Captain Josiah Bacon, the founder of Sailors’ Snug Harbor of Boston, was not a sailor but an individual interested in providing a home and comfortable existence for sailors who were “broken down by infirmities brought on by diseases in foreign clinics, expenses, and hardships.” Established in 1852, Sailors’ Snug Harbor was committed to serving a population whose lives changed when they could no longer serve as active seamen. It was the wish of the founding Trustees to offer seamen comfortable “asylum, a Snug Harbor, secure from storms or shipwrecks.”

Engraving of Sailors’ Snug Harbor, Germantown, Quincy, in 1860

With the assistance of friends, Captain Bacon opened a retirement home for needy sailors in the Germantown section of Quincy.  This operation ran for many years, and then was continued in Duxbury.  In time, the need for retirement homes diminished and the Trustees sold the Duxbury property, dedicating the funds to support nonprofit charitable programs serving seamen.  In 1970, the Trustees voted to extend their grantmaking to support agencies serving elderly men and women.

In recent years, Sailors’ Snug Harbor has made grants to support the needs of low-income elderly in Greater Boston, but the Trustees’ first funding priority continues to be programs that assist seamen and their families.  Since 1995, the Trustees have focused funds specifically toward programs addressing the needs of Massachusetts fishing families, primarily in Gloucester, New Bedford, and Cape Cod.

150th Anniversary Report

This printed history of Sailors’ Snug Harbor of Boston’s first 150 years was produced in 2002.

To request a copy, please contact foundation assistant Liz Raskopf at 617-391-3092 or eraskopf@gmafoundations.com.  The report incorporates portions of previous such publications from 1860 onward, and describes the organization’s transformation to a grantmaking foundation in the 1970s.


Sailors’ Snug Harbor ferry-house and ferrymen in 1908, Germantown section of Quincy

Excerpt from King’s Handbook of Boston Harbor by M.F. Sweetser, The Third Edition, 1888, Revised and Enlarged

The name of Germantown still clings to the little peninsula which projects into Weymouth River from Quincy, and looks down the estuary to the north-east, and out across the islands.

The Sailors’ Snug Harbor was founded here in 1856, in a charming location, among grand old trees, under which the blue waters of the Bay are seen. During the past fifteen years, about two hundred and fifty weather-beaten tars have been received here, ninety of whom died in the Harbor. There are accommodations for about twoscore. The sentiment of the place is well expressed in Lunt’s poem, read at its dedication:

“Here may the veteran mariner repose,
When on his craft the life-storm fiercely blows;
Here let him turn a-port, and, furling sail,
Run for a harbor through the driving gale;
Here, rounding to, drop anchor near the shore,
And ride in safety till life’s voyage is o’er.
From cape to cape, search round our noble bay,
No lovelier sight than here can eye survey;
From yonder hill, when sunset’s blazing sheen
Sets in a golden frame the pictured scene,
Let the eye wander freely as it will,
Landward or seaward, all is beauty still.”

The Great Republic

Launched in October 1853 by East Boston shipbuilder Donald McKay, the Great Republic was a four-deck four-masted medium clipper barque, the largest wooden clipper ship ever constructed.  Specifically designed for the Australian gold rush trade and the southern oceans, the Great Republic was nearly 30 percent longer than any other ship afloat, with a carrying capacity almost twice that of her nearest rival clipper.  Boston businesses and schools were closed for the ship’s launch, which was attended by an estimated 50,000 spectators.

Captain Robert Bennet Forbes c. 1830

Captain Robert Bennet Forbes, first president of the recently incorporated Sailors’ Snug Harbor of Boston, sent the following letter to Donald McKay:

Donald McKay, Esq.,

My dear Sir:-

As your ship, the Great Republic, is likely to be visited by thousands of admirers, I suggest that you make her the medium of doing a great service to an institution which is about going into operation, and of which I am, for want of a better, the presiding officer.  The “Sailors’ Snug Harbor of Boston” has the sympathy of all those who take an interest in ships, and they would willingly pay a “York shilling” to see your ship and at the same time serve a benevolent object.  If you approve of the suggestion, I will carry it out at once by sending a competent agent on board, and if any one should by mistake drop a dollar in the purse, I will give him credit for it.

I am a very truly

Your friend and servant

(signed) R. B. Forbes.

East Boston, Oct. 8, 1853

 Donald McKay replied in kind:

       Capt. R. B. Forbes:

Dear Sir:

Yours requesting my concurrence in your very benevolent suggestion, that of having the privilege of collecting a small sum from the visitors to the Great Republic for the benefit of the “Sailors’ Snug Harbor” in Boston, has been received.  I assure you that nothing will give me more pleasure than to afford you such an opportunity.  This class of men have too long been neglected: they do the labor, they sail the clippers of which we boast as a nation; and any little reward that they may be able to collect along this way, will be highly pleasing to me.  And I hope the public will contribute in this way, and feel it to be a privilege to be able to build up a bulwark to shelter the weather-beaten sailor, now no longer able to earn his bread by his perilous profession.

I am, dear sir, yours truly

(signed) Donald McKay

Before departing Boston for New York, where she was to collect her first cargo and sail to Liverpool, the Great Republic was opened to inspection to the public and soon $1,000 was collected for the Sailors’ Snug Harbor of Boston.

When the Great Republic arrived in New York Harbor, thousands of people, including the governor of New York, came to the pier for a look.  While the loading of cargo proceeded through the month of December, the Great Republic was again thrown open to inspection by the public, as she had been in Boston, with the money collected again intended for the Sailors’ Snug Harbor of Boston.  Over the month, at least 40,000 people came aboard, each paying 12 1/2 cents for the privilege, and more than $4,000 had been collected by Christmas.

On December 27th, the Great Republic burned to the water’s edge in a dock fire.  She was later rebuilt as a three-deck vessel with reduced masts.