The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Melville's Relations, Pt. 1: Parents and Grandparents

In looking for information on Melville's family circle, I have discovered to my surprise that no single on-line resource provides a ready reference to the biographical essentials of Melville's various forebears, siblings, in-laws, children, nieces, and nephews, with some of whom he maintained close contact throughout his life.   I will therefore undertake to provde such information here, in a series of cross-referenced posts.  We begin with his illustrious grandparents.

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Herman's paternal grandparents:  Major Thomas Melvill (1751-1832) and Patricia Scollay Melvill (1755-1833).  The Major participated in the Boston Tea Party and, during the Revolutionary War, served in the Massachusetts State Regiment of Artillery.  Grandpa Melvill died when Herman was about 13, in the same year that Herman's own father died. 

Major Thomas Melvill

Herman's maternal grandparents:  General Peter Gansevoort (1749-1812), the hero of Ft. Stanwix, and Catherine Van Schaik Gansevoort (1751-1830).  The Gansevoorts belonged to New York's old "Dutch aristocracy," immortalized by Washington Irving.  Grandpa Gansevoort died some seven years before Herman was born.  Herman was about 11 (and his mother about 39) when Grandma Gansevoort died.

General Peter Gansevoort
Herman's parents:  Allan Melvill (1782-1832) and Maria Gansevoort Melvill (later "Melville") (1791-1872).  Herman's father was a merchant in the Atlantic trade in New York City, until he fled to Albany in 1830 to escape his creditors.  He died before retrieving his fortune.  Herman was about 13, and his mother about 41, at the time of Allan Melvill's death.

Herman's father in his late 20s.  In Pierre, Melville describes a portrait
of the protagonist's far-from-perfect father very similar to this.

Herman's mother, in her late 20s

The train of deaths and disaster in the early 1830s:  Granny Gansevoort dies in 1830, father's business ventures fail for good in 1830, Grandpa Melvill dies in 1832, father dies in 1832, Granny Melvill dies in 1833.  Death and poverty together become realities to the teenaged Herman, as he, his mother, and his siblings are left without a protector or a source of income.

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