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Patricia Johnston

Society founded in 1799 in Salem, MA, which organized one of the earliest museums in America and became a patron for commissioning art. Marine societies founded in port cities during the colonial and federal periods usually provided charitable assistance to indigent seamen or widows and orphans. The East India Marine Society (EIMS) had further ambitions. British colonial navigation laws had restricted legal American trade to the Atlantic basin; after the Revolution, opening global trade became a primary goal of American commerce. The EIMS recognized those Salem mariners who embarked on global trade, since membership was restricted to “Masters or Commanders of Vessels” or supercargoes (head traders) who rounded Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope to engage in Pacific or Asian trade.

The East India Marine Society engaged in diverse collecting activities. Some items were valuable for navigation, such as nautical charts and journals of voyages (some of which contained drawings). The Society’s library offered for circulation among members a selection of published sea chronicles, particularly expensive engraved volumes, as for example, illustrated voyages of Captain Cook, La Pérouse, and Vancouver. In these ways the EIMS became an important center for the circulation of global knowledge and visual imagery of distant lands....