Sunday, July 31, 2022

“I have labored very hard to keep up courage....": Logbook Entries From An Unidentified Female Hand


This summer, I have been researching account books, day books, ledgers and logbooks at the Phillips Library and found the following of interest. The first part of the log is from a logbook kept from Boston to Havana on the Bark Altorf with Captain Snelling, 1845-46.


Then, at the back of the logbook is an earlier journey from Boston to New Orleans on the Ship Victoria. This voyage begins in 1839 on Sunday 20 January and the log entries are written by an as yet unidentified female hand, possibly the ship captain's wife or the first mate's wife. [Ship Captain’s Wife’s Logbook/Journal 1839, Log 1145, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum] Typically throughout the day or watch, she records the weather, the wind, the sea swells and any unusual occurrences as one would find in comparable logs. There are many unanswered questions about the author of this portion of the logbook but what caught my interest was the uncommon role an unnamed female played in the trip. Three days into the voyage, on Wednesday 23 January, she expresses her fears as she confides:


“I have labored very hard to keep up courage so that I may not be laughed at. We have had very bad weather.[sic] Since I left my dear sweet home.” 


It has been fascinating to follow her through terrible seasickness [“I cared not if I lived or died”] to feeling hale and hearty [“everything tastes good even the salted beef” she reported on Sunday 10th of February]. In addition to gaining her sea legs, she eventually feels comfortable above deck knitting, mending, drinking tea or reading her Bible.


I’m not sure what I will be doing with entries such as this, but it does help me with understanding a wider range of female authorship and voice, which is the current focus of my next two book projects, one set in the late 18th century and the other, in the early 19th.