Records Documenting the First American Secular Philanthropic Institution Now Online

Portions of a collection documenting the 140-year-old Sailors’ Snug Harbor, a home for retired sailors, are now on DCMNY, METRO’s collection hosting platform.

Alfred_Dunbar_photograph.jpgThe collection, Sailors’ Snug Harbor Inmate Records, comes from SUNY Maritime College and includes approximately 1500 photographic portraits and 1500 register pages documenting the lives of the men who stayed at the institution.

Sailors’ Snug Harbor was founded in 1801 and opened its doors to retired seamen, called inmates, in 1833. The space on Staten Island consists of several Greek Revival-style buildings and, over the years, housed men regardless of race, religion, nationality or rank. It was a uniquely diverse place for its time.

Alfred_Dunbar_register_page.jpgThe records document the men’s lives, careers and deaths, including their ranks and ships they served on, illnesses and causes of death. The records – which are handwritten in beautiful cursive – also detail the inmates infractions, called taboos, and punishments.

The collection is notable because it documents the lives of hundreds of former sailors during a time when New York’s maritime culture was in its heyday. The institution was notable on its own as well: it was the first secular philanthropic institution in the country.

Sailors’ Snug Harbor Inmate Records is made possible by a grant from the Metropolitan New York Library Council.



The first image above is of Sailors’ Snug Harbor inmate Alfred Dunbar. Record in DCMNY can be found here.

The second image above is a register page for inmate Alfred Dunbar. He was suspended for two years for smuggling alcohol into Snug Harbor, in contravention of the rules. Record in DCMNY can be found here.