The Origins and Source of Materials in “Sailors’ Narratives”

Winship as a young adult

Before further discussing the contents of Sailors’ Narratives of Voyages along the New England Coast, 1524-1624, it is important that we establish some background information regarding the book’s author, George Parker Winship. Winship began studying History at Harvard University, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in 1893 and Master’s in 1894. After leaving Harvard, he started working as a librarian for the John Carter Brown Library, a Brown University institute that housed a multitude of research facilities. Here, Winship took advantage of the library’s research facilities and further pursued his interests in studying American history. He compiled multiple works around various American historical accounts and published books such as The Coronado Expedition, William Caxton, and Printing in South America throughout the early twentieth century. Winship’s works are not only wonderfully put together, but display his passion and consistency in publishing accounts centered around the early Americas.

Winship first published Sailors’ Narratives with Houghton, Mifflin & Company in 1905. This company operated out of Boston and mainly sponsored textbooks, non-fiction works, and educational materials. Winship requested and received the help of Bruce Rogers, a famed typographer of the twentieth century who formatted the type design of various books through the twentieth century. Before working with Winship, Rogers created his own, distinct typeface, Montaigne, and used it in various publications such as The Essays of Montaigne and The Art of Landscape Gardening. Many other examples of the books Rogers used his typography in are located in Colby’s Special Collections. Considering the companies and figures this book interacted with, its intended audience likely catered to academic institutions, scholars, and collegiates.

Initially, Winship published only 440 copies of the book, with each priced at 8 dollars (roughly $230 today, according to Measuring Worth). Considering that he made few copies initially, this book was likely not meant to be distributed to the majority of the public. Also, considering that the book had a hefty price of 8 dollars, it was probably not intended for everyday usage and purchase by commoners.

Information regarding Samuel de Champlain’s voyage account. Later printed and translated by the Prince Society of Boston in 1878
Information regarding Giovanni da Verrazano’s voyage account. Later printed and translated by the New York Historical Society in 1841

Winship gathered his texts from multiple sources. Many of the contents that sailors produced found their ways into book volumes. For example, the sailor Martin Pring’s accounts ended up published in an English volume titled Purchas his Pilgrimes, where Winship first found and analyzed it. However, original copies of sailors’ narratives often did not last into the twentieth century, and Winship had to analyze printed copies of accounts kept by private institutions, such as the New York Historical Society and Prince Society of Boston. Winship’s compilation of these materials likely required diligence and a large amount of sourcing to various individuals/organizations. In the book’s texts, Winship mentions that many of the gathered narratives were taken from “the copies of the original editions [stored] in the John Carter Brown Library” (Winship, 260). He gathered other narratives, such as Henry Hudson’s, from scholars such as H.W. Bryant of Portland, Maine, who “kindly loaned the facsimiles” (Winship, 154) of Hudon’s accounts to Winship. These facts give us valuable insight into how Darnton’s Communications Circuit manifested itself in Winship’s work.

Although Winship provides little information regarding the shippers and sellers involved with his book, he gives us valuable insight into how suppliers, or the individuals that gave Winship historical accounts of sailors, contributed to publishing this work. This insight not only shows us that Winship outsourced to multiple clients to gather his materials but also that this book’s contents come from a wide range of figures and institutions.

The book consists of pictures taken from original illustrations. Similar to the texts that Winship compiled, he observed and analyzed the books or volumes that featured these drawings. Like the texts Winship analyzed, he likely desired to handle the original copies of the events he was examining, as doing so may have given him a better understanding and appreciation of the accounts he was studying. Many of the sailors that made these illustrations seem to have initially inserted them in other books, such as Smith’s Description of New England and Champlain’s Voyages. More information about these illustrations is in the table of contents at the front of the book (picture posted to the side). So, like when Winship examined the texts of his book, he had to travel extensively to visit the various sites that featured his desired images. From these points, we can understand that gathering all of the materials to assemble this book was a challenging and gradual process.

Winship and his publishers likely made copies of the book in bulk to distribute them easier. Considering that Houghton, Mifflin & Company published other educational materials such as textbooks, standardized tests, and nonfiction books, Winship’s work likely underwent the same processes of being printed out and sold to various individuals and institutions. The fact that the book’s pages were all made of pulp may further indicate that Winship wanted to make constructing his work as cheap as possible. Furthermore, the book cover’s plain, cardboard material likely suggests that this work was not designed to be aesthetically pleasing or elaborate and may further induce that Winship preferred to keep the book’s overall design basic. As a whole, Winship probably gave little thought to intricately decorating his work and meant to create and distribute it as simply as possible.

As a whole, Winship dedicated a considerable amount of time to compiling sources when publishing Sailors’ Voyages Along the New England Coast, 1524-1624. He visited a host of museums, archives, libraries, and other institutions to find his desired contents. These actions give me a profound amount of respect for Winship. As an aspiring historian, I can relate to Winship’s interests and goals, as many others likely can as well. I am also glad that this research has given me more insight into how Houghton, Mifflin & Company aided Winship in publishing his work. Although this book is not very decorated, its contents provide a lovely experience, as the illustrations and contents are all very qualitative. I look forward to delving into the book’s depths more and uncovering more knowledge surrounding its origins and overall history.



Colby Special Collections


Houghton, Mifflin & Company – (now known as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)