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Friday, October 11, 2013

Abby Jane Morrell's husband, Ben


Captain 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...

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