The Marine Society of New York is a charitable and educational organization, the regular membership being composed entirely of seafarers, all of whom must be, or have been Captains or Officers of merchant vessels under the United States flag. It was formed in colonial days, and formally chartered by King George III in 1770 to "...improve maritime knowledge and relieve indigent and distressed shipmasters, their widows and orphans..." Among the early honorary members of the Society was President George Washington.
From that day to this, the Society has endeavored to improve maritime knowledge. It has relieved, insofar as it was able, the needs of over 5,000 distressed shipmasters, their widows and orphans. It has today a number of masters' widows on a monthly allotment basis, many of whom require advice, counsel and assistance for their well being.
Among the records of the Society, covering a span of more than two centuries, many achievements stand out: a respected member, Captain Robert Richard Randall, in the year 1801 provided the basis for the founding of The Sailor's Snug Harbor on Staten Island. It is the only institution in America accepting old or disabled seamen and one of the oldest charitable organizations in the country. The President and First Vice President of the Marine Society are, by office, members of the Board of Trustees of The Sailor's Snug Harbor.
Because the carefully drawn will of Captain Randall made no provision for wives or relatives of seamen, the Society, in 1854, assisted in the foundation of the Mariner's Family Home on Staten Island.
Recognizing the need for education among our merchant seamen, the Society, in 1874, together with other interested groups, prevailed upon the New York State Legislature to pass a law establishing the New York Schoolship. It assisted in procuring the training vessel "Saint Mary's" from the Navy Department for such employment. One or more members of the Society served on the Board of the Schoolship until it became part of the New York State University in 1949 as one of their colleges.
In the year 1882, because of lack of funds, the State of New York abandoned the Marine Hospital at Government, Staten Island, expecting the U.S. Government to accept it. The Federal Government also could not fund the hospital and the Marine Society was called upon to take over it, which it did under a rental agreement with the U.S. Public Health Service. The Society thereafter owned the hospital and maintained it until 1902, when the Federal Government purchased it. From the proceeds the Society shared equally the of $68,000 with the Mariners Family Home and the Society for the Relief of Destitute Seamen's Children.
By and large, the Marine Society of New York has performed its charitable service through the years quietly and without fanfare, as becomes an organization of seafarers, and it stands today as the watchdog of their interests and those of American Merchant Shipping as a whole. Aside from a donation on election, there are no yearly dues, and it is believed that all eligible seafarers in good repute should become members.