Sailors' Snug Harbor Records, 1757-2008
- 1757 - 2008
- Sailors' Snug Harbor (Institution) (Organization)
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
Files containing personal information about residents are restricted for 50 years from the date of death of the individual. If the decease death is unknown, the files are closed for 72 years from the date the record was created.
Conditions Governing Use
375 Linear Feet (267 standard document boxes; 89 half sized document boxes; 127 flat boxes; 150 volumes; metal card catalogs; miscellaneous objects)
Robert Richard Randall’s will was rumored to have been written by Alexander Hamilton, a friend of the family; legend has it that Hamilton advised Randall that his family fortune had come from the sea and thus it should return to the sea in the formation of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor. Randall’s will named prominent New York City officeholders as its executors including the Mayor, the President of the Marine Society, and the Rector of Trinity Church. The original plan was to have the Snug Harbor built in Manhattan on the Randall farm but the executors bought 140 acres of land in New Brighton on Staten Island overlooking the Kill Van Kull and used monies from leasing the Manhattan real estate to create one of the wealthiest charitable institutions in the world. The Manhattan property today is what we would call Greenwich Village including Washington Square Park.
Legal battles kept Sailors’ Snug Harbor from opening for over 30 years but when it did the Trustees were quick to create a unique site that integrated beautifully designed buildings and grounds with culture, entertainment, and onsite health care. The Trustees hired renowned architect Minard Lafever to design the main houses on the property and he produced a group of Greek Revival buildings that have been called the most important on the East Coast. The institution eventually evolved into its own mini-township and included a working farm with livestock; a church; a hospital; a power plant; and a graveyard. There is no firm number but estimates conclude that over ten thousand retired mariners spent their final years there and were buried at Sailors’ Snug Harbor.
Residents of the institution were called “inmates” and by the end of the nineteenth-century they came from every facet of the merchant marine world and included veterans of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the War of 1812, and the Spanish American War. Requirements for admission to Sailors’ Snug Harbor were firm: ten years or more as a crew member of ocean-going ships and at least five years of them under the flag of the United States. The head administrator was called “Governor” and the position was an important one in New York City. Sailors’ Snug Harbor’s third Governor was Thomas Melville, youngest brother of the author of Moby-Dick, Herman Melville. Thomas Melville has been called one of the most important leaders of Snug Harbor for modernizing the recordkeeping and expanding the population. Herman Melville and the Melville family spent many holidays at Sailors’ Snug Harbor during Thomas Melville’s tenure as Governor from 1867-1884.
Sailors’ Snug Harbor remained one of the most important charitable institutions in the United States until the years after WW II when the residential population began to decline. In 1965 the Snug Harbor site on Staten Island was declared a National Historic Landmark. The home for retired sailors moved to Sea Level, North Carolina in 1976. The work of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor Board of Trustees continues to this day helping retired mariners in need and keeping faith with the original Latin motto of Snug Harbor: Portum Petimus Fesse (“Wearily, we seek a haven.”).
[History by Dr. John Rocco, Professor of Humanities and MNST Coordinator, SUNY Maritime College]
Arrangement of Materials
I. Inmates (Residents)
II. Board of Trustees
III. Staten Island Operations
IV. Manhattan Office Business Records
V. Publicity and History
VI. North Carolina Facility
Immediate Source of Acquisition
- Annie Tummino
- February 2017
- Description rules
- Language of description
- Edition statement
- Several editions of this finding aid have been produced. In 1978 Library Director Richard H. Corson and Archivist Carol Finerman published a finding aid for the original set of Sailors' Snug Harbor records deposited at the Luce Library in 1976. In 2009 Project Archivist Greg Murphy prepared a guide for a 2008 accrual; later, in 2012, he merged the 1978 and 2009 finding aids. In 2017 Archivist Annie Tummino migrated the finding aid to ArchivesSpace, revising the arrangement and bringing the description in line with Describing Archives: A Content Standard. Tummino was assisted by Intern Margaret Hammitt-McDonald. The historical note was written by By Dr. John Rocco, Professor of Humanities and MNST Coordinator, SUNY Maritime College.