Captain Joseph Sears Atwood

I was born in Eastham, Massachusetts on February 19, 1720. Like many young men of the time, I first went to sea when I was ten years old, on fishing boats that plied the waters around Nova Scotia and the Grand Banks. As was usually the case, I began my sea-going career as a cook, gradually being promoted to seaman, mate, chief mate, and captain.

In his History of Chatham William Smith writes:

About 1740 Chatham men began to secure command of vessels sailing
to the West Indies and to European ports, though both were rather
hazardous trips. Captain Joseph Atwood was one of the first of these
captains, sailing in command of ships owned by Boston parties. He
made several voyages in the snow ((pronounced “snoo”) Judith, a square-sterned
ship of 80 tons, to the Bay of Honduras and thence to Amsterdam and back.

In April of 1742 I took time out from my voyages to marry Deborah Sears. The wedding took place at the Sears home, and guests were invited to remain for an evening of dancing. My wife was an attractive young lady who very much enjoyed dancing, and on one particular evening, Deborah became increasingly energetic and danced so vigorously that her foot broke through the floor, causing some consternation but only slight injury.

With my wife settled in Eastham, I continued my voyages, and in 1747, I became master of the Isle Sables Galley with a crew consisting of the captain, a mate, and three or four sailors, which meant she was not a large vessel. In 1749 I was captain of the Judith, with orders to sail to Honduras, Amsterdam, and home. The owners warned me that while in Honduras, the Spanish might attempt to seize the ship and advised that “as you are well fitted for defense, we expect you to put up a manly defense in case you are attacked.”

On February 29, 1752, while still captain of the Judith, a larger ship than some of my previous commands, and with a crew of eleven, I decided to take a respite from seagoing and settle down ashore to raise a family. During my twelve years as a sea captain, I had accumulated a fortune by the standards of the time. Later that year I went to a fellow Eastham resident, Colonel Doane, who was reputed to “own everything for miles around,” and bought 30 acres of the William Mitchell farm in Chatham, comprising all the land from the present Stage Harbor Road, known then as the road to the stage, to the Mill Pond. In 1761 I bought from William Nickerson’s great-grandson thirty acres of land on the other side of the road to the stage, and I continued to acquire land in the area until the end of my life, becoming one of the largest landowners in Chatham.

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Location & Hours


Atwood Museum
347 Stage Harbor Road
Chatham, MA 02633