Harriet Myrick Swain, 1815 – 1857, Woman on Board

Harriet Myrick Swain was one of several Nantucket women to join their husbands at sea. Swain and her husband, Captain Obed Swain, sailed on board the Catawba on Christmas Day 1852 for what would become a three-year voyage. Harriet chose to join her husband rather than spend three to five years of separation, which many whaling couples endured. Going to sea, however, was an option only for the captain’s wife. Obed had a small room built for her on the deck so that she could enjoy the sea air and be outside without risking sunburn. During the journey, Harriet kept a journal of her experiences on board. She recorded the daily monotony, bouts of seasickness, whales caught, and the loss of crew members. One incident that particularly affected her was the loss of a nineteen-year-old boy whom she memorialized with a poem. Harriet did not complete the journey; she became ill and was put ashore at Payta, Peru to be sent home. She recounted all of this in her journal. Unfortunately, although she made it home safely, Harriet passed away from a fever just twenty-one days before Obed returned home in 1857.

Excerpted from The Daring Daughters of Nantucket Island
By Jascin Leonardo Finger
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NHA − Nantucket Historical Association, Nantucket, MA.


Ships Log Collection. Collection 220, Log 33. Nantucket Historical Association. Nantucket, MA.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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