Frederick Pease Harlow papers, approximately 1890-1950  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Harlow, Frederick Pease
Frederick Pease Harlow papers
approximately 1890-1950 (inclusive)
1.24 cubic feet (4 boxes)
Collection Number
5847 (Accession No. 5847-001)
Manuscripts and other materials of an American sailor and author including correspondence, a Wells Fargo autograph book, photographs, and photograph albums, that provide an account of life at sea and in the American West in the nineteenth century
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections
Special Collections
University of Washington Libraries
Box 352900
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 206-543-1929
Fax: 206-543-1931
Access Restrictions

Open to all users.


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Frederick Pease Harlow was an American sailor and author. He is best known for his memoir The Making of a Sailor, published in 1928, an account of his work and travels around the world on the Akbar, Conquest, and other merchant ships.

Harlow was born in Illinois in 1856 to William T. Harlow, a Methodist minister, and Frances Ann Winsor. When Harlow was a child, the family moved to Massachusetts and, later, Rhode Island, where he graduated high school. In 1875, Harlow shipped out on a two year deep-water voyage to Australia aboard the square-rigger trade ship Akbar. In 1878, he traveled from Boston to the West Indies aboard the Conquest. Harlow left the sea in 1879 and moved to Chicago, where he worked in a Methodist bookstore.

During the 1880s, Harlow worked as a railway express agent for American Express in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and for Wells Fargo in Colorado. His work consisted of transferring valuable goods and money to the next agents on the line, in progress towards their ultimate destination. This kind of employment was extremely dangerous, and Harlow’s papers include mentions of his own and others’ experiences as the targets of robberies and raids. Harlow was also involved in numerous railway accidents, a large factor in his later decision to move on to more stable employment. While working as a railway agent, Harlow befriended a Texas Ranger named Frank W. DeJarnette, and in 1885 DeJarnette sent Harlow a scalp he had acquired during a raid. A small segment of the scalp and its accompanying correspondence between Harlow and DeJarnette are included in this collection.

In 1888, Harlow began work as a money agent for the Northern Pacific Express Company out of Portland, Oregon, and then transferred to Seattle, Washington in 1890. He arrived in Seattle just eight months after the Great Fire of 1889. His memoir includes stories and observations from this period of rapid reconstruction which saw various city regrade projects and the raising of Seattle’s downtown core 22 feet higher than its previous level.

Harlow married Gertrude Gilleland in Seattle in 1898. They had one child, Frances Winsor Harlow, born in 1899. In 1901, Harlow left the railways and began work as a bookkeeper for various Seattle companies that were busily rebuilding the city’s infrastructure: Fritch & Harlow (cement contractors) from 1901 to 1903 and Stanley & Sons (city grading and bricklaying) from 1903 to 1908. In 1908, he started the Occidental Fish Company with some associates, and worked there until the company was sold in 1911. He spent the summer of 1912 with his family aboard the schooner William Nottingham which was moored in St. Johns, Oregon. Included in this collection is the hand bound manuscript that his daughter Frances wrote and illustrated about their summer on the schooner.

Harlow continued working as a bookkeeper for the Arctic Club (1912-1915); Johnson & Dean Lumber Company (1915-1917); the Washington Shipping Corporation (1917-1918); Syms & Carey Contractors (1918); and, finally, the Puget Sound Navigation Company (1919-1933), where he remained until he retired. It was during his downtime at the Puget Sound Navigation Company that he wrote his well-regarded work The Making of a Sailor, which was published in 1928.

In addition to his travels on the sea and on the rails, Harlow also took two extensive trips by bicycle: one through Yellowstone Park in 1896 and one along the Oregon coast in 1898. Visiting the park via bicycle allowed him vantage points inaccessible to tourists in stagecoaches, the usual mode of visiting the park. His descriptions of Yellowstone consist of viewing the geysers, hot springs, and wildlife in that park, as well as taking a steamer across Yellowstone Lake and bicycling over the Continental Divide. Two years later, Harlow’s bicycling trip with friends along the Oregon coast took him through Tillamook, Cannon Beach, Seaside, and Astoria, and he had the chance to view a number of shipwrecks gone ashore. He also visited the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle in 1909.

Harlow’s memoir details his travels after retiring in 1933. He and Gertrude travelled by car throughout the United States from 1933 to 1935, and were present to witness the creation of Lake Mead as the Hoover Dam’s tunnels were closed. After touring the United States, they decided to travel around the world, and departed from Los Angeles aboard the Asama Maru ocean liner in April 1935. Their travels brought them to Japan, China, Hong Kong, the Philippines (where they were present at the inauguration of Manuel L. Quezon), Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Egypt, France, England, Cuba, and Panama, all just a few years before World War II would radically change these nations’ physical and political landscapes.

Harlow spent his later years building ship models and working on his memoirs. He spent many years pursuing the publication of his memoir as well his collection on sea shanties, Chanteying Aboard American Ships. The latter was posthumously published in 1962, due to the efforts of Harlow’s granddaughter Elaine Eberle Tompkins; Harlow’s typewritten memoir, included here, has never been published.

Harlow died in Seattle in 1952, at the age of 95.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

Manuscripts and other materials, including correspondence, a Wells Fargo autograph book, photographs, and photograph albums, that provide an account of life at sea and in the American West in the nineteenth century.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Creator's literary rights are in the public domain.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top


CorrespondenceReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Letters from Harlow in Seattle to his wife and daughter while they were traveling in the western U.S.
Letter to Gilbert Harlow Baker, featuring an excerpt from Harlow's memoir and a poem by Harlow to be read at a family reunion, probably the Sergeant William Harlow Family Association (1948); greeting card from Ernest G. Heinrici of the U.S. Navy (1952?); unsigned letter to Harlow's sister Juliet, detailing the family coat of arms (undated).
Correspondence and notes both from and about Harlow's years as a railway agent. Includes two letters from Texas Ranger Frank W. DeJarnette (1885); various notes and messages to Harlow, relating to his employment (various dates).
Incoming and outgoing correspondence concerning the publication of The Making of a Sailor and Harlow's attempts to find a publisher for his untitled memoir. Correspondents are arranged alphabetically.
Alaska Packers' Association
American Neptune 1945-1947
American Neptune 1948-1951
Dodd, Mead, & Co. - Kennedy Brothers, Inc.
Also includes correspondence with G.P. Putnam's Sons.
Marine Research Society
Mariners' Museum - Shipping Register
Also includes correspondence with Princeton University Press.
W.W. Norton & Co. - Yachting
Letter from a friend containing the music and lyrics to two sea songs: "Gideon's Hand" and "Lindy Lowe" (1915); letter from A.G. Cole, a British sailor, concerning sea shanties (1925); letter from a friend containing the poem "General Dimmick of Falmouth Town" (1926).
Letter to the U.S. Navy Training Section about placing The Making of a Sailor in government hospitals and libraries (1944); letters to a friend, Lois, about publishing (1944); correspondence with John R. Lyman concerning naval history and sea shanties (1945-1947); correspondence with a friend, Gordon Jones, about sea shanties, sailing, and publication (1946); correspondence with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, concerning sea shanties (1948); correspondence with Frank Shay, author of American Sea Songs and Chanteys from the Days of Iron Men and Wooden Ships, concerning sea shanties and the publishing business (1948-1949).
Correspondence with Elmer Jones, president of the Wells Fargo Company, in which Harlow relates his experiences as a messenger for that company, and Jones's response (1950-1951); correspondence with Gordon Jones about sailing and publishing (1951); copy fo a letter to Aetna Life Insurance Company (1951).
To and from people other than Harlow
Letters to Harlow's brother Julius in Boston, San Francisco, and Honolulu, from their parents and siblings (1859-1868); a letter to Julius from a friend in Truckee, California (1870); a letter from relatives of Harlow's from the ship the Western Belle (1877).
A letter from Elaine Tompkins, Harlow's granddaughter, to the Barre Gazette, publisher of Harlow's Chanteying Aboard American Ships, containing a biographical sketch of Harlow (1961).

Sheet music, sea shanties, undatedReturn to Top

Container(s): Box-folder 1/17-18

Harlow's notes on sea shanties, including hand- and typewritten lyrics as well as sheet music.

Memoir, undatedReturn to Top

Harlow's typewritten, unbound, unpublished memoir. It contains clippings and references to clippings and photos that Harlow meant to be included in the final publication.

Container(s) Description Dates
Pages 1-47
Harlow describes his early life in Illinois and Massachusetts. Includes reminiscences of troops mustering for the Civil War; Lincoln's assassination; encountering Sioux Indians in Illinois; the laying of the French Atlantic Cable in Duxbury, Massachusetts; Harlow's brother Julius's life and death at sea; and Harlow's own burgeoning interest in sailing.
Pages 48-103
Harlow describes his first voyage, on the schooner David G. Floyd, and offers highlights from his time aboard the Akbar.
Pages 104-150
Harlow describes further adventures aboard the Akbar and in Australia.
Pages 151-204
Follows Harlow's experiences aboard the Akbar, his visits to Malaysia and Java, return to the United States, and departure on the Conquest for Barbados.
Pages 205-269
Harlow describes his travels aboard the Conquest, including witnessing a whaling ship harpoon a whale; his return to the United States in 1879 and his first years as a railway agent, including meeting Frank DeJarnette.
Pages 270-324
Includes more descriptions of Harlow's life as a railway agent. He tells of moving to Portland, and then Seattle six months after the Great Fire of 1889; the condition of the city, especially Pioneer Square; and the subsequent increase in construction. There are brief descriptions of the Duwamish settlement at Seattle's Ballast Island and of Princess Angeline, eldest daughter of Chief Seattle. Harlow relates many stories and anecdotes that illustrate what life in Seattle was like in the early twentieth century, notably the changes incurred by regrading projects. He describes his bicycle trip through Yellowstone Park in 1896 as well as a bicycle trip along the Oregon coast in 1898. Includes his marriage to Gertrude Gilleland and the birth of their daughter Frances.
Pages 325-370
Includes descriptions of Seattle during the first three decades of the twentieth century, when Harlow lived in Capitol Hill and worked as a bookkeeper for various companies. Harlow relates the writing and publishing of The Making of a Sailor, his retirement, and his and Gertrude's motor trip throughout the United States in the 1930s.
Pages 371-425
Begins with the Harlows' departure from Los Angeles on their world voyage, then describes their experiences in Japan and China.
Pages 426-467
Continues the Harlows' visit to China, and then describes their time in Hong Kong and the Philippines, including their witnessing of the inauguration of President Manuel L. Quezon.
Pages 468-510
Describes the Harlows' return to China from the Philippines, and their further travels to Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Egypt, and the Mediterranean Sea.
Pages 511-558
Harlow describes their passage through Gibraltar to London; their experiences in London and Paris; their transAtlantic voyage to Cuba; then through the Panama Canal and up the coast to California; and their return to Seattle in 1937 by way of Yosemite National Park. They departed again in 1938 for a trip throughout the United States.
Pages 559-605
Describes the Harlows' further travels throughout the United States and their final return home in late 1938. Includes three original poems by Harlow.

Memorabilia, undatedReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Harlow (undated); Harry T. Tompkins (undated); John C. Muins (undated); Olive ? (1940?); two photos of a tall ship (undated).
Contains: a small instructional book on the use of the abacus entitled "Bead Arithmetic"; an Austrian 10 schilling banknote from 1945; a brochure for a sightseeing tour of Havana, Cuba; handwritten note of Chinese-English translation.
Legal documents
Two documents, one an indenture on land in Duxbury, Massachusetts belonging to Deborah Winsor (1830); the other, a probate document naming William T. Harlow the executor of Isaac Winsor's estate in Duxbury, Massachusetts (1849).
Notes on sailing
Includes: "Outfit for an E. India voyage 1874"; "Tacking ship orders"; detailed lists of ships built in the U.S., c. 1840s-1870s; and an original poem by Harlow: "While I'm at the Wheel."
Includes a July 25, 1902 edition of Big Bend Chief, a newspaper from Wilson Creek, Washington; a November 3, 1928 copy of Marine Digest with a biography of Harlow; various clippings about Harlow and his work, from Marine Digest, Seattle Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and the University of Washington Daily.
Autograph book
Harlow's autograph book from his years as a railway agent.
Small daguerreotype of Harlow as an infant on his mother's lap. In a rectangular leather case, approximately 2" by 3". Enclosed is Mrs. Frederick Harlow's calling card with a handwritten note on the back: "Frances Ann Winsor Harlow with Frederick Pease harlow taken in 1857. Frances Ann born Roxbury Mass. Dec. 28, 1815 died Nov. 6 1898 Portland Or."
Photograph album
Cloth bound photograph album of the Harlow and Gilleland families.
1860s - 1920s
Novelty plastic pin in the shape of a captain's wheel from the 1951 Seattle SeaFair. Printed with the words "Seattle SeaFair Skipper 1951."
"The Schooner William Nottingham" manuscript
At age 12 or 13, Frances Harlow wrote this 16-page manuscript, lettered the text, created numerous freehand illustrations in ink, and hand bound the pages in cloth and leather. The story details the ship's history and the family's experience aboard the schooner while it was docked in Portland, Oregon for a summer.
Frances Winsor Harlow's scrapbook, with photos of her from infancy to early adulthood, photos of family and friends, her Broadway High School graduation program, and newspaper notices of her 1918 wedding.

Miscellaneous, 1898-1923Return to Top

Container(s): Box-folder 2/6

Documents possibly pertaining to Harlow's granddaughter, Elaine Eberle Tompkins, and her husband's family including possibly Mr. Sohns and Mr. Schuele of Vancouver, Washington; a survey map of a property in Michigan.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Personal Papers/Corporate Records (University of Washington)
  • Railroad companies--Employees
  • Sailors--United States
  • Personal Names :
  • DeJarnette, Frank W.--Correspondence
  • Harlow, Frederick Pease--Archives
  • Corporate Names :
  • Alaska Packers Association--History--Sources
  • Wells, Fargo & Company--History--Sources