After long weeks without news from home, sailors were eager to send and receive mail. At ports, letters could be sent ashore and others received. Crew members cherished any word from home. Given the unpredictable and winding routes of many voyages, seamen learned of births, extended illnesses, and deaths months and even years after they occurred. Most of the young men who filled whaling forecastles were under age twenty-four and at their peak courtship years when they sought their fortune at sea. They did their best to pursue romantic love through an unreliable saltwater mail system.
While everyone held out hope for correspondence, captains had additional paperwork to attend to at distant ports. They headed to consulate offices where American merchants worked part-time as representatives of the US government. Consuls filed documents pertaining to the crew and whaling vessel, including death and desertion notices, ship's articles for new crew members, discharge papers, and insurance claims. When seamen became ill or injured aboard ship, captains delivered them to consuls, who were expected to arrange hospitalization and return passage of recovered seamen to the United States. In addition to caring for seamen and processing paperwork, consuls often provided a warm welcome to Captains' wives and children.
Martha's Vineyard Museum