Biographical Sketch of Joseph W. Plasket

Joseph W. Plasket, ca. 1804
Spoilum, active ca. 1774–1806
Oil on canvas, 24 x 18 in.
Collection of the Nantucket Historical Association, gift of Whitman College, 1989.128.3

Joseph William Plasket (June 2, 1775–April 19, 1827) was a master mariner who resided for most of his life in Nantucket, Massachusetts. His career included multiple voyages to China and nearly two decades commanding freighting voyages between New England and U.S., Caribbean, and European ports.

Plasket (also spelled in records as Plaskett) was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, a son of Joseph (ca. 1746–1794) and Tabitha Plasket (ca. 1743–1807). In 1798, he married Perses Percy (1773–1842), often called Perses (or Persis) Colesworthy, as she was the daughter of Susan Colesworthy (1752–1811) and an unknown man named Percy. Joseph and Perses had eight children, one of whom died in childhood, two of whom married sailors, and three of whom—William, Joseph, and Henry—became whaling captains.

The Plasket children were:

  • William (1798–1846)
    Married Nancy Pollard (1798–1870), a sister of Capt. George Pollard Jr.
  • Susan (1803–1876)
    Married George Brock (1798–1851)
  • Mary W. (1805–1888)
    Married Capt. Edward W. Coffin (1802–1870)
  • Philips (born before 1809)
    Died in childhood
  • Eliza Wallcut (1808–1896)
    Married Timothy Clapp (1800–1842); later, David Mitchell (1799–1875)
  • Joseph N. (1810–1845)
    Died single
  • Henry R. (1812–1893)
    Married Mary B. Pinkham (1814–1910), daughter of Capt. Seth Pinkham
  • Charlotte P. (1814–1873)
    Married Capt. Randall Kelley (1803–1867)

Joseph W. Plasket’s earliest voyages are unknown. He first appears in the records as second mate of the ship Mars from 1799 to 1802. This voyage, under Captain Uriah Swain and first mate James Cary, was the first trading voyage to China made by a Nantucket ship. Plasket subsequently served as first mate in the ship Rose under Captain James Cary on two voyages to China in 1803–05 and 1805–07.[1] He is often said to have been on the third voyage of the Rose in 1810–1813, and to have brought the Rose back to Nantucket after Captain Cary died at Canton in 1812, but this conflicts with the birth of Joseph and Perses’s son Henry in December 1812, as well as with newspaper accounts that say the Rose was commanded by Captain Gardner when taken by a British warship near Mauritius in 1813.[2]

Plasket appears to have commanded the sloop Hunter on a trading voyage between Guadeloupe and Nantucket in early 1808.[3] Later in 1808, he commanded the ship Eliza of Nantucket on a sealing voyage to the coast of Chile. On April 1, 1809, the Eliza wrecked at Isle of St. Mary (Isla Santa María) in the Gulf of Arauco. He and several of his crew appear to have taken passage in an English ship as far as St. Helena, where they boarded the ship Isis, Captain Donnison, from Batavia bound for Providence, Rhode Island, where they arrived in early September 1809.[4]

In January 1815, Plasket took the cartel schooner Franklin from Nantucket to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to pick up Nantucket prisoners of war. The Franklin grounded on Point Pleasant Shoals in Halifax Harbor on January 13 and broke up in a gale the next day. The schooner and its fittings were sold at auction where they lay, and Plasket used the proceeds to secure the use of the British sloop Jane and Martha as a cartel to carry about 20 passengers and a cargo of iron and West India goods home to Nantucket.[5]

Beginning in late 1816, Plasket began to spend most of his time commanding the 130-ton brig (sometimes schooner) Emeline of Nantucket, making freighting voyages along the U.S. East and Gulf coasts, into the West Indies, and across the Atlantic to such ports as London, Rotterdam, Lisbon, Hamburg, Malaga, Gibraltar, and Marseilles. These voyages mostly ran cargo in and out of Boston. Sometimes Plasket carried cargoes on his own account; sometimes he worked in partnership with shipping agent William Lovering Jr. of Boston.


[1] William Root Bliss, Quaint Nantucket (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1897), 218; Rose crew list, in Silvanus Hussey’s journal 1805–07, Nantucket Historical Association, Ms. 220, log 394, 1.

[2] Michael A. Jehle, From Brant Point to the Boca Tigris: Nantucket and the China Trade (Nantucket: NHA, 1994), 61, 80, 87; “Frigate Essex, &c.,” Boston Commercial Gazette, July 26, 1813, 1.

[3] “Shipping News,” Boston Democrat, Mar. 5, 1808, 3.

[4] “Shipping News,” Providence American, Sept. 5, 1809, 3; “Shipping News,” Boston Repertory, Sept. 8, 1809, 3.

[5] “Shipping News,” New York Mercantile Advertiser, Mar. 3, 1815, 3; “Marine List,” Baltimore Telegraph, Apr. 6, 1815, 2.


In 1824, Plasket sold the Emeline and took command of the 206-ton “superior new brig” Sophia and Eliza built by Joseph Holmes at Kingston, Massachusetts. Plasket and Holmes co-owned the vessel, which was sometimes misreported in the press as the Sarah and Eliza. Plasket continued coastal and transatlantic freighting in the Sophia and Eliza until his death in Boston in 1827.[1]

Plasket is buried in New North Cemetery on Nantucket, alongside his wife.


[1] Henry M. Jones, Ships of Kingston: “Good-bye, Fare Ye Well” (Plymouth: Memorial Press of Plymouth, 1926), 34.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

> >