Such a fellow is a real imposition upon the passengers . . . .

After a rather long absence due to family medical problems I am posting again on In the Words of Women.

We left ABIGAIL ADAMS on board the ship Active sailing for England in 1784 where she was to join her husband John. She had been keeping a journal for her sister MARY CRANCH which she promised to post when she arrived. Abigail and many others had been seasick. When she recovered, she set about supervising a cleanup. She described her fellow passengers for her sister and wrote of the awe she felt seeing “a blazing ocean” (bioluminescence, caused by the slow oxidation of material found in certain marine organisms). In the following passage Abigail complains about the victuals and the Negro cook.

Saturday [July] 10thYesterday was a very pleasent day, very little wind; but a fine sun and smooth sea. I spent the most of the day upon deck reading; it was not however so warm; but a Baize gown was very comfortable; the ship has gradually become less urksome to me. If our cook was but tolerably clean, I could realish my victuals, but he is a great dirty lazy Negro; with no more knowledge of cookery than a savage; nor any kind of order in the distribution of his dishes, but hickel tapickelta [higgledy piggledy], on they come with a leg of pork all Brisly, a Quarter of an hour after a pudding, or perhaps a pair of roast fowls first of all, and then will follow one by one a peice of Beaf and when dinner is nearly compleated a plate of potatoes. Such a fellow is a real imposition upon the passengers—but Gentlemen know but little about the matter, and if they can get enough to eat five times a day all goes well. We Ladies have not eat upon our whole passage, more than just enough to satisfy nature; or to keep body and soul together. . . .

It is uncomfortable to read this passage for Abigail sounds like a racist: the cook’s faults seem more attributable to his race than his ineptitude. That may be. It is well, however, to recall that Abigail had entrusted the care of her house and furniture back in Massachusetts to Pheby, a slave whom her father had freed in his will, and who had recently married William Abdee. Abigail expressed confidence in the pair: “I have no doubt of their care and faithfulness, & prefer them to any other family.”

“Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 6 – 30 July 1784,” Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Adams Papers, Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 5, October 1782 – November 1784, ed. Richard Alan Ryerson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993, pp. 358–386.]

posted October 14th, 2019 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail, Adams, John, Cranch, Mary (Smith), Negroes, Ocean Voyages

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