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Myths and Mermaids
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Life in Port
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Going to Sea
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Lighthouse Keepers
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Changing Roles for Women
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Women in the Military
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Women in Wartime Production
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Early Yachting and Racing
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Women and the Sea in the 20th Century
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In This Chapter


Women Posing
as Sailors
Women and
the British Navy
Merchant and
Whaling Wives


"Whither You Go I Shall Go":
Merchant and Whaling Wives


By the nineteenth century, the whale population had been so depleted by overhunting that whaling ships commonly stayed at sea for three to five years just to fill up with a cargo of whale oil. Since these trips were so long, many wives and children followed their husbands and fathers to sea.

It was common practice, particularly in the vast Pacific, to stop and talk with those on a passing ship. These contacts were called "gams."The captain of one ship would invite the other captain and his family over for tea or dinner, and they would share news and tips on good whale- hunting grounds. These gatherings were a pleasant break from daily life on board a whaler.

Sarah Tabor

Daniel Tabor was a whaling captain from New Bedford, Massachusetts. His wife Sarah and two daughters lived with him on board a large whaling ship. While sailing the Pacific, the ship stopped for supplies at various islands. One of the most popular stops was the Hawaiian Islands, where missionary homes were thrown open to the travelers.

During whaling voyages, captains were required to keep logbooks detailing location, weather, and whales caught. Once Captain Tabor had filled most of each page of his logbook, he gave it to his wife to finish. Sarah Tabor wrote recipes and poetry and even wove the hair of dead friends into the pages. The Tabors' oldest daughter, Asenath, kept her own logbook.

Tuesday, January 2, 1855
First part fine with strong winds from the S.E. Ship with all said out heading W.S.W. employed in ships duty. So ends this day.
—Captain Daniel Tabor

Tuesday, January 2, 1855
We made the Island [Weyatootake] this morning at four o'clock A.M. We ran for Longataboo until half past 11. Then stood off till four native in a canoe came. One of them agreed to show us the anchorage for one hatchet. He is Nowon Boaw. Expect to get in to- morrow. He had no clothes on and he said me ashamed, so Father gave him some pants and Mr Edwards a shirt. I gave him a pipe and Mr Smith some tobaco. And then he was allright.
—Asenath P. Tabor
Logbook of Sarah Parker Tabor aboard the Whale Ship Copia
July 11, 1848-May 8, 1851
The Mariners' Museum Research Library and Archives

Most sailing vessels put in to shore for fresh food and water. As Asenath explains, they traded with the local peoples for goods and services. The man who boarded the ship had possibly met Americans before, because he was embarrassed by being naked in front of a young girl.

Hairwork decoration was a popular pastime in the Victorian era. Sarah Tabor took locks of hair from friends and from each member of her family and placed them in the logbook.




Absent Friends
By Sarah Tabor on the Copia, 1848

When pleasure lays at music strain,
And mirth assails the heart in vain,
So pensive thoughts the bosom bends
And finds a theme in absent friends

Remembrance then unfolds her store
Afflictionstale oft told before
And fancys magic vision bends
To catch a view of absent friends

Pale apprehension starts with fear
Some sad vicissitudes to hear
And hope with causeless tenour blends
For fate unknown to absent friends

The parent fond, and dutious child,
The feeling heart by love beguiled,
Each to kind Heaven a boon commands
That Heaven be kind to absent friends

A Song of Home
By Sarah Tabor on the Alice Frazier, 1851

Why, oh my heart! this yearning sadness
Breathing forth in sigh and moan,
This foreign land is bright with gladness,
Why, my heart, thus dark and lone?

Why am I sad? Oh! lonely ever,
Mourn I all afar from me;
The foreign land is fair, but never
like my pleasent home can be
There, no such fond love to endear me—
None so warmly grasp the hand—
E'en prattling childhood fails to cheer me
As in my own dear native land.

Peace, my heart, though lone and dreary,
Patient bear thy lot, and then
He who comforteththe weary—
Soon shall bring thee home again.























Cooking on Board

On most whaling and merchant ships, the captain hired a steward to cook and clean for himself and the officers. Sarah Tabor would not have had to cook the meals, but she may have prepared special treats for gaming or holidays. Below are a few recipes in the logbook from the whaleship Copia.

Asenath wrote her recipe in the logbook, but she forgot one ingredient. Brainstorm what the missing ingredient was and how you could alter the recipe to make it work.

Asenath's Cookies

  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup milk or water
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • Little salt

After mixing all ingredients, roll out thin and cut. Bake quick (oven heated to 350°).

Sarah Tabor's Ginger Snaps

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 pint molasses
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tarter
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup milk
  • Flour

Beat butter and sugar together then add molasses, cream of tarter, baking soda, and milk. Mix. Then add enough flour to make the dough stiff. Roll it to about a ¼" thick and cut with a small glass. Bake cookies until hard.

As a wife of a whaling captain about to leave for a three- to five-year whaling voyage, what would you take with you for the trip?

The cabin space is small, and the ship provides the food. Also, there is a steward to clean and prepare your meals. What would you take to pass the time?

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