Women at Sea, Cont.

Sometimes a whaling wife was key to the success of a voyage. Some cared for the men when they were sick. In a few extraordinary instances, they even stood in for crewmembers. Caroline Mayhew from Martha’s Vineyard did both. On the 1846-49 voyage of the Powhattan, her husband and several crewmembers came down with smallpox. She took on many extra responsibilities. Acting as navigator, she even plotted the course of the Powhattan, while nursing everyone back to health.

Probably one of the things whaling wives missed most was social contact with other women. Sometimes weeks and months would go by before another whaler was sighted. Much excitement followed when a ship that might be a "hen frigate" appeared on the horizon. If the ship was indeed carrying a woman, generally one of them would be transported to the other with the help of a gamming chair. News from home, letters and newspapers were exchanged. These were important times to catch up with talk about something other than whaling.

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Ron Druett