A local university is in the process of organizing findings that date back as far as 175 years ago.
SUNY Maritime is currently creating a platform index guide within their very own library to catelogue various archives, artifacts, records and documents from Sailors’ Snug Harbor, which provided a home for aged sailors in the 1800s and 1900s.
Many of the archives from Sailors’ Snug Harbor, once located on the north shore of Staten Island, include information on the retired sailors’ family genealogy, documented minutes from the Trustees of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor, legal paperwork from the property and even books that belonged to Herman Melville, a novelist and poet of ‘Moby Dick’ fame.
Two massive bound volumes - portrait books that contain photographs of the thousands of retired sailors who lived in the Sailors’ Snug Harbor community over the years, is part of the collection.
“This was the first institution of its kind, as nursing homes didn’t exist at the time,” said Annie Tummino, SUNY Maritime’s archivist who also holds classes specifically to teach students how to access the archives, in the library or online. “Without this retirement institution, many of these retired sailors would have been living on the street - and many of them didn’t have limbs, wives or families.”
Since she took the position a year ago, Tummino’s effort has been to digitize the collection of records, She also expressed interest in forming a collaboration where she and others transcribe the portion of written documents, some of which are barely legible and written by a quill feather pen.
“It’s very exciting that this history is right here, and the student as well as the public should take full advantage of that,” she added. “This information documents a dying way of life and the birth of social services.”
“It’s truly illuminating,” said Benson Beilder, a sophomore at SUNY Maritime, who has helped Tummino organize the collection. “Without this information - many of the facts based on Sailors’ Snug Harbor would remain a mystery.”
“It is great that these sources are here - especially for the students who want to get an idea of what life was like in this institution during its years of operation,” said Dave Allen, a humanities professor at SUNY Maritime for over ten years, who has also encouraged his students to learn more about the archives. “I greatly encourage my students to utilize these documents - if not to learn about the history then to gain experience in accessing thousands of different records and archives.”
Sailors’ Snug Harbor was established in 1801 but did not open until the 1830s. When it did open, it became the country’s first home for retired sailors, who were referred to as inmates.
After the buildings fell into disrepair in the 1950s, the institution was moved to Sea Level, NC in the 1970s. However, the Trustees of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor in New York City continues to help retired marines each year.
A portion of Sailors’ Snug Harbor’s archives can also be accessed online by visiting dcmny.org and clicking either ’Maritime College, Sailors’ Snug Harbor Archives’ or ’Maritime College, Sailors’ Snug Harbor Inmate Records’ under ‘All Collections’.