Monday, June 19, 2017

There Once Was a Girl From Nantucket (Part 3)

. . . and her name is Helen Marshall! Greetings from Nantucket. The year is 1861. I am Helen Marshall. I guess you could say I'm of Nantucket but not from Nantucket. 

Until I was 9 1/2 I lived on board a whaling ship! My grandfather is the famous Nantucket whaling captain Seth Pinkham, who died in Brazil before I was born. My mother was his daughter Malvina. My father, Joseph Marshall, is also a whaling captain. 
My father (left)
Me (right)

My mother refused to stay behind though she was soon to be delivered of a child-me. I was born in the Azores, a group of islands off the coast of Portugal. I spent my first eight years on board a whaling ship.

Nantucket whaleships stopped in the Azores for provisions and crew. That is where I was born..

We sailed around the Pacific with my father, visiting many exotic locales and returning with a full cargo of sperm whale oil. I loved learning about the places we went and the people we met.

Liverpool Creamware for the American market

Liverpool Creamware- some of the less exotic treasures we brought home. (Your modern day sensibilities would be offended if I showed you our finest treasures). I like how each jug is personalized with patriotic American images and the name of the ship. Sometimes even the name of the captain or family is included.

My toys
I had many toys to amuse myself during the long voyages. I used this set of carte-de-visite featuring images of kings and queens of France and England to learn history. I wrote genealogical notes on the back of each card.  Second Mate George B. Hussey of the Aurora made this jump rope for me. It has whale bone handles and fancy sailors' knots. I also learned to tat lace with this tattling shuttle you see above.

This is my doll, an Izannah Walker doll 

I stitched this little quilt for my doll. I tried to trade it to a sea captain for a dog. 

I save photographs of friends and family in albums. The top photographs are my little cousins. The bottom photographs are my half-brother's children.

My grandfather's desk. He wrote many letters home with long-winded advice.
Now my father is retired and we are back in Nantucket for good.
Nantucket vs. the world.
Let me show you what the town of Nantucket looks like.
Nantucket- the center of the whaling industry for many years



One of the most important buildings in town-the lighthouse. The light keeps ships from running aground. This is the new light from 1849. It is a Fresnal lens created by a Frenchman. The light is built around a central piece of glass (the bull's eye). It is surrounded by concentric rings of glass projecting beyond one another. This type of light allows 5 times more light to shine than a traditional convex lens.

There are many industries in Nantucket. Each one has a distinct odor. Over 200 women and some girls like me braided straw into hats and bonnets. 

Behind me you see the newest American flags. The flag had 30 stars when my father left on his first whaling voyage in 1849. The stars represent the states including Wisconsin. Now our flag has 31 stars. California is the newest state.

In the distance you see a homeward bound pennant. Flags served as long distance communication tools at sea. A red homeward bound pennant shows a whaleship is heading home. 

Local businesses 

Nantucket 1850s

The whaling industry is still king here but it is not what it used to be. I will spare you the gruesome details of a whaling voyage. Behind me is a sperm whale skeleton. This is the type of whale my father and his crew sailed after. They are clever and cunning beasts. The blubber and bone of whales is highly prized for oil and other things. 

A barrel we used to store whale oil

The sperm whale has a waxy oil found inside a mysterious organ in their heads. We call it spermaceti.

This oil can be used to make odorless candles- a big improvement over tallow (pig fat). It can also be used to grease machines.
Spermaceti oil and candle molds
Hawden & Barney are the leading oil and candle firm here in Nantucket. Last year they produced 4,000 boxes of candles and 450 gallons of refined sperm whale oil. They also own a whalingship named Alpha. The whaling business is in decline now. Hawden & Barney use this building mainly as a warehouse.
That concludes my tour of Nantucket. I hope to see you in New Bedford some day to pick up the story where I just left off.                


Editorial note:
Pinkham-Marshall Family

 Helen Marshall went on to study at Vassar College. Helen set off on a grand tour of Europe in 1876 with her friend Ann Mitchell Macy, sister of Maria Mitchell. Upon her return, she taught at Nantucket High School and later at the Norwich Free Academy in Connecticut. She died in 1939.

There Once Was a Girl From Nantucket (Part 2)

There Once Was a Girl From Nantucket (Part 2) . . .

. . . and her name was Maria Mitchell. It's not women's history month anymore but it is always a good time to learn about women's history. Maria (Ma-RYE-uh just like Lydia Maria Child) Mitchell is a lady astronomer! The first ever in the United States. She grew up here in Nantucket. 


Maria Mitchell was born in this house in 1818. She was the third child in a large family. The house was kind of old by then. It was built in 1790! It is typical Nantucket architecture. It has an off-center front door and a small window above to let light in the hall when the door was closed. Her family moved here just before she was born. Maria's father had to add a new kitchen to the old house to make the house bigger. The new kitchen has a back staircase, a warming alcove and plaster walls painted to look like wood.


Can you spy the roof walk on top? That's for putting out fires in chimneys. Did you know that? 

Maria attended a school for young ladies. Her father also taught her astronomy and things only boys learn. Maria soon opened her own school for girls to learn the same subjects as boys. In the future this type of school might be called STEM (or just the science and math parts in my day).  Maria loved astronomy, just like her father. When she was 12, Maria helped her father calculate the position of their home by observing a solar eclipse. By 14 she was calculating navigational computations (whatever that means) for sailors leaving on whaling journeys.


This is the Nantucket Atheneum. Miss Mitchell was a librarian here from 1836 to just recently in 1858. She read everything she could when she wasn't working.

This is the Pacific National Bank where Mr. Mitchell is a cashier in 1836. He was in charge of the entire bank.

This is the side door to the upstairs apartment where the Mitchells lived. 

Maria and her father put a telescope up on the roof. On October 1, 1847 there was a party Maria did not feel like going. She went up on the roof with her telescope. What did she spy with her telescope? A fiery ball flying through the air- a comet!

She wrote down what she saw and the exact time to send her finding off to a society that keeps track of scientific discoveries. There was a storm in Nantucket the next day. The mail could not go out. A man in Italy claimed he saw the comet first. Maria persisted. She insisted she saw the comet first and her notes proved she was right. She was given an international gold medal from the King of Denmark. The comet is named after Miss Mitchell.

Maria Mitchell soon became famous. She was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1848. The U.S. Coastal Survey paid her $300 a year as a celestial observer. She helped predict weather patterns using math to compute distances. This is very important on an island. We can't leave our island except by boat and most people are employed in the whaling industry.

Maria is no longer officially a Quaker but she believes in many of the Quaker principles. She refused to wear cotton before the war because cotton was picked by slaves. She always wears a black silk dress.

She is now Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College and studies the surfaces of Jupiter and Saturn. She is the first lady professor and ignores silly rules about ladies not going outside at night.

Ignore the observatory behind me until you time travel forward to the early 1900s.

Meanwhile, back at the bank in 1849, Mr. Mitchell put this stone here to measure the varying angle between magnetic north and true north. This helps sailors. This stone is the first one here in the United States.

This is what Nantucket looks like outside of the center of the village. The island is one giant sand dune created by a glacier in the ice age. wow!

There Once Was a Girl From Nantucket (Part 1)

There Once Was a Girl From Nantucket (Part 1)

Greetings from the island of Nantucket, off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts! I'm here time traveling to the mid-1800s- the Golden Age of Nantucket. There's lots to see and to share so come on and follow me,

A monument to men who died in the Civil War

This Civil War monument is so tall! You can't see me AND the monument at the same time. It's in the center of the town of Nantucket. 

The whaling industry (more on that later) has made many men very rich. They built large homes for their families.  The home above me was first built in the 1700s. It was very small. In 1836 the owners made the house big and fancy.

This is William Hawden's house. It was built in 1846 after the great fire. He is a whale oil merchant and silver seller. The firm of Hawden & Barney is the main producer of whale oil and spermaceti candles. William Hawden was born in Newport. He moved to Nantucket in 1820. He married a lady from one of the first whaling families in Nantucket and built this big house.

Hawden Silver

The next stop on my tour through town is the jail. Nantucket has a lot people passing through and causing trouble. This jail (or gaol) was built back in 1806. It is very sturdy to keep prisoners in. If they wanted to escape, they had to come up with creative ways to do it. Willa's friend can tell you more. I will ask Willa to write a guest post. (She didn't want to time travel-just hang out at the beach).