"A captivating insight into Alaskan history."

Sailing the Mail in Alaska

The Maritime Years of Alaska Photographer
John E. Thwaites

By J. Pennelope Goforth

   Sailing the Mail in Alaska is the engaging story of a mail clerk with a camera on a steamship plying the stormy Southwest Alaska waters from Valdez to Bristol Bay from 1905 through 1912. He was a prolific photographer, she was a famous ship and together they survived exciting adventures. From the deck of the SS DORA, Thwaites chronicled the events, people, places and vessels of coastal Alaska. His unique photographs portray a vivid picture of a boom time in Southwest Alaska including:


   His photos appear in many books about Alaska’s history, mostly unsigned and unsung until now. This is the only biography of this productive but mysterious photographer: his life, his loves, and his great sense of humor during shipwrecks, volcanic eruptions, and on dogsleds delivering mail. Several adventures are quoted directly from his own unpublished manuscripts.

   Over 100 of his most famous photographic postcard images, plus never before published private family photographs of Thwaites himself, bring his life and times alive for the reader. The book is also illustrated with authentic period charts and maps of Alaska’s coasts from maritime archives. Indexed and richly footnoted, the book contains a large bibliography and an appendix listing the location of thousands of Thwaites’ photographs in various public and private collections.

JP GoforthAuthor J. Pennelope Goforth has traveled the Alaskan coast from Adak in the Aleutian Islands, the Pribilof Islands, to Nome and Kotzebue in the Far North. She has been a crabber on the Bering Sea and been around Admiralty Island in a sailboat race. She lived aboard her own vessel in Juneau and Ketchikan in Southeast Alaska. Photographer, journalist, writer and editor, her photographs and writing have been published in many books, journals, newspapers, and magazines.

Sailing the Mail in Alaska has become the NUMBER ONE bestselling Alaskan biography for 2003! Nominated for two national history awards, the book has garnered glowing praise for the stunning sepia-toned presentation of Thwaites' photographs. The book has been positively reviewed by many historical society newsletters in Alaska and Washington.

"If the pictures were replaced by a thousand words each, the volume would be thick indeed. Instead Goforth gives us a nice slim book that showcases Thwaites' pictures and stories. Good captions provide the context photographs require." - Kodiak Maritime Museum

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"In the early part of the last century John Thwaites, mail clerk and photographer, survived two harrowing maritime adventures and took thousands of pictures of ordinary things along the Alaska coast. He captured on film the places, ships, people and everyday happenings that otherwise would be lost to memory. Pennelope Goforth has put between these covers the details of his adventurous life along with a fine selection of his pictures.”

—Bob DeArmond, author of numerous books and Alaska State Historian

“Sailing the Mail in Alaska is the first thorough consideration of an important Alaska photographer. It’s about time Thwaites got his due; and so well-researched and well-illustrated, too!”

—Ann Chandonnet, much-published
author of Alaska's Arts, Crafts & Collectibles

“Drawing from the adventurer’s vast photo collection and frequently published accounts, biographer Pennelope Goforth brings this exciting maritime record to life. In the process she has preserved a valuable history that is vital in understanding the Far North.”

—Lael Morgan, author of The Good Time Girls

Released March 21, 2003

Published by CybrrCat Productions!

Historical Presentations and book signings 2006:

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    Sailing the Mail in Alaska 180 pages ISBN 1-892252-00-7 Softcover Retail: $24.95US    

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Last Modified: 10.01.06.