. 44), and The Fort and Ten Pound Island, Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1847 (inv. 271). A slightly smaller example is having its bottom seams payed with pitch in the foreground of Gloucester Harbor, 1847 (inv. 23). In Gloucester Inner Harbor, 1850 (inv. 240), a grounded yawl boat gives an excellent view of its seating arrangement, while fishing schooners in the left background have yawl boats hung from their stern davits, or floating astern.

One remarkable drawing, Untitled (inv. 219) illustrates both the hull geometry of a yawl boat and Lane's uncanny accuracy in depicting hull form in perspective. No hull construction other than plank seams is shown, leaving pure hull form to be explored, leading in turn to unanswered questions concerning Lane's training to achieve such understanding of naval architecture.

– Erik Ronnberg

References:

1. Howard I. Chapelle, American Small Sailing Craft (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1951), 222–23.

2. Ibid., 223.

artwork
Ships in Ice
Fitz Henry Lane
1850s
Oil on canvas
12 1/8 x 19 3/4 in.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Bequest of Martha C. Karolik for the M.and M. Karolik Collection of American Paintings, 1815-1865 (48.447)

A schooner's yawl lies marooned in the ice-bound harbor in this detail.

Image: Cape Ann Museum
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artwork
Gloucester Harbor
Fitz Henry Lane
1847
Oil on canvas
28 1/2 x 41 in.
Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass., Gift of Estate of Samuel H. Mansfield, 1949 (1332.20)

Detail showing yawl boat having its bottom seams payed with pitch.

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The timber trade played an important role in New England’s economy from Colonial days through the mid-19th century, supplying the vast quantities of lumber which a rapidly growing nation demanded.  While Cape Ann’s woodlands were depleted early on, timber continued to be harvested from northern New England and the Maritime Provinces right up to the Civil War.

With a deep and safe harbor, Gloucester often served as a layover spot where vessels bound from Maine to Boston, New York or Baltimore and heavily laden with lumber could ride out bad weather.  Because of this, Fitz Henry Lane’s paintings of Gloucester Harbor often show a schooner or a brig, loads of lumber clearly visible on their decks, sheltering along the Western Shore.

References:

Honey, Mark E., "King Pine, Queen Spruce, Jack Tar," An Intimate History of Lumbering on the Union River, Volumes 1-5. This source, in its entirety, lays down the foundation of Downeast Maine's unique culture which was built upon pine lumber and timber, the cod fisheries, coasting, shipbuilding, and the interrelationships of family and community.

Lumber schooner in Gloucester Harbor
1852
Photograph
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Bangor Log Raft
Advertisement for The Bangor News Company, est. January 31, 1881
Castine Historical Society Collections (2008.02)

Also filed under: Historic Photographs »

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PDF
view ]
publication
Maine Register for 1855 (Lumber)
George Adams, publisher
"The Maine Register for the Year 1855, embracing State and County Officers, and an abstract of the law and resolves; together with a complete business directory of the state, and a variety of useful information."

Details about Maine's lumber trade in 1855, see pp. 250–52

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Exhibition History

1963–64 Colby College: Colby College Art Museum, Waterville, Maine, Maine and Its Artists, 1710 - 1963, no. 81.
1966 DeCordova Museum: DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts, Fitz Hugh Lane: The First Major Exhibition, no. 48.
1969 Cummer Gallery: Cummer Gallery of Art, Jacksonville, Florida, American Paintings of Ports and Harbors, no. 19.
1974 Farnsworth Art Museum: John Wilmerding, Rockland, Maine, Fitz Hugh Lane 1804-1805, no. 43.
1980 National Gallery of Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, District of Columbia, American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850–1875, no. 12, ills., fig. 1 and frontispiece.
1983–84 Museum of Fine Arts: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, A New World: Masterpieces of American Painting, 1760–1910, no. 34, ill.
1988 National Gallery of Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, District of Columbia, Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, no. 61, ill. in color, frontispiece and p. 152.
1990 Wadsworth Atheneum: Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, [Loan for Display with Permanent Collection].
1999 Galerie Belvedere: Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, America: The New World in 19th-Century Painting, no. 36, ill.
1999–2000 National Gallery of Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, District of Columbia, An Enduring Legacy: Masterpieces from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon.
2002 Tate Britain: Tate Modern, London, American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States, 1820–1880, no. 72, ill., shown in London only.

Published References

Miller, W. 1963: "Maine and Its Artists."
Wilmerding 1964: Fitz Hugh Lane, 1804–1865: American Marine Painter, no. 105, p. 63.
Wilmerding 1966a: Fitz Hugh Lane: The First Major Exhibition, no. 48. ⇒ includes text
Wilmerding 1971a: Fitz Hugh Lane, no. 77, ill. p. 76.
Farnsworth 1974: Fitz Hugh Lane 1804-1865, no. 43.
Wilmerding 1980a: American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850–1875, ills., frontispiece and pl. 1, p. 12, text, p. 111.
Wilmerding 1980b: American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, no. 26, ill. in color.
Wilmerding 1980c: "American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850–1875; An Exhibition at the National Gallery of Art," ill. in color, p. 848.
Wilmerding 1987: American Marine Painting, ill. in color, pp. 117–18.
Kelly 1988a: "The Paintings of Fitz Hugh Lane," ill. in color, p. 119, text, p. 122.
Wilmerding 1988a: Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, no. 61, ills., p. 128 (in color, detail), fig. 1 (in b/w), p. 130.
Wilmerding 1988c: American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, no. 29, ill. in color, p. 104.
Gingold and Weil 1991: The Corporate Patron, ill. in color, p. 105.
Kopper 1991: America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation, ill. in color, p. 293.
Skolnick 1991: Paintings of Maine, ill. in color, p. 126.
National Gallery of Art 1992: American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue, ill., p. 225.
National Gallery of Art 1992: National Gallery of Art, Washington, ill., p. 237.
Wilmerding 1994: The Artist's Mount Desert: American Painters on the Maine Coast, fig. 60, p.66. ⇒ includes text
Kelly 1996: American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I: The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue, ill. in color, pp. 412–15.
Wilton and Barringer 2002: American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States, 1820–1880, cat. 72, ill. in color, p. 201, text, pp. 200, 254, 270.
Hand 2004: National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection, no. 261, ill. in color.
National Gallery of Art 2004: American Masters from Bingham to Eakins: The John Wilmerding Collection, fig. 7, p. 18.
Wilmerding 2005: Fitz Henry Lane, ill. 77.
Keck 2006: Walking in the Wilderness: The Peripatetic Tradition in Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Painting, p. 261.
Lovell 2009: "The Perfect Storm," p. 101.
Lovell 2011: ""Fitz Henry Lane, Spectateur de l'Histoire" ("Watching History—Fitz Henry Lane and the Revolutionary Past in Antebellum New England")," fig. 2, p. 50, Lumber Schooners at Evening on Penobscot Bay. ⇒ includes text

Related historical materials

Maine Locales & Buildings
Vessel Types
Maritime & Other Industries & Facilities
Citation: "Lumber Schooners at Evening on Penobscot Bay, 1863 (inv. 343)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/catalog/entry.php?id=343 (accessed June 23, 2024).
Record last updated March 14, 2017. Please note that the information on this and all pages is periodically reviewed and subject to change.
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