Families at Sea: the Captain's Wife

Pa and Ma Standing by the Pilot House Door of the bark 'Carrie Winslow'

Maine captainsCaptain

The chief officer in charge of all aspects of a vessel. Also known as the master.
often took their wives and families along on long voyages. In 1880, the Searsport census showed that 36 wives from that small town were sailing with their husbands! Despite old superstitions that having a woman on board was bad luck, many seamen liked having the captain’s wife aboard; sometimes it meant that the seamen would be better treated.

Women generally had little to do with sailing the ship or communicating with the crew. One wife, however, noted in her journal that she regularly served as librarian to the seamen, distributing books on Sundays from the American Seamen's Friend SocietyAmerican Seamen's Friend Society

Established in New York City in 1826. "To improve the social and moral condition of seamen, by uniting the efforts of the wise and good in their behalf; by promoting in every port boarding houses of good character, savings banks, register offices, libraries, museums, reading rooms and schools; and also the ministrations of the gospel, and other religious blessings."
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lending library. Sometimes the captain’s wife took care of sick crew members, and some wives who were good at mathematics helped with the navigational calculations when star or sun sightsSun sights

Altitude observations of the Sun needed for celestial navigation. Sights is generally referred to taking a sun sight, but means also taking star sights at night.
were taken. There are stories of women who took over the ship in emergencies and saved many lives.

Seamen's Friend Society Library Box

Generally, though, the captain’s wife pursued her own activities: sewing, embroidering, writing, reading, and sometimes laundry and special baking. They took care of their children and served as school teachers. Many women collected botanical specimens as a hobby: a good pastime for someone cruising the world. Some wives collected sea mosses and other plant samples from the sea.

Some women went to sea with their husbands just after they got married. Two newlyweds from Searsport, Captain Lincoln Alden Colcord and Jane French Sweetser Colcord, sailed the bark Charlotte A. Littlefield around the world. Three years later, when they returned home, they were parents of Joanna, born in the South Seas, and Lincoln, born during a storm off Cape Horn. Jane Colcord sailed with her husband on most of his voyages over the next twenty years, often with one or more of the children.


Ma on Top of the Cabin House Sea Moss Book