Monday, March 7, 2016

A Mystery Pursued and Solved

Last week, someone commented on a Gossips post from way back in April 2010. The post was about 211 Union Street, the birthplace of General William Jenkins Worth, and it included a brief biography of Hudson's most illustrious native son. After stating that William Jenkins Worth was the son of Thomas Worth and Abigail Jenkins, the post went on to say, "Worth's mother died when he was a small child, and his father was killed when Worth was 18." The comment submitted last week makes this correction:
General Worth's father, Thomas Worth, was the Captain of GLOBE, a whaling ship out of Nantucket. His crew mutinied and killed him on January 26, 1824 near Hawaii; 35 days before Worth's 30th birthday. Major Worth was Commandant of Cadets at West Point when he learned the news.
I'm always happy to be corrected and get the truth when it comes to history, but I wondered how could this be. If General Worth's father was the captain of a whaling ship, it would have to have been a whaling ship out of Hudson not Nantucket. My instinct was to conclude that the commenter had confused General Worth's father with some other Thomas Worth, perhaps an uncle or cousin who had not made the move from New England to Hudson. Still my curiosity was piqued. 

Photo: Martha's Vineyard Museum

Searching for Thomas Worth online, I discovered A Narrative of the Mutiny, on Board the Ship Globe, of Nantucket, in the Pacific Ocean, Jan. 1824 and the Journal of a Residence of Two Years on the Mulgrave Islands; with Observations on the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants. It was written by William Lay, of Saybrook, Connecticut, and Cyrus M. Hussey, of Nantucket, the only survivors not only of the mutiny on board the Globe but also of "the Massacre of the Ship's Company by the Natives." The narrative goes on for nine chapters, but the story of the mutiny itself occurs in the very first chapter, which begins:
The Ship Globe, on board of which vessel occurred the horrid transactions we are about to relate, belonged to the Island of Nantucket; she was owned by Messrs. C. Mitchell, & Co. and other merchants of that place; and commanded on this voyage by Thomas Worth of Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard.
The Globe sailed from Edgartown on December 1822, but the mutiny did not occur until January 1824. Another source reports that the instigator of the mutiny, Samuel B. Comstock, "shipped out on the Globe to fulfill his dream of becoming King of his own Pacific Island." Lay and Hussey relate that during that year the Globe was at sea before the mutiny took place, there had been complaints about the food served to the crew, desertions, and disciplinary action taken by the captain and other officers, but none of this, they maintain, was sufficient cause for what happened:
We speak of the want of motives, because, although some occurrences which we shall mention, had given the crew some ground for dissatisfaction, there had been no abuse or severity which could in the least degree excuse or palliate so barbarous a mode of redress and revenge. During our cruise to Japan the season before, many complaints were uttered by the crew among themselves, with respect to the manner and quantity in which they received their meat, the quantity sometimes being more than sufficient for the number of men, and at others not enough to supply the ship's company; and it is fair to presume, that the most dissatisfied, deserted the ship at Oahu.
But the reader will no doubt consider it superfluous for us to attempt an unrequired vindication of the conduct of the officers of the Globe whose aim was to maintain a correct discipline, which should result in the furtherance of the voyage and be a benefit to all concerned, more especially when he is informed that part of the men shipped at Oahu, in the room of the deserters, were abandoned wretches, who frequently were the cause of severe reprimands from the officers, and in one instance one of them received a severe flogging. The reader will also please to bear in mind, that Samuel B. Comstock, the ringleader of the mutiny, was an officer, (being a boat-steerer,) and as is customary, ate in the cabin. The conduct and deportment of the Captain towards this individual, was always decorous and gentlemanly, a proof of intentions long premeditated to destroy the ship. Some of the crew were determined to leave the ship provided she touched at Fannings Island, and we believe had concerted a plan of escape, but of which the perpetration of a deed chilling to humanity, precluded the necessity.
Martha's Vineyard Museum
The mutiny began in the wee hours of the morning, when "Comstock went down into the cabin, accompanied by Silas Payne or Paine, of Sag-Harbour, John Oliver, of Shields, Eng., [and] William Humphries, (the steward) of Philadelphia." The first to be attacked was the captain, Thomas Worth.
Comstock entered the cabin so silently as not to be perceived by the man at the helm, who was first apprised of his having begun the work of death, by the sound of a heavy blow with an axe, which he distinctly heard.
The Captain was asleep in a hammock, suspended in the cabin, his state room being uncomfortably warm; Comstock approaching him with the axe, struck him a blow upon the head, which was nearly severed in two by the first stroke!
Just to be safe, Comstock dealt the captain a second blow before continuing with his bloody deeds, all of which are described in Lay and Hussey's account but won't be here. Suffice it to say that Alexander Starbuck, in The History of American Whale Fishery (1878), called the mutiny on the Globe "the most horrible mutiny that is recounted in the annals of the whale-fishery from any port of any nation."

But our question remains: Was the Thomas Worth who was the captain of the Globe also the father of William Jenkins Worth? As it turns out, it is possible he was. 

Even though we like to think of General William Jenkins Worth as Hudson's most illustrious native son, it turns out that he didn't spend very much of his life in Hudson. His parents, Thomas Worth and Abigail Jenkins, were married here in 1790, and William was born here in 1794, in the house at 211 Union Street. But when Abigail died around 1800, Thomas returned to Edgartown and took the boy with him. In 1802, Thomas married his second wife, Susanna Swasey. Sometime before 1812, when he was a teenager, William returned to Hudson, apparently on his own, perhaps to live with and work for his Jenkins relatives. The Handbook of Texas, created by the Texas State Historical Association (General Worth, after all, died in San Antonio, and Fort Worth was named for him), says he was "a dissatisfied clerk in a wholesale establishment [in Hudson] when the War of 1812 began" and hence was moved to enlist in the army as a private. 

But what of his father, Thomas Jenkins? Gossips appealed to Hudson city historian Pat Fenoff for assistance, and she found in the Nantucket Vital Records that Thomas Jenkins, who is referred to as a "Master Mariner" and who reportedly "returned to E. (Edgartown?) before 1800," died on May 29, 1812, but it doesn't indicate where or how he died. The Wikipedia entry for William J. Worth says that his father, Thomas Worth, died of consumption on May 29, 1812, in Hudson and was buried in Martha's Vineyard. So which was the case? Did General Worth's father die of consumption in 1812, or was he murdered on the whaler in the Pacific in 1824? 

Today, exploring, I discovered a document that confirms what was suspected all along: there were two Thomas Worths, both of whom were ship's captains. The document is the Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988, which lists not two but three Thomas Worths.

The first Thomas Worth listed is identified as the "father of Maj.-Gen. William Jenkins Worth." He died on May 29, 1812, of consumption, at the age of 46. The second Thomas Worth listed was "murdered in the [ship] Globe," at the age of 31. The third Thomas Worth is the half-brother of William Jenkins Worth, the son of his father and his second wife, Susan or Susanna Swasey, who died three years, six months, and eight days after he was born. The cause of his death is given as "worms."

1 comment:

  1. A terrific telling!, and nice to know that Gossips was correct all along.