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Sunday, June 25, 2023

Eliza Wheeler Edwards of Sag Harbor


In August 1857, Eliza ‘Lizzie’ Edwards traveled to Honolulu to join her husband, Captain Eli Edwards. She lived there several years, keeping him company on the ‘between seasons’ whaling cruises to California, and marking time in the Hawaiian Islands when he was away in the Arctic, partly by writing chatty and amusing letters.

Oct. 3rd [1857]. I might mention our bill of fare while on [passage to Honolulu on the bark Fanny Major]. When we first started I noticed some chickens and turkeys and a goose, also two sheep, one black and the other a white one   At first I thought perhaps they were taken along as pets, they seemed so gentle and had the privilege of travelling around at will, tho’ I soon found my mistake   for every day the first week out we had some kind of poultry for the table, at least till they were all gone   which was unfortunate for me   because I was seasick all that time and couldn’t eat anything. Presently the white sheep was missing and we began to have mutton   it was mutton for breakfast, mutton for dinner and mutton for supper. This continued for several days and in imagination I can see that black sheep now   around the deck every day during all this time   and he certainly did not look very appetizing, really the word dirty doesn’t begin to express it. But I began to have an inkling as to what would soon be his fate and ours too   and sure enough one morning he failed to appear as usual on the deck, but he did not fail to appear on the table in sections from that time till we got in port. for my part I got mutton enough then to last me for years   and even now I never see any but I am reminded of that passage to Honolulu.

 ‘There is a captain’s wife boarding here by the name of Mrs. Childs,’ wrote Lizzie to her mother from Honolulu in October 1858. ‘Well, last evening she concluded to have a little party & it resulted in a nice little girl baby weighing 7 lbs.’ Mrs Damon, wife of the missionary editor of The Friend, presided, and Lizzie ‘officiated,’ along with the doctor and the boarding-house keeper’s wife, Eliza Cartwright. Then, once the ‘party’ was over Lizzie slept with the mother, ‘with the baby on my arm.’

In the amusing talk she composed after getting home, she reminisced about sailing from Honolulu to Hilo.

This is a small shipping port on the Island of Hawaii  —  famous for that wonderful volcano on Mt. Mauna Loa. This Island is about 200 miles from Honolulu and can only be reached by going in a small schooner that runs regularly and carries passengers and freight. Mrs. Palmer, an acquaintance of mine, and her two little children accompanied me ... and we had quite a perilous voyage of 9 days, which ought to have been made in 5 or 6 at the longest. The 2nd day out we stopped at Lahaina. So Mrs. P. and I went on shore and took tea with a friend who was living there, and after making a few purchases in the provision line  —  returned to the vessel, and proceeded on our voyage. The 4th day out which was Sunday A. M. we anchored in the harbor of Towaihai to leave freight but were obliged to wait till Monday morning before anything could be landed. But the Captain went on shore and we sent by him for some milk. In the afternoon before he returned there came up such a squall from towards the lands, as I never witnessed. These squalls are of frequent occurrence there and are called ‘Land Woolies.’ There was such a spray, it looked like a thick fog and the anchor dragged and the first we knew, we were 4 or 5 miles from land and you’ll bear in mind there was not a person on board beside ourselves, except the Kanakas. But they seemed to understand the management of the vessel  —  tho’ I was afraid they didn’t and went up on deck to make a few suggestions and was told to ‘go down stairs and mind my business.’ So I very meekly obeyed. Presently the wind abated, when they got up the anchor and sailed back into the harbor. Soon the Captain came on board  —  but without any milk  —  for he said the missionaries would not allow the cows milked on Sunday and he couldn’t get any. These were the most conscientious missionaries I came across while I was out there.

All night we were anchored in full view of Mt. Mauna Loa, where the volcano is and that evening the lava broke out in an entirely new place and rolled down the mountain in two large streams, with great rapidity. It was a most beautiful sight, for the wind was blowing strong so it was as bright as the brightest fire I ever saw. The whole heavens were illuminated by it. It seemed but a little way off, tho’ the actual distance was about 50 miles. … Monday afternoon we left there and got in sight of Hilo Wednesday toward night, but a thunder shower came up and it was so squally, the Captain not thinking it safe to go in, turned about and sailed from the land all night, till after breakfast the next morning. Of course we didn’t get back where we were before till night, too late to go in, so he did the same thing over again. That brought it Friday evening before we got back again   too late to go in of course. By this time Mrs. Palmer and I had both become about tired of it   for I had taken that week to have one of my worst colds and had not spoken loud in 3 days. So we protested very strongly against going out to sea again all night, and gave a few very explicit directions. The result was we got in about noon the next day. The Captain however was very angry and swore about us a good deal after he got back to Honolulu. Said he never wanted to go to sea with any more She Captains, etc., but that was the last voyage he ever went himself in that capacity.

The Black Eagle was lost in the Arctic, and so Lizzie returned home on the Splendid, where her husband had been given the job of first mate. Captain Eli Edwards died soon after arriving home, on 9 August 1864, aged 42, and while Lizzie survived him by many years, not passing away until February 1903, she did not marry again. Lizzie’s chatty letters home are now held at Mystic, donated by a descendant, Audrey Hauck. These were mostly written in Hawaii, but include one written in Tahiti while on passage home in the Splendid.

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