THE OFFICIOUS CAPTAIN BENJAMIN MORRELL.
Benjamin Morrell of Stonington, Connecticut, had a somewhat bizarre reason for
allowing himself to watch his sailors die—that his wife, Abby Jane, was one of
the complement on board his schooner Antarctic.
In October 1829 she, along with eleven of the
men, fell ill of what he called “the intermittent fever.” It was, in fact, cholera—not that it made any
difference to the outcome. “Had she not
been on board,” he wrote, “I should certainly have borne up to the first port
under our lee … But I reflected that some slanderous tongues might attribute
such a deviation … solely to the fact of my wife’s being on board. That idea I
could not tamely endure … ‘No! perish all first!’ I muttered with bitterness,
as I gloomily paced the deck at midnight.”
Morrell medicated the patients with “blisters, friction, and bathing
with hot vinegar,” rather than put into port and risk “the unfeeling sarcasms
of … carpet-knights.” Two men died, but
the rest recovered, and Morrell’s reputation was safe.
Other skippers found their wives more useful. Follow the series to find out how...