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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Three Doughty Whaling Wives


Mary Brewster, the wife of Captain William Brewster, sailed on the whaleship Tiger of Stonington, Connecticut.  “The best part of the day I have spent in making doses for the sick and dressing sore hands and feet,” she wrote in July 1846;  “5 sick and I am sent to for all the medicin,” but — like Mary Stickney — she failed to note what the medicines were. 
Another example is the lady in our featured illustration, Caroline Mayhew, the daughter of a Martha's Vineyard doctor, who was on board the Powhattan in April 1846 when the ship limped into St. Jago, Cape Verde Islands, with eight men down with smallpox.  The port doctor refused to come on board, putting the ship into strict quarantine instead, but Caroline managed to cure them, though she never described her methods. 

Less lucky in a similar situation was Lucy Ann Crapo, wife of the captain of the whaling bark Linda Stewart, which in June 1880 dropped anchor at Talcahuano, Chile, with four sick seamen.  This port doctor did consent to come on board to look at the men, and diagnosed smallpox.  As it turned out, they had a harmless rash—but it killed them all the same, because he sent them to the smallpox ward, where they contracted the disease from the men who were already there.  “The want of knowing one [kind of rash] from the other has made a sad chapter in our voyage,” wrote Lucy Ann.
And ... as we shall find out ... a wife was useful as a mourner at a death bed.

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