The Gamming Chair

Original content by: Macy Kleinfelder

zoomable artifact image here

About This Artifact

To "gam" is when two or more whaleships exchange visits. This term is unique to whaling, as it was a way to both socialize, share information about the price of oil and profitable hunting spots, as well as exchange goods and reading material.  Contact with another ship at sea provided some relief from the isolation of ocean travel.  Also, a gam provided opportunities to obtain news from home if the other ship had sailed out at a later date than your own ship, and to send mail home if the other ship was homeward bound or expected to make a port call before your own ship.  During a gam, the whaleboats would ferry visitors back and forth, but if a captain was accompanied by his family, the gamming chair might be used to lower women or children into the whaleboat and/or pull them onboard the ship. Should the captain’s wife be onboard the whaling ship, the gam was often her only opportunity to socialize.  The Charles W. Morgan was home to a total of five women, all captain's wives- Lydia Goodspeed Landers, Clara Tinkham, Lorna S. Keith, Honor Matthews Earle, and Charlotte (Lotte) Church.

We know little about the history of the gamming chair featured in this photograph, other than it came to Mystic Seaport with the Morgan in 1941.  It is likely that it was added to the Morgan during her days at Colonel Green's estate at South Dartmouth, Mass.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. Why do you think gamming was an important tradition aboard whaling ships?
  2. What other opportunities for socializing might whalemen have had other than gamming?
  3. Why do you think gamming chairs were used to transport women and not men?