Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | October 20, 2010

Wednesday, 20th October 1858

Another day of silence from Mary Brewster [1847], Martha. S. B. Brown [1848], and Mary C. Lawrence [1858].

Eliza A. Williams: “Fair wind today. There have been 6 sails in sight today; we were quite near 2 of them, so that we could see the Men on deck quite plain through the [spy]glass. One, a large clipper Ship we could see without the glass; the Men, the Captain, also his Wife. She was looking at me, I imagine, anxious with me to see a Woman; she had the glass up to her eyes, I could see. We could almost make out her name, but not quite.”

The Vineyard’s Sister-Sailors Part II (departing/sailing 1862-1870): Below is a second list containing the Vineyard’s women who went to sea with their captain-husbands. The years of the voyage, the wives names, along with their husband’s names and the ship are listed.

1862-1863   Sarah Reynolds Luce, Hervey E. Luce   Morning Star

1862-1866   Jane Harding, Daniel F. Worth   Gazelle

1863-1866   Helen Clark, Jared Jernegan   Oriole

1865-1869   Abigail S. Vincent, Nathaniel M. Jernegan   Thomas Dickason

1866-1876   Kate Courtney, Thomas Mellen   Europa

1866-1868   Ethelinda Claghorn, Valentine Lewis   Corinthian (lost August 1868)

1867-1871   Charity Randall, John O. Norton   Ionia

1867-1871   Susan Coly; Ellen M. Vincent   Shubael H. Norton   Alaska

1867-1871   Jane Harding, Daniel F. Worth   Para

1868-1872   Sarah Reynolds Luce, Hervey E, Luce   Cleone

1868-1871   Helen Clark, Jared Jernegan   Roman (lost 1871)

1868-1871   Almira E. Luce, Benjamin Dexter   Emily Morgan (lost 1871)

1869-1871   Lucy M. P. Hobart, Abraham Osborn, Jr.   George (lost 1871)

1869-1872   Eliza M. Mayhew, Tristan P. Ripley   Mercury

1869-1874   Lucy P. Vincent, George A. Smith   Nautilus

1869-1871   Ethelinda Claghorn, Valentine Lewis   Thomas Dickason (lost 1871)

1870-1871   Jane Grafton Luce, Leander C. Owen   Contest  (lost 1871)

While reading the above list, you may have noticed that five ships were “lost” in 1871. You may be wondering why all in 1871?  Was it an extremely active hurricane season, or were there more inexperienced captains that year than in years past, or did it have something to do with the whales, themselves?  The answer to these questions is no; it was not because of hurricanes, aggressive whales or lack of experience that five Vineyard ships were lost.  Rather, they were lost in the Ice floes of the Arctic. 

The Arctic was viewed by most captains as far more treacherous than any other whaling location. As Eric Jay Dolan writes, “Rather, it was the Arctic weather that whalemen feared the most. Between ice floes, the bitter temperatures, the freezing water, and the unpredictable and often violent gales, the margin between life and death was hair-raisingly thin. Each [Arctic] season the captains had to balance the desire to catch more whales with the need to respect the elements and turn back before it was too late. In 1871, as the northern fleet slowly edged northward, troubling signs abounded, yet the captains pressed on. They decided to gamble against the weather and they lost, leading to the greatest single disaster in the history of American whaling.” 

In May, a fleet of forty whaleships had reached the lower area of the Bering Sea. By June they were whaling off Cape Navarian (Siberian coast) and the ice floes was retreating farther north and they were able to pass through the Bering Strait. By the beginning of July all the ships had arrived in the very southern portions of the Arctic Ocean; but the remaining ice made further passage north impossible.  The favorable July winds drove the ice away from the Alaskan shore and the fleet began whaling at Point Barrow (about 70N). By August 11th the shifting winds brought the pack ice back toward the Alaskan shore, the ships managed to avoid disaster this time but by August 29th, the weather began to disintegrate; the wind came from the southwest, snow started flying and cakes of ice crept closer to the shore, and open water vanished quickly.

Throughout much of September, the elements continued to be unpredicatable and batter the ships.  Eventually, after much soul-searching, the captains …”have all come to the same conclusion that our [thrity-three] ships cannot be got out this year…not having provisions enough …and being in a barren country, where there was neither food nor fuel to be obtained, we feel ourselves under the painful neccessity of abandoning our vessels, and trying to work our way south with our [whale] boats, and, if possible, get on board of ships that are south of the ice.”  By September 14, the signal was given for the mass exodus to begin.  By that afternoon, there were over one-hundred whaleboats weighted down with people and supplies.  By September 16 all the whaleboats had reached their destination at the southern tip of Icy Cape; the seven rescue ships lying off-shore awaiting the refugees arrival.  Once all 1,219 passangers, including a small number of women and children were safely aboard and spread out among the ships, the seven remaining ships of the whaling fleet sailed for Honolulu and arrived in late October. Miraculously not a single life was lost!

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