Ocean Voyages

“I hope and pray, I may never again be left to go to sea”

ABIGAIL ADAMS continued to describe the voyage from England to Boston in a letter written at sea {May 29, 1788) to her daughter Abigail Adams Smith. Ships met in passing are “spoken to,” that is contacted for news or an exchange of letters. The Lucretia met several en route. Normally there were doctors on board to tend to the health of the crew and passengers, to deal with accidents and with injuries sustained in wars. (Dr. Stephen Maturin in the O’Brian books). One assumes that the doctor on the Lucretia delivered Mrs. Briesler’s baby. Ships’ crews also always included carpenters to repair damage to the vessel due to battles or severe weather.

My Dear Daughter:
Tis agreed by all the hands, that they never knew so blustering a May. We have met with several ships, with which we have spoken; and one morning after a very heavy wind we espied a ship in distress, having lost her masts; we steered immediately for her, and found her to be an American ship, captain M——, called the Thomas and Sally, bound to Baltimore. We lay to, and sent hands on board of her, to assist in getting up another mast. We sent our old doctor on board to bleed two men, much hurt by the fall of their masts; and Mr. Boyd [William Boyd of Portsmouth], one of our passengers, said he would go on board and see if there were any passengers; as the sea ran high I thought it was rather dangerous, but he was young and enterprising; our mate, carpenter, doctor, and four sailors, accompanied him. It was late in the afternoon before they could get back, and really at the hazard of their lives, for the wind had increased to a storm and the sea ran mountain high; we were all very anxious for them, but happily they all returned safe; Mr. Boyd bringing us an account, that there were four passengers on board, amongst whom was poor Hindman [possibly William Hindman, an American lawyer who had studied at the Inns of Court in London], almost terrified to death; but as the ship was a very good one, and they had got up a new mast, we left them, we hope, safe. We spoke the same day with a brig from London to Virginia, and an American ship from Bordeaux to Boston. For these four days past we have had finer weather, but alas no good winds, and no prospect of reaching Boston until the middle of June, if then.

You will be anxious to know how we have done: really better than my fears. With respect to myself, I have been less seasick than when I crossed before: want of sleep I have suffered more from. Your papa has been very well. But Esther you say, what have you done with her? Yesterday at five, she had a daughter, a poor little starvling, but with special lungs, old nurse Comis is just the thing, never sick, can eat and sleep, at all times, as well as any sailor on board. We got through this business much better than I feared we should. I had for the first time in my life, to dress the little animal, who was buried in its clothes. At present, we seem to want only a good wind. I am almost exhausted, and my patience wearied out; if we had been favoured with a fair wind, we should have got home before this matter took place. Brisler has been much the sickest person on board ship. I expected him to have been half nurse, instead of which, he has wanted constant nursing. I hope and pray, I may never again be left to go to sea: of all places, it is the most disagreeable, such a sameness, and such a tossing to and fro. Our passengers are agreeable; our captain is very clever; our ship very clean. We have many things to be thankful for. Adieu!
Yours,
A. A.

The Thomas and Sally, Capt. F. Dorset (Dorsett), left London on 15 April and arrived safely in Baltimore by 24 June. The Adamses arrived in Boston Harbor on June 17 and the next day there was a public reception for them after their nine-year absence from America. Read the newspaper account here.

Source: “Abigail Adams to Abigail Adams Smith, 29 May 1788,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified July 12, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-08-02-0130. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 8, March 1787 – December 1789, ed. C. James Taylor, Margaret A. Hogan, Jessie May Rodrique, Gregg L. Lint, Hobson Woodward, and Mary T. Claffey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007, pp. 266–269.]

“on Board the ship Lucretia

My husband has macular degeneration that has affected his ability to read. But we have found ways of working around this. He listens to books borrowed from the library via the Overdrive app on our iPad. He also has earphones which he can use so as not to disturb others. Right now I can say that he is one of the best read men of my acquaintance. He reads at least one book a week ranging from spy novels to the history of the Middle East.

Added to these are the books I read aloud to him. I have always enjoyed reading aloud and we both like the sea tales of Patrick O’Brian. The high point of our day is the hour before dinner devoted to the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin. The word pictures O’Brian paints of life at sea on a sailing vessel are technically accurate in their depiction of seamanship, the vagaries of the weather and the terrors of battle. And they are often poetic in their evocation of beauty.

In this blog I have recounted the experiences of several women who crossed the Atlantic. See a few here, here, and here. After reading O’Brian I have a better understanding of the perils they faced at sea.

ABIGAIL ADAMS kept a diary (April 20 to May 1, 1788) during her return trip from England. Herewith an excerpt from that diary. Once on board, passage was delayed by unfavorable weather and the ship was obliged to lay to. Some gentlemen and sailors daily went ashore and returned to the ship at night. Abigail was concerned about her maid [Mrs. Briesler] who was due to give birth and was seasick. As was usual, there were Sunday services on deck for all crew members, as well as passengers who wished to attend. Abigail is critical of the sermon she heard.

[O]n Sunday the 20 of April we embarked on Board the ship Lucretia Captain Callihan. . . .
The wind with which we saild scarcly lasted us 5 hours, but we continued our course untill Monday Evening when it blew such a gale that we were driven back and very glad to get into Portland Harbour. Here we have lain ever since, now 8 days, a Situation not to be desired, yet better far than we should have been either at Sea or in the downs. Whenever I am disposed to be uneasy I reflect a moment upon my preferable Situation to the poor Girl my maid, who is very near her Time, in poor Health and distressingly Sea sick, and I am then silent. I Hush every murmer, and tho much of my anxiety is on her account, I think that God will suit the wind to the shorn Lamb, that we may be carried through our difficulties better than my apprehensions. Trust in the Lord, and do good. I will endeavour to practise this precept. My own Health is better than it has been. We fortunately have a Doctor on Board, and I have taken an old woman out of kindness and given her a passage who seems kind, active and cleaver, is not Sea sick and I hope will be usefull to me. I am much better accommodated than when I came and have not sufferd so much by Sea Sickness. Want of Sleep is the greatest inconvenience I have yet sufferd but I shall not escape so. This day 3 weeks Mr. and Mrs. Smith [Nabby Adams and her husband] saild and my dear Grandson just one Year old for New York in the Thyne packet. I fear they will have a bad time as the Westerly Winds have been so strong. God protect them and give us all a happy meeting in our Native Land. We Lie Here near the Town of Weymouth, and our Gentlemen go on shore almost every day which is an amusement to them and really some to me, as they collect something or other to bring Back with them either Mental or Bodily food. This is Sunday 27 April. Mr. Murry preachd us a Sermon. The Sailors made them-selves clean and were admitted into the Cabbin, attended with great decency to His discourse from these words, “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him Guiltless that taketh His Name in vain.” He preachd without Notes and in the same Stile which all the Clergymen I ever heard make use of who practise this method, a sort of familiar talking without any kind of dignity yet perhaps better calculated to do good to such an audience, than a more polishd or elegant Stile, but in general I cannot approve of this method. I like to hear a discourse that would read well. If I live to return to America, how much shall I regreet the loss of good Dr. Prices Sermons. They were always a delightfull entertainment to me. I revered the Character and Loved the Man. Tho far from being an orator, his words came from the Heart and reached the Heart. So Humble, so diffident, so liberal and Benevolent a Character does honour to that Religion which he both professes and practises.

On Sunday Eve the wind changed in our favour, so much as to induce the Captain to come to sail. This is Thursday the first of May, but we have made very small progress, the winds have been so light; yesterday we past Sylla and are now out of sight of Land. The weather is very fine and we only want fresher winds. The confinement of a Ship is tedious and I am fully of the mind I was when I came over that I will never again try the Sea. I provided then for my return in the Resolution I took, but now it is absolute. Indeed I have seen enough of the world, small as [it?] has been, and shall be content to learn what is further to be known from the page of History. I do not think the four years I have past abroad the pleasentest part of my Life. Tis Domestick happiness and Rural felicity in the Bosom of my Native Land, that has charms for me. Yet I do not regreet that I made this excursion since it has only more attached me to America.

The above is a fragment. Abigail continued her description of the voyage in a letter to her daughter Nabby written at sea. Some of that letter in the next post. Of note: the Adamses paid ƒ200 for their passage and for the transport of their furniture.

Source: The Founders Archive.

posted September 8th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Ocean Voyages

“I am very lonesome”

Phebe Folger Coleman (1771-1857) of Nantucket was the wife of whaling vessel captain Samuel Coleman. Well educated by her older brother, Phoebe was able to teach Samuel the mathematical and navigational skills that enabled him to qualify as captain.
Being married to a the captain of a whaler was, to say the least, difficult. Imagine Phoebe having to take care of the family and manage domestic affairs, not knowing where her husband’s vessel was or when (or if) it would return, receiving letters only sporadically when ships communicated with each other. And the physical and psychological loneliness—how hard was that to bear. Phoebe and Samuel were married 27 years and had three children but Samuel spent only eight of those years at home with her! While her husband was away Phoebe kept a school to supplement the family income and to relieve her loneliness.
In 1797 she began a commonplace book called Un Recueil which included poems, paintings, mathematical exercises, and translations of French literature. On the left is a painting by Phoebe titled “Autumn.”

Nantucket 9th mo. 19th 1808Dear Husband,
I have felt a little guilty that I have deferred so long to write: but I had nothing worth communicating, nothing but what thou might reasonably suppose, that is, that I am very lonesome. Why should so much of our time be spent apart, why do we refuse the happiness that is within our reach? Is the acquisition of wealth an adequate compensation for the tedious hours of absence? To me it is not. The enjoyment of riches alone could give no satisfaction to me. In company I am not happy, I feel as if a part of my self was gone. Thy absence grows more insupportable than it used to be. I want for nothing but thy company: but there is nothing but what I could do better without….

Article “I feel as if a part of myself were gone…” : Whalers’ Letters by Elizabeth Shure Originally published in Historic Nantucket, Vol 44, no. 2 (Fall 1995), p. 90-92. Also this reference.

posted November 9th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Coleman, Phoebe Folger,Daily life,Ocean Voyages

“I was never so well at sea before.”

Abigail Adams, called Nabby, was the eldest child of John and Abigail Adams. She had married Colonel William Stephen Smith in London in 1786 while Smith was serving on the staff of John Adams, the American minister to the Court of St. James’s at the time. The next year Nabby had her first child William Steuben. The Smiths returned to America in 1788 and settled in New York where Nabby had two more children, the younger of whom died shortly before his first birthday. Nabby’s fahter, John Adams, became vice president in 1789 when a new government was formed after the ratification of the Constitution. Smith’s business ventures took the family back to London between 1790 and 1793. In the following letter written to her mother upon their return to New York in 1793, Nabby describes their voyage, undertaken in the winter when the trip could be expected to be difficult, and the reason for their departure from London.

New-York, Feb. 9th, 1792. [1793]It is with very great pleasure that I address you, my dear mamma, from this place again. You will be as agreeably surprised as our friends here were, the evening before the last, to see us, and find us safe at New-York; for our arrival was wholly unexpected to them. We avoided informing our friends of our intentions, knowing that their anxious solicitude for our safety would render them unhappy. We left England the 23d of December, in the Portland packet, at a season when our friends there thought we were almost out of our senses. But we have been highly favoured, having had a very pleasant passage—not knowing what cold weather was until a day or two before we landed; we neither saw nor experienced the want of a fire during our passage; and for three weeks had such warm weather that we were obliged to sleep with our windows open in the cabin. Our course was to the southward as far as the latitude of 30 degrees, and we were greatly favoured in coming upon our own coast. I can scarcely realize that it was mid-winter. We have all been very well upon our passage; the children look finely, and Col. Smith is very well; for myself, I was never so well at sea before. We had an excellent ship and a good captain; our accommodations were convenient; we had four poor expatriated French priests, on their route to Canada, as fellow-passengers, but they did not incommode us, we having two cabins. We had a passage of 45 days, and feel ourselves quite at home again. . . . But it is time to tell you the cause of our leaving England, which was the prospect of a war on the ocean in the spring, and we did not like the idea of crossing it with bullets whizzing round our heads. Some business, also was an inducement.

England informs France that if they attempt to open the navigation of the Scheldt, that they shall join the Dutch; this is the ostensible cause for arming, which they are doing with great vigour. But they dread internal commotions, and are fortifying the Tower, directing the guns upon the city, preparing to build barracks in the Royal Exchange—placed a double guard at the Bank; breaking up all societies for reforms of Parliament, and forbidding, by proclamations, the meeting of all societies who call themselves republicans; burning Tom Paine in almost every capital town in England in effigy, with the rights of man in one hand, and a pair of old stays in the other. In short, doing just what he wishes, I presume, making him of more consequence than his own writings could possibly effect. He is falling off pretty much in France.

Col. Smith sets off on Tuesday for Philadelphia. I shall remain here. I shall have a strong inclination to make you a visit, for I must be a visiter until May, as we have no house. We think to take one in the country for the summer. If you were in Philadelphia, I should soon be with you. I hear my father has quite renewed his youth, and that he is growing very popular; that the abuse is directed to another quarter.
Remember me to my brother, and all other friends, and believe me, / Your affectionate daughter,
A. Smith.

The letter can be found in the Adams Papers Digital Edition online HERE.

posted October 27th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Adams, John,Ocean Voyages,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams,Travel

“our wooden kingdom”

I return regularly to peruse Janet Schaw’s book Journal of a Lady of Quality in which she describes her voyage from Scotland to the American colonies via the West Indies in late October of 1774. (Other posts by Schaw can be found here, here, and here.) With her on the Jamaica Packet, a small vessel, were her brother Alexander and three young relatives, whom she was escorting to their father John Rutherfurd in North Carolina. In attendance were Schaw’s maid, Mrs. Mary Miller, and her brother’s East Indian servant, Robert. Schaw’s vivid descriptions of life on board ship are a necessary reminder of how perilous journeys across the Atlantic were at that time. In this excerpt she describes the party’s living quarters.

Our Bed chamber, which is dignified with the title of State Room, is about five foot wide and six long; on one side is a bed fitted up for Miss Rutherfurd [Fanny, in her late teens] and on the opposite side one for me. Poor Fanny’s is so very narrow, that she is forced to be tied in, or as the Sea term is lashed in, to prevent her falling over. On the floor below us lies . . . Mrs Miller. As she has the breadth of both our Beds and excellent Bedding, I think she has got a most envyable berth, but this is far from her opinion, and she has done nothing but grumble about her accommodation. . . .

My brother, who was sadly fatigued, had got into his Cott, which swings from the roof of the Cabin; our two little men [the Rutherfurd boys, eleven and nine] were fast asleep in a bed just below him, when we were informed from the Deck that they were going to weigh anchor. Every body that was able, got up to see this first grand operation. My Brother descended from his Cot, the boys sprung out of bed, all hands were on Deck, hurry, bustle, noise, and confusion raged thro’ our wooden kingdom, yet it was surprizing how soon every thing was reduced to order. In little more than a quarter of an hour, all was over, the watch was set, and nothing to be heard, but the sound of the man’s feet moving regularly backwards and forwards at the helm, and the crowing of a Cock that the noise had waked in the Hen Coop. My Brother . . . informed us in passing our state room, that we were now underway . . . He then gave poor Fanny some Saline drops to settle her stomach, which had felt the very first motion of the ship. . . . As yet I am very well, and hope I will not be much hurt, tho’ I must expect a little touch as well as others. My Brother now mounted into his Cot, the boys got to bed, we shut up our half door, and in a few moments, we were all again in the arms of Sleep.

I like being reminded that chickens (among other creatures) were on board to provide food for passengers and crew. Can you imagine anyone being given saline drops to settle one’s stomach! I nearly gag at the thought. Most of all I love Schaw’s phrase for the ship: “our wooden kingdom.”

The above passage can be found on page 247 of In the Words of Women. Janet Schaw’s Journal can be read online HERE.

posted May 26th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Ocean Voyages,Schaw, Janet,Travel

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