Reading List

Albee, Parker Bishop. Letters from Sea 1882-1901, Joanna and Lincoln Colcord’s Seafaring Childhood. Tilbury House, Publishers; Gardner, ME, 1999.  As fifth generation seafarers, Joanna and Lincoln were both born at sea and spent their youth aboard their father’s ships.  Joanna and Lincoln were born during their parents’ first voyage as husband and wife; a voyage that lasted two years. Joanna was born off the coast of South Seas islands, while Lincoln arrived as his parents rounded Cape Horn during a treacherous winter storm. The Colcord’s detailed letters to family members ashore, their logbooks, and photographs give a splendid window into the life of a seafaring family.


Colby, Barnard L. For Oil and Buggy Whips. Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc.; Mystic, CT, 1990. This book includes biographical sketches of over twenty, 19th century, New London whaling captains, as well as their documents and the role of New London as the second largest New England whaling port (New Bedford was the largest). This book is based on the compilation of original documents and family information.



Decker, Robert Owen. Whaling Industry of New London, Liberty Cap Books, York, PA, 1973. (Out of print but may still be available as a used book for purchase). Well worth the search to locate a used copy, this book includes detailed information about the history of whaling, whaling agents, masters, crews and conditions, and the decline of whaling in the early 19th century. Included among six different appendices, are the lay paid to the captains, prices of whale product, and the main whaling ports.

Dolin, Eric Jay. Leviathan, The History of Whaling in America, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2007. Probably the most thorough history of whaling ever written. Dolin’s book encompasses three hundred years of American whaling and details the social and economic impact of one of America’s most lucrative industries. Beginning with John Smith in 1614 through 1924, the year that for many marks the official close of America’s whaling industry; Dolin traces the industry’s rapid expansion during the 1800’s, its triumphs and defeats, its connections to women’s fashion, America’s economy and the Industrial Revolution


Druett, Joan. Hen Frigates, Wives of Merchant Captains Under Sail. Simon and Schuster, NY, 1998.  Another informative book of the women who braved the seven seas to remain at their husband’s sides through horrible seasickness, gales, fires on board, skirmishes with pirates, rats over-running the ship, and the constant threat of death.  A life of isolation from other women, only finding comfort in their husbands’ love and companionship, and the occasional, romantic moonlit nights on deck.


 Druett, Joan. Petticoat Whalers: Whaling Wives at Sea 1820-1920. University Press of New England, Hanover and London, 2001.  An invaluable source for the little-known stories of over thirty whaling wives, or “Petticoat whalers” of the 19th century.  Joan Druett shares the stories,  motivations and devotions of these brave women who chose to ignore the superstitions and status quo of the 19th century so they could “preserve the unbroken ties of domestic life” by living at sea with their husbands.


Druett, Joan. “She Was a Sister Sailor” The Whaling Journals of Mary Brewster, 1845 – 1851. Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc., 1992.  During the height of America’s whaling industry, some captains began to bring their wives on their voyages, which averaged three years. Joan Druett’s edited collection of Mary Brewter’s journals is one example of many wives who lived at sea, some who died, many who gave birth to and raised children, while traversing the seas with their husbands in search of whales.

Duncan, Fred B. Deepwater Family, Pantheon Books, 1969. (Out of Print; although I managed to locate and purchase a used copy). An autobiographical account of the authors first eleven years. Born and raised at sea from 1887 through 1898, aboard the deep-water sailing ship, Florence. He, his parents and four siblings rounded Cape Horn twelve times. His two brothers and two sisters had the open sea and exotic ports of the world as their home. His teachers were his father (captain) and his mother. Fred’s world (and that of his siblings) was “wide and free, yet bounded securely by the love and devotion of the Captain and his wife, Kate, for their deepwater family.”

 Haley, Nelson Cole. Whale Hunt: The Narrative of a Voyage by Nelson Cole Haley, Harpooner in the Ship Charles W. Morgan 1849-1853. Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc. Mystic, CT, 1990.  The memoirs of Nelson Cole Haley who voyaged aboard the Charles W. Morgan during the height of New England whaling. About sixteen years of age when he ran away from his home at New Bedford MA, he first went to sea in 1848. With that voyage, Nelson began a thirty year career as a whalemen. His second voyage, which began in 1849 lasted almost four years, of which this narrative is based upon.  He served at least ten years as master (Captain) aboard various whaling ships.


 Leavitt, John F. The Charles W. Morgan. Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc., Mystic, CT, 1973.  A detailed history of the eighty-year career of America’s last surviving nineteenth-century whaleship. The book includes images, illustrations, crews lists, logbooks, and a summary of the voyages of Mystic Seaport’s most treasured possession. As Leavitt wrote, “The Charles W. Morgan is more than a ship. She is ship on which Poseidon and other gods of the sea must have looked with special favor, because not only did she survive for more than eight decades the countless hazards of the sea as an active whaleship, but also — and equally miraculously — she was saved at the end of her long career by men …..”


Murphy, Jim. Gone A-Whaling, the Lure of the Sea and the Hunt for the Great Whale. Clarion Books, New York, 1998. An insider’s view of the adventurous boys’ life at sea in the whaling industry. From the first hunt of whales in their plenty, to the lean years of the late nineteenth century when whales had nearly been hunted to extinction. “Jim Murphy reveals the dreams and motivations of these young whalers [boys], but ultimately leaves the reader with enormous respect for the magnificent and gentle creatures they hunted.”


O’Hara, Megan (Editor), A Whaling Captain’s Daughter, The Diary of Laura Jernegan, 1868-1871. Capstone Press, MN, 2000. One book in a series written for elementary age students, this book is a primary source that includes excerpts from Laura’s diary. Through her eyes, readers get a glimpse of life at sea during the 19th century. Children will enjoy reading about Laura’s challenges and accomplishments, and come to appreciate and understand  how stories of the past lead us to the present.


 Whiting, Emma Mayhew and Hough, Henry Beetle. Whaling Wives. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA, 1953. (Out of Print but may be available Used). As with all the wives that chose to go to sea; a place called “home” wasn’t in some small, intimate, safe town in Victorian America, but on board one of many ships in the midst of the world’s oceans. They were isolated from their extended families for an average of three years at a time, had to share a 10 x 20 foot living space with their husband, perhaps children, and always with the three to four mates or officers aboard each whaleship. As the only woman aboard among perhaps 28-32 seamen at any one time, whaling wives were both respected and resented, especially in the late 1830’s and early 1840’s when it was considered taboo (bad luck) for a woman to be on a ship. This book is a collection of stories from more than fifty women lives at sea between 1834 and 1897.

Williams, Harold (Editor). One Whaling Family. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA, 1964.  (Out of Print, but may be available from a Used Book source.)  The Williams family set sail from New Bedford in 1873-1874 aboard Captain Thomas W. Williams ship Florence.  Before that voyage, Mrs. Eliza Azelia Williams sailed on board the Florida from 1858-1861. While at sea during their first voyage, two children were born.  This book tells first-hand from family manuscripts, of the adventures of the Williams family, and gives detailed, sometimes graphic descriptions of the hunt and processing of whales from Eliza’s perspective.  As with all whaling family stories, it tells the stories of personal courage and hardiness. It was edited by the grandson of Eliza and son of William.

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