1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

    R.I.H.S. home page

 William Z. Polleys Papers

 Sea captain, Providence, RI

 Diaries, 1853-1865

 Size: 0.5 linear feet

 Catalog number: MSS 1082

 Processed by: Karen Eberhart, January 2002

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            Captain William Zebedee Polleys was born November 3, 1824 in Cape Elizabeth, Maine to William Polleys Jr. and Mary Woodbury. He went to sea at the age of 16 and by the age of 29 took command of his first ship, the Barque Nevada, which departed Boston in 1853. Captain Polleys traveled all over the world as captain of seven different ships on sixteen voyages. He survives several hurricanes, nearly running out of food and water, and the sinking of the Barque Melita near the Amoor River in Siberia in 1859. He married Abby Dyer Manton of Providence, RI on April 12, 1860. Abby died on January 1, 1863, a scant month after the birth of their daughter Abbie Manton Polleys in December. He married his second wife Elizabeth Reed Vaughan in 1865. They had two sons and three daughters. Captain Polleys died in 1875 and is buried in the Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, RI.

Return to top

Scope and content:

William Zebedee Polleys

Born: November 3, 1824, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Died: October 19,1875, Providence, RI

Residence: Providence, RI

Ethnicity: Yankee

Social class: Middle

How was the author identified?: Volumes signed by the author

Number of volumes: 4

Number of pages: 288, 239, 231, 110

Family notes

Father's name: William Polleys Jr. (A man named William Polleys appears in the 1850 U.S. Census, Portland, ME, 6th Ward, p. 214. He is listed as a 59 year old man born in Massachusetts which would make is date of birth sometime in 1791.)

Father's occupation: He is listed in the census as a mariner owning $15,000 worth of real estate.

Mother's name: Mary Woodbury

Mother's dates:


Sisters: Sarah Polleys

Wife's name: (1) Abby Dyer Manton married William 4/12/1860; (2) Elizabeth Reed Vaughan married William 3/7/1865

Wife's dates: (1) 1833-1863; (2) 1833-1899

Wife's family notes: Abby Dyer Manton was the daughter of Salma and Anstis Dyer and sister of Capt. Benjamin Dyer Manton (1829-1911) a friend of William. Elizabeth Reed Vaughan was the daughter of Wanton Vaughan and Sarah Sprague and sister of Charlotte Vaughan (1821-1896). Elizabeth married her second husband George C. Tingley on July 12, 1882.

Sons: William Vaughan Polleys (1869-1930); Woodbury Sprague Polleys (1872-1943)

Daughters: Abbie Manton Polleys (1862-) married Herbert Morse 11/27/1878 but is listed as unmarried in the Bristol Phoenix obituary published Jan 15, 1943 for Woodbury Sprague Polleys. William writes of an infant daughter (he calls her Baby No.2) that accompanies him and Elizabeth on the Barque Rebecca Goddard which departed Boston March 25, 1865. Hattie Vaughan Polleys (3/8/1866-4/30/1866). Mary W. Polleys (1867-1948) married George Frederic Hall.

Content of diary:

Date range of diary: 1853-1865

Places written: Istanbul, Turkey; Izmir, Turkey; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Isle of Malta; Marseilles, France; Alexandria, Egypt; Trieste, Italy; Genoa, Italy; Honolulu; Nicolaefski, Russia; Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia; Hakodate, Japan; San Francisco, CA; Calcutta, India; Cadiz, Spain; Alicate, Sicily; Palermo, Sicily; Pictou, Nova Scotia; Havre, France; Swansea, Wales; Leghorn, Italy

Age range during diary: 29-41

Brief description: Sea journals of Capt. William Z. Polleys written by him on 16 voyages all over the world.

Notes on diary: The first three volumes are transcriptions of original diaries that have not been preserved. The fourth volume is an original diary for the period 10/26/1864 - 9/8/1865. The primary transcriber appears to be William Polleys with his second wife Elizabeth Vaughan transcribing later entries. A third handwriting also appears produced by an unknown person.

Comparison of the original fourth volume with the transcriptions in the third volume show that the entries are not always copied word-for-word and not all of the entries were transcribed. When William is the transcriber he often copies down the basic idea of the entry, adding or omitting words and sometimes whole sentences. It seems that he was trying to make the writing flow more smoothly. When Elizabeth transcribes entries she does so faithfully, never adding or omitting material. An example of William changing an entry is the one for March 27, 1865. In the original, William described one of his passengers this way: "I have quite an original char. in one of my passengers he is certainly the most helpless man I ever saw." When he transcribes it he is a bit more charitable towards the man: "One of my passengers is quite an original character, and makes me laugh very often at his eccentricities, poor man is to be pitied." Sometimes basic mistakes are made during copying. The entries for April 8 and 9, 1865 are switched in the transcription with the entry for the 9th written in under the heading for the 8th and vice versa.

Additions have also clearly been made during the process of transcribing the original. For example January 1, 1863 is the day that Abby Manton Polleys dies. The entry for that day includes a lengthy paragraph about the grief William feels upon the death of his wife Abby. That passage must have been added later as he was in the middle of the Atlantic on January 1st and didn't find out that his wife had died until he reached Palermo, Italy in March.

Utility for research: These diaries are a history of the emotional life of a sea captain. After William meets and then marries his first wife he uses the diaries to express his feelings. Being the captain of a ship is often a lonely existence because they often did not have people with whom they could talk frankly. Expressing fears, doubts and homesickness to members of his crew, even the first mate, was not conducive to instilling confidence in ones abilities. These diaries thus become his trusted friend and he expresses all his misery in the pages.

The diaries are also an interesting travel log of cities around the world. Each place he visits he composes a description of the place and people. Some of the descriptions are quite insightful.

Events discussed: These journals are distinguished by their lack of information about world events. No events other than those that concern his life directly are ever mentioned. He mentions the American Civil War once in passing: "Saw a steamer at 8 A.M. which caused quite an excitement, as she was steering an unusual course; but she did not prove to be one of the Confederate Pirates, and we soon lost sight of her."[4/1/1865]

Persons frequently mentioned: Abby Dyer Manton his first wife; Abbie Manton Polleys his daughter; Elizabeth Reed Vaughan his second wife.

Religion of diarist: Attends the Beneficent Congregational Church in Providence, RI.

Religious content: "On morality there is books enough written both for ancient and modern philosophers, but the morality of the Gospel doth so exceed them all, that to give a man a full knowldeg of true morality, I should send him no other book that the New Testament. They that deny God distroy mans nobility; for certainly man is of kin to the beast by his body; and if he is not kin to god by his spirit he is an ignoble creature." [4/9/1861] "Again I have bid adieu to all of my earthly Friends, but with different feeling than ever before for I sail now with my heart filled with that blessed hope, of Christ's redeeming love, and I feel it will sustain me in my hours of trouble..." [5/25/1863]

Social life:"At 6 P.M. 28th day hove too off Porto Praya, anchored in Port. We have government stores for the African Squadrone and I found the Frigate Constitution in Port, Commadore Mayo from whom I received many kind attentions." [5/27/1854]

Family: After he becomes acquainted with Abby Manton in 1858 and especially after their marriage in1860, nearly every entry contains a lament about homesickness and a wish that he could be with her, his family and friends. "The little schooner passed within a mile of us. She proved to be a spanish vessel bound Home. How sad that word sounds to my ears, we that have but just begun our long tedious voyage, and to think how far we shall be from all our Friends, separated by thousands of miles. I dare not think of it, Home, the words must not enter my thoughts. I must banish them from my mind for a long, long time, perhaps forever. How uncertain is life! but we may hope on, hope ever, it is our only joy, our only pleasure." [3/13/1858] "At 10 P.M. saw Boston light, took a Pilot and at 8 A.M. was at the wharf. I had the exquisite pleasure of meeting My Darling Wife and the joyes of such a meeting no one can realize except by experience. I may truly say it was the happiest moment of my life. My voyage is over, my mind is at rest, would I could say it was my last!" [12/27/1860] "I wish I was in Prov today with my little Wife. O what would I give to be with her for a few hours." [3/6/1860] Abby dies January 1, 1863 and he is devastated. "What change has come over me and my life since I entered the Port of Palermo. A few days and every fond hope of this life is swept into an unfathomable abyss of woe and grief by the loss of all most dear to me on earth, My Darling Wife, my Dearest, and best Friend, My hearts Love, My All. Oh! God had thou spared me this great grief how different had been all my lifes hope...." [3/7/1863] He marries again in 1865 to Elizabeth Reed Vaughan. She and their baby girl voyage with him. "My Darling Baby No.2 is lying on my shoulder and is becoming sadly in want of a Mother to nurse her. I wish Baby No 1 was here playing on the carpet." [4/7/1865]

Marriage: "I think the feelings of a woman towards a man that she truly loves should be that she is competent to be his companion and his friend, to share his thoughts, to respond to all his feelings, to enter into his views and feelings with a mind yealding but not inferior; different in quality, but harmonious in love and thought. She should not feel that he was one who would wish her to be his slave, but one who would be willing to yeald and obey in all love and affection. And no man fit for such a companion would ask more than such a Wife would cheerfully yeald." [8/24/1861]

Aging: "This is my birth day, a day which I always keep in by devoting part of it to calm reflection of my past life. Every year seems to impress on my mind more forciably how fas[t] I am approaching towards the final day when I must leave this world with all its joyes and pleasures and appear before my Creator to answer for all of the sin committed here on earth. Every year I feel more and more how sinful I have been and how unprepared I am for the final judgement..." [11/3/1861]

Health: "Every enjoyment by which no one is injured is innocent, and every innocent enjoyment is praiseworthy, because it assists in diffusing that spirit of content, and of satisfaction which is favorable to the practice of benevolence towards others. The proper limits of self indulgence is that he shall neither hurt himself nor hurt others. Short of this everything is lawful. It is more than lawful, it is necessary." [1/9/1865]

Work: "This being my first voyage Captain, I hope to have a safe and quick passage. Thus far all is well." [11/14/1853]. "We were all very much pleased to see land once more. This is quite a high island 2600 feet and is a favorite stoping place for ships, but my employers are so careful with their money that I fear they would be displeased if I was to stop." [10/10/1861] "Throughout light variable winds with light showers. O horror of horrors; what miserable fortune; I suppose such light winds as we have had donot occur once in a century. My little stock of patience is entirely exhausted and I shall do something desperate soon." [10/15/1861] "I am completely disgusted with everything. O that I had some other way of getting a living." [10/16/1861] "Spoke a French brig, the Capt. completely lost, bound to Marseilles, gave him his position and he went on his way rejoicing." [10/29/1864]

In two months time on the return voyage from Leghorn, Italy to Boston two men fell from the rigging and perished. "At 8 A.M. Albert White aged about 22 years, a native of Wales, fell from the top-gallant yard and was drowned nothwithstanding all our efforts to save him. He was entirely without Friends, or relatives, I believe and alas; poor man has no one to mourn for him but strangers. This is the first thing of the kind I have ever seen, and has cast a deep gloom over us all, and will be often missed from amongst our little crew....May I never see another accident like this in my life, but thy will not mine O God be done." [12/13/1864] "At 8 o'clock it blows a gale from the N.E. and is snowing fast and is very cold. Took in the fore top-sail and while doing so, Albert Snyder fell from the top-sail yard into the sea and perished. Nothing on earth could rescue him on such a night. Oh, my God, how my heart aches for the poor lost one thus hurried into Eternity without a moments warning, and I fear unprepared. I wept tears of deep sorrow for him, and sincerely prayed our Beloved Father would forgive him, and I pray he is safe in the bosom of our Dear Saviour, where there will be no more sorrow or trouble." [2/13/1865]

Food and drink: "We caught a fine turtle and we shall have turtle soup for a month" [5/31/1857] "Last night some of the finney tribe , who leave their natural element sometimes to sport in the air, or to escape from some foracious dolphin, alited on our deck. We took pity on them, and put the poor creatures in the frying-pan, and made our dinner of them." [3/25/1858] "I am getting sick of my bill of Fare 'Salt Beef.' " [5/10/1861] "Several of my geese have died and I regret exceedingly their loss for we have but little besides Salt Horse to eat now." [9/30/1861]

Race/ethnicity content: "We had a visit from the Natives, two males and one female. They look like the Japanese. The Lady was pulling at the oar, so I suppose they labor as well as the men. She had several rings in her ears, and on her thumbs and a very comfortable hood on like those worn by our Grandmothers. Their dress is principally of seal skin and they are the most filthy people I ever saw. The Pilot says it is against their religion to wash. . . these Galacks are a rough looking crew. I purchased several fine large salmon for a little rice and they seemed pleased with their bargain." [9/19/1858]

Government: "There is but one protection against the tyranny of any class; and that is to give that class but little power. Bad government, or bad laws badly administered, are indeed exceedingly injurious at the time, but can produce no permanent mischief; in other words, they may harm a country, but can never ruin it. As long as the people are sound there will be life; and while there is life, there will be reaction. In such case tyranny provokes rebellion and despotism causes freedom. But if the people are unsound, all hope is gone, and the nation perishes. In both instances, government is, in the long run inoperative, and is nowise responsible for the ultimate results." [1/3/1865]

Travel: "At 12 M. it is blowing a heavy gale, and a frightful sea, the worst I ever saw. The ship labours heavily. Could I but realize the feelings of this day I think I should never go again on the sea, but that will not be, for how soon we forget the danger when it is passed and it is well that we do, fore how few there would be, if it were not so, who would risk their lives fore such a paltry sum as we do. This is a Sailors life." [4/27/1856]

The trip aboard the Schooner Georgeinea was his most extreme voyage. On the trip from Smyrna (Izmir) to Boston they traveled across the Atlantic during the hurricane season and survived two hurricanes and more squalls than they cared to experience. They had to repair the foremast, main mast and several booms, they lost a life boat off the deck and were low on water and provisions halfway through the trip. The final straw was running aground on Cape Cod near Truro and being towed up to Provincetown. They got help along the way from another vessel "Spoke and boarded the Ship Victoria, from London for New York, and got a supply of provisions, for which act of kindness I shall ever be very thankful." [12/30/1856] "Took steam from the R.B. Forbes and arrived at Boston at 2 P.M. after the most tedious and severe voyage I ever experienced. Have been on a pint of water for 40 days and very short of provisions. Pity the poor sailor you that remain on shore, let your recupation [sic] be ever so humble." [1/10/1857]

Geographical/architectural: Several sketches appear throughout the journals. Cape de Gata [2/14/1855]; New Orleans [12/25/1854]; Rock of Gibraltar [6/25/1856]; Cape Esarme, Isle Yeso Japan [8/25/1858]; Honolulu, Hawaii [1/17/1859]; Malta [12/27/1860]; Hakodate, Japan [3/31/1861]; Nicolaefski, Russia [3/31/1861]; Calcutta [7/25/1861]; Cadiz, Spain [6/20/1863]; Isle St. Mary, Atlantic Ocean [8/2/1863]; Iceberg near Newfoundland [8/17/1863]; Cape St. Antonio [12/18/1864]

Return to top


Donated by Rhodes Williams Polleys

Return to top

Processing note:

Return to top


Box 1, folder 1. Correspondence and notes, 1823-1888, 1976

Box 1, folder 2. Diary, 11/14/1853 - 10/3/1858

Box 1, folder 2. Diary, 10/4/1858 - 11/6/1860

Box 1, folder 3. Diary, 12/18/1862 - 9/3/1865

Box 1, folder 5. Diary and business records,1826, 1862-1863, 10/26/1864 - 9/7/1865

Return to top


Diaries, 1853-1865

Dolphin (Ship)

Egypt - Description and travel

Georgeinea (Schooner)

Japan - Description and travel

Hawaii - Description and travel

Henry Hill (Barque)

India - Description and travel

Lizzie (Barque)

Log-book, 1853-1865

Melita (Barque)

Nevada (Barque)

Russia - Description and travel


Polleys, Abby Dyer (Manton) (1833-1863)

Polleys, Elizabeth Reed (Vaughan) (1833-1899)

Rebecca Goddard (Barque)

Ship captains

Ship captains' spouses

Turkey - Description and travel

End of finding aid - return to top