"Whither You Go I Shall Go":
Merchant and Whaling Wives
Sea travel was a rough and desolate life for the men of the crew. For the wife of a sea captain, it was even more confining and socially isolated. Wives were not free to roam the ship or associate with the crew. Much of the time they were expected to remain below decks in the cabin. Their work on the ship's behalf included helping with navigation, making sails, and assisting their husbands with keeping the logbook and accounts. And, of course, they bore and raised children.
A few of these women left a rich record of their voyages in journals, letters, or diaries. For many others whose words have been lost, objects gathered from their travels help us to fill in the picture of what life on board must have been like.
Mary Patten: A Heroine of the Seas
Mary Patten was newly married and barely out
of her teens when she set out with her husband, Joshua, on the clipper
ship Neptune's Car, bound for California. During the voyage,
Joshua taught Mary navigation, meteorology, the ropes and sails,
stowage of cargo, and many other ship's duties. During the voyage,
the first mate was caught sleeping on duty and was thrown into irons.
The second mate, Mr. Hare, had little knowledge of navigation, and
Captain Patten took most of the watches to keep the ship on course.
When Patten collapsed from the strain, the former first mate organized
a mutiny. Mary stood up to the sailors, convincing them that she
could navigate and get them to California on time. When they reached
Golden Gate Bay, California, Mary personally took the helm and navigated
the ship to port, delivering the cargo to the owners intact. The
trip had taken 136 days. After the voyage Mary became famous, but
she ignored all the attention and quietly took her husband home
on the vessel George Law. A hospital at King's Point Academy
in New York is named for her.
|Mary Ann Brown Patten, Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery
|Mary Patten on the Deck of Neptune's
Courtesy of the Atlantic Mutual Insurance Company
A nineteenth-century sailing vessel would have been severely tested
by the dangerous seas around Cape Horn. Mary Patten stunned the
maritime world by safely rounding the cape and delivering her cargo
to California on time and intact.
Cape Horn Passage, Arctic Stream
1885 Edwin Levick, photographer
The Mariners' Museum,
Edwin Levick Collection
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