On the Water

Sailor's Sea Chest

Dating to the 1790s, this sailor’s sea chest would have been one of the owner’s most important possessions. The crew on sailing ships typically owned little property—perhaps only what would fit into a chest like this one. Not only did his chest store a sailor’s personal belongings, but it also served as his table, his chair, his bank and his bureau. These chests also gave a sailor an opportunity for personal expression through carvings, paintings, and decorations.

Carvings, a name “Jan Smart” inside a heart, and the date 1799 decorate this pine chest. It is unknown whether the name refers to the owner of the chest or someone else. The chest is broader at the base than at the top, giving it greater stability at sea. Fancy brass handles at each end provide lifting points. The top displays fancy carving around the edge, and inside there are small compartments on either end.

ID Number:
approx: 15 x 36 x 12 in.; 38.1 x 91.44 x 30.48 cm