Life on Martha's Vineyard in 1862 was very different from today. The dirt roads of the island were filled with horses and buggies, homes and businesses were illuminated by oil from whales and steamboats were beginning to join sailboats in the harbor. Because of the Civil War, many island businesses were suffering, but the commerce of catching whales around the world still attracted men and, sometimes, even their wives and children.
There were about two thousand people living in Edgartown in the 1860s. The Jernegan family, like other old Vineyard families, was growing. Laura's father had left the family farm as many others had and turned to the sea as a means of economic survival. The soil was sandy and not ideal for farming in their town, while the ocean provided plenty of opportunities. The 1850 Census on Martha's Vineyard showed 686 males listing their occupation as "mariner" compared to 342 farmers. It was said that the Vineyard had more whaling masters per capita than any other place in the world.
Martha's Vineyard Museum