Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | April 10, 2013

Not-quite fashionable while at Sea

Mary Brewster’s journal for her voyage from 1845 – 1848 ended on March 8, 1848 when the Tiger arrived home (Stonington, CT). Mary and her husband, Samuel did not return to sea for their last voyage until June 1848. However, Mary’s journal-writing did not resume until July 13, 1848.

Mary Lawrence’s journal will resume May 1, 1859.

Eliza Williams made sporadic journal entries from Feb. 27 – May 7, 1861.

One of America’s 19th centuries whaling wives was a young woman by the name of Charlotte (Corday) Jernegan. She married Nathan Mayhew Jernegan on July 2, 1852. Charlotte and Nathan didn’t set sail together until four years later. But by the time they were married, he had spent most of his life at sea, both as a child and then as Boatsteerer during the Charles W. Morgan’s first voyage from September 6, 1841 – January 1, 1841-1845. The Niger would be his first command aboard a whaling vessel and she served in that capacity through August 14, 1860.

Between 1856 and 1860, ladies fashions changed drastically. Once the Niger had docked at New Bedford in 1860, Nathan set off down the street to settle accounts, while Charlotte remained on board to dress in her best for her arrival on shore. As a captain’s wife she intended to look her best. She donned a lovely rustling taffeta silk with an enormous hoop skirt (as had been fashionable when she left shore four years previously).  However, after Nathan completed his business and returned to the ship, he said to his wife, “I don’t know what it is, hanged if I do, but the women ashore look different — they aren’t dressed the same.” Charlotte was curious and asked pointed questions, but Nathan couldn’t clarify what “different” meant, and so Charlotte summed up his lack of response to a typical males’ disinterest in the specifics of women’s fashions. A carriage was summoned to take Charlotte and her son uptown. As they rattled up the cobbled hill, Charlotte quickly realized what Nathan had meant as “different” – eyeing all the ladies along the street she realized that hoop skirts had gone out of fashion during her forty-six months in the Pacific – much to her chagrin – she was wearing an obsolete style that could NOT be disguised, hidden or bound as the cab carried her up to Parker House (a hotel). True to form, however, as so many captains’ wives were, Charlotte was  forced to rely upon her ingenuity to make the best of an awkward situation. Quickly and expertly, and I might add, she was approaching her final month of pregnancy, she rid herself of the hoops and abandoned them in the hack and took off her enormous bonnet, and hung it casually over her arm. Holding up her superfluous skirts, she stepped out of the cab and negotiated the curb, landing well, but while trying to walk through the passage of Parker House, she tripped over the excess fabric of her skirt and almost fell. Needless, to say, it was not long before she went on a major shopping spree to update her wardrobe, so that when they arrived home on Martha’s Vineyard, she was attired in the height of fashion wearing a linen suit and pancake hat.

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Responses

  1. I soooo look forward to reading your blog! I lived on cape cod and went to seminars about this time era in S Orleans. Think I lived back then. Know my husband did! He’s the Gallup from pt Judith, RI and has never worked on land! He’s even fished the Bering sea!

    • Thanks. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. Women’s history is a passion of mine; especially women’s MARITIME history because so few people are aware of it, thus giving me a chance to share my passion with all those interested.

  2. Ah, the fleeting nature of fashion! Alas, poor Charlotte Jernegen! Note that her husband didn’t have the same problem. Male fashions change more slowly, although I must say that back in the 1960s, I bought a Nehru-style jacket on the East Coast, where they had just become fashionable. When I went to the West Coast for school, it was quickly apparent that the fashion was now passe. I ditched it about as quickly as Charlotte threw her hoops for a loop.


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