April – Punishment on a 19th Century Whaler

After my last update, I exchanged emails with one of the recipients. He clarified the difficulty of a large sailing ship navigating a harbor full of anchored vessels with the following:

Most often, professionals known as “pilots” would handle the delicate procedure. Also in many case the ships didn’t enter the harbor at all but would anchor in deeper waters, and their cargos were “lightered” to and from the wharves. Finally, many Nantucket ships actually called in at Martha’s Vineyard (officers and crews would sail over and board the “prepared” vessel)…

Democracy did not exist on a whale ship. The captain’s rule was absolute. In First Fury, a group of sailors (including Ann) are caught disobeying the captain’s orders. On a 19th century whaling ship, punishment for such a thing included “being put in irons” or flogging, which was the most common. In flogging, a sailor was hung by his wrists until his toes just touched the deck. Then, the one executing the sentence would use a whip, rope, or a cat-o’nine-tails (a whip with 9 thin ropes often with some kind of weight at the end of each) to bare down on the offender’s stripped back. A picture of a flogging can viewed here. Richard Henry Dana In Two Years Before the Mast describes a flogging at sea as “Swinging the rope over his head, and bending his body so as to give it full force, the captain brought it down upon the poor fellow’s back. Once, twice – six times.” The full account can be found at http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/flogging.htm. This was not done in private; all the crew was required to watch.
Next month, see where Ann lived in Rochester, New York.

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