Way back in 2002, while attending a conference in Boston, I took one day for a side trip to Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, to tour the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship in the world, the oldest American commercial vessel still in existence, and almost identical to Ann’s ship the Christopher Mitchell. Over her 80 year career, the Morgan made 37 voyages, one where she “gammed” with the Mitchell; where the story of Ann was relayed and subsequently documented by Nelson Cole Haley, one of the Morgan seamen, in his book Whale Hunt.
What would Ann have thought as the small whaleboat that carried her drew closer to the ship floating in icy December Nantucket waters? Could she even fathom the idea that she would be working on the masts? Fifteen men (or in Ann’s case, 14 men and one woman) called the foredeck home. (The deck from the main mast aft was for the officers, harpooners, and tradesmen.) Not much area for a 3 year voyage. Below a portion of that deck was the forecastle. As I climbed down into the forecastle that would be their living quarters, I hunched over to avoid bumping my head on the beams that were no more than 5 feet above the floor. With two rows of bunks, one above the other, little room was left in a bunk for much else than lying down, yet she used it for all kinds of things she could not do in front of men. And she did these things in the dark; the forecastle had no windows and only one small entry way. Out of modesty, some men (and Ann for sure) covered the bunk with a curtain. Like the forecastle, the blubber hold gave her no room to stand up straight, yet she worked there (sometimes on her knees, sometimes bowed over) unhooking large slabs of blubber from the hooks as they were lowered into the hold. Then, after all the blubber was in the hold, she lugged smaller chunks of the bloody, oily, sometimes rancid flesh to the hold’s hatch and up. When trying a whale (boiling the blubber into oil) the tryworks fire cast an eerie light around the deck and the fumes hung about the ship as if all the worst smells in the world congregated there. Ann single-handedly saved the ship during a storm by leaping from the tryworks to the forward rigging and cutting loose the ropes that held the sails.
This was Ann’s life while she served as a crewman on the Mitchell. More pictures and resources are available on the book’s web site by clicking the “Pictures, Notes, Docs, etc” link.