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Discomforts of Travel

Samuel Kelly, English Sailor


Historical Context

Trying to piece together a sense of what life was like for a particular group of people in any given era takes historical thinking skills. Examining multiple sources gives historians a clearer idea of how people lived in the past. As you listen to Samuel Kelly�s first-hand narrative and review the supporting primary sources, you will discover important information about life at sea in the 18th century.


These questions are based on the accompanying primary sources. They are designed to help you practice working with historical documents. Some of these documents have been edited, but all are authentic. As you analyze the documents, take into account the source of each document and any point of view that may be presented in the document.

Download the student worksheet for Samuel Kelly. (PDF)


  1. According to Samuel Kelly�s account, what was his primary difficulty and how did he try to solve it?
  2. According to the illustration, who is the central character in the drawing and what do you think the two standing characters are saying to him?
  3. Based on your examination of the map and a review of Samuel Kelly�s first-person account, when did this voyage occur and why do you think the American sailor would not give him detailed piloting information?

Supporting Primary Sources

Ship London

Built at New York, 1770 or 1771

The London

Settlers exported vast amounts of timber cut from forests in the Americas, and such naval stores as turpentine and tar. With so much wood close at hand, colonial shipbuilding prospered, and American ships sold well overseas. English owners ordered the London, a fast-sailing general-cargo ship, directly from builders in New York.

...Turn�d away and Sent to Sea, 1747

In this 18th-century print, a young man is shown the brutality of seafaring by three unsavory sailors. While one rows, another taunts him with the lash, used for discipline on ships. The third points to the body of a pirate hanging from the gallows. His mother weeps, perhaps at the prospect of losing her son to the sea.

Engraving by William Hogarth

Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Map of Philadelphia and Parts Adjacent, by N. Scull and G. Heap, 1752.

Courtesy of Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

Additional Primary & Secondary Sources



  • Apprentice/�prentice—- 1 a: one bound by indenture to serve another for a prescribed period with a view to learning an art or trade; b: one who is learning by practical experience under skilled workers a trade, art, or calling; 2: an inexperienced person

Image, above right: �Seamen of the Edgar,� in Samuel Kelly: An Eighteenth Century Seaman, Crosbie Garstin, ed. (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company), 1925. No known portrait of Kelly exists.

Oral History
  • Listen to Samuel Kelly