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.