Join 3,494 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Girl on a whaleship
September 15, 2010 7:03 AM   Subscribe

In October, 1868, Laura Jernegan, a 6 year old girl from Edgartown, Massachusetts set out on a three year whaling voyage with her father, mother, brother and the ship's crew. She kept a diary throughout the voyage, which can be viewed online.
posted by vrakatar (31 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is really, really awesome -- thank you for posting it!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:12 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Fascinating stuff.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:14 AM on September 15, 2010


This is super-tasty! Thanks for posting. The Martha's Vineyard Museum is lots of fun--I especially love the gravestones for chickens, discussed previously here.

Speaking of whaling, the last surviving whaler is being restored.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:17 AM on September 15, 2010


Ugh, cursive ruins everything. The journal is perfectly readable until someone puts forth the idea the Laura's block script is shameful:
Feb. 13, 1869

I HOPE I SHALL MAKE THE REST OF MY JOURNAL LOOK BETTER THAN THIS. I AM ALMOST ASHAMED OF IT.
The the rest of the journal is an absolute slog to read through. Yeah I see there is a link to a transliterated link but that looses all the charm.
posted by 2bucksplus at 7:20 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


LOL. I read the post and assumed it was a contemporary family, and thought what a bunch of wacky, crackpots they must be.

I actually love the history of whaling, and the New England museums devoted to it. Nice post.

/desperately needs more coffee.
posted by MasonDixon at 7:33 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wonderful
posted by fire&wings at 7:41 AM on September 15, 2010


2bucksplus: "The the rest of the journal is an absolute slog to read through. Yeah I see there is a link to a transliterated link but that looses all the charm."

I used the "magic lens" and found the reading experience quite nice. Without it I found both the block letters and cursive quite slow to read. The cursive reminded me of the way my diaries looked at that age...

They seemed to have a lot of live animals on board. Pigs for slaughter and chicken for the eggs. I've always wondered how animal faired on sailing ships when the weather got stormy. I would think pigs especially would have a difficult time with that.
posted by severiina at 7:47 AM on September 15, 2010


Heh. I just left Edgartown yesterday. Spent two months checking out the island and hopping over to Boston and back. Martha's Vineyard is truly amazing. It has this super layered, complex history, from the whalers to the Wampanoag and the Deaf and the unexpected origin of sociolinguistics (thanks, Labov!). There's all this class-stratification, linguistic diversity, race/cultural division (and mixture) - you name it. Hell, you could do an entire FPP on just the architecture of the different towns on MVY. Plus, the whole place is somewhat geographically isolated, like a self-contained petri dish of spontaneous, organic social exploration and development. And the pride the residents have about their history and community there creates something above and beyond a simple 'local identity'. I was kind of blown away by the place and would encourage anybody to look into all these historical hotspots further. If I had more time and wasn't crazy traveling I'd make a solid FPP. Alas.

(Also want to say that right now on the island, they're doing the yearly fishing derby, which was pretty fun to watch (the catch weigh-ins at morning and night). It's one of the unspoken ways the locals sort of "reclaim" the island after the summer tourist season ends.)

But getting back to this link/FPP...I love the journal entries. It's neat to see the whaling experience through the lens of this young girl. How she ritualizes each post with "GOOD BY FOR TO DAY." Even how she breaks up words, yet the little variants or corrected behaviors creep in over time, such as the latter pages of the journal indicating her realization of "TO DAY" as one word, "TODAY."
TUESDAY 19
PAPA OPENED ONE OF THE COCONUTS IT IS SOFT INSIDE. PRESCOTT LOVES THEM. THARE IS A FLY ON MY FINGER. HE HAS FLEW OF NOW. Good By For to day.
This one is especially neat. There's a lot going on, from spelling errors (I wonder if "THARE" is reflective of her dialect's pronunciation of "there"). The incoherence of the narrative is funny and quirky*, too. Her mind is in a different, flightier place than some of the other entries. Also, "HE HAS FLEW..." as opposed to "He has flown..." Wonder what's going on there.

*You can't write, "there is a fly on my finger" and have that be true at the exact time of writing. She's reporting this event after the fact. And it was amusing enough to her that it was worth putting in the diary. I find this charming.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:00 AM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


February 1st 1869
MONDAY 1

IT IS A CALM DAY AND VERY PLEASANT. PAPA HAS MADE TWO BOAT SAILS. GOOD BY FOR TO DAY. P S I HAVE MADE EIGHT BABIES.


!!!!
posted by heyforfour at 8:08 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


"The men are cutting in the whales. They smell dreadfully."

I was going to ask if you thought that the men smelled dreadfully, or the whales. Then it occurred to me. It's both, right? It has to be be both.

This is amazingly cool, varakatar. Thanks for posting it!
posted by .kobayashi. at 8:12 AM on September 15, 2010


You can't write, "there is a fly on my finger" and have that be true at the exact time of writing.

Nonsense.. the fly could have been on the hand she was not writing with.. or it could have been a stubborn fly that decided to ride out the movement of her hand scribbling on the page..
posted by mbatch at 8:13 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Martha's Vineyard is truly amazing. It has this super layered, complex history, from the whalers to the Wampanoag and the Deaf and the unexpected origin of sociolinguistics...

And the island has a deep African-American heritage, as discussed in this FPP: 'Noepe: Land Amid the Streams'.
posted by ericb at 8:14 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can you imagine the collective freakout today if a mother decided to take her 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old boy out on a whaler?

Of course, if two mothers did it then the New York Times could write a trends story about it.

Meanwhile, this diary is great. I feel extremely jealous of this six-year-old girl!
posted by chavenet at 8:15 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is fantastic, thank you!
posted by jokeefe at 8:17 AM on September 15, 2010


To be fair, it was hard to find a sitter back then.
posted by Eideteker at 8:19 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Nonsense.. the fly could have been on the hand she was not writing with.. or it could have been a stubborn fly that decided to ride out the movement of her hand scribbling on the page.."

But dude, she's six. And have you seen her handwriting? That'd be one badass brave little fly there. My money is on the recent past historical tense construction.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:21 AM on September 15, 2010


Or maybe that fly really did hold on and she's like, "Whales, whales, blah blah, whales, coconut, HOLY CRAP THIS CRAZY FLY WON'T GET OFF MY FINGER. Good by for to day."
posted by iamkimiam at 8:26 AM on September 15, 2010


I love this, especially for all the reasons iamkimiam talks about. Wonderful post.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:37 AM on September 15, 2010


I own a copy of Lis Sails the Atlantic, the journal of a Scandinavian girl about twelve who kept a diary of her family's boating life in the early 20th century. I'd link to more, but it's unnerving when something doesn't exist on the internet anywhere, but I've got one on my shelves. Anyhow, the two would be complimentary -- Different eras, different hemispheres, but neither from the usual tenant of a seagoing vessel.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:04 AM on September 15, 2010


THARE IS A FLY ON MY FINGER.

I've written things like that in letters that were true when I thought it but not true any more a few moments later when I wrote it down. (I am watching kids playing soccer in the field behind my house = I was till I went back to my computer to type this.) The "now" when writing something meant to be read later can be fuzzy. It can encompass the time frame of writing, and it can shift forward with the frame - "It has flew of now."

I'll go read the diaries now.
posted by nangar at 9:54 AM on September 15, 2010


what a fantastic find, thanx so much vrakatar! This looks like the perfect book to read to my son, who is just learning english. (the sperm whale is gonna be his favorite animal ever, I'm afraid)
posted by ouke at 11:35 AM on September 15, 2010


Kinda spooky how the image that appears when you mouse over her portrait makes her look like a grown-up lady.
posted by feistycakes at 12:12 PM on September 15, 2010


I think I'll read this with my six year old.
posted by Songdog at 12:20 PM on September 15, 2010


That's odd, iamkimiam. I was on-island for a week and change starting labor day. I wore my Mefi T-shirt one day but we were in OB mostly.

On our last day we attended a talk given by the museum director (I think), mostly to make me put on real clothes and leave the beach area, as I have a way of going for one last swim and missing the ferry. He mentioned the diary being online. I turned around to my SO and mouthed "That would make a good Mefi post". I'm glad folks dig it.
posted by vrakatar at 12:37 PM on September 15, 2010


This is a fantastic post! BOTW. Thanks vrakatar.
posted by snsranch at 1:53 PM on September 15, 2010


This is terrific. I love the stuff kids write, and it's fun to see a girl living a life that to us is almost unimaginable, and to her was just where she lived while she went to school and watched her dad's employees carrying out their duties. Can't wait to go back and read the whole thing.
posted by OolooKitty at 3:02 PM on September 15, 2010


I love how she practised (and dated) her signature on the last couple of pages. I don't know why, it just makes me warm and fuzzy.

Can't wait til my kids get home from school and I can show them this. Thanks so much, vrakatar.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:16 PM on September 15, 2010


My pleasure, you crazy kids.
posted by vrakatar at 6:36 PM on September 15, 2010


heyforfour: "P S I HAVE MADE EIGHT BABIES.

!!!!
"

I assume 'babies' means dolls. I'm assuming (hoping) the little forgotten dog was likewise a toy. But I'd quite like to know what happened on p13 to give Papa "an attitude"

There were a couple of moments where the magic lens was clearly mistranslating, ("We have in pigs"? C'mon, that clearly says six pigs.) but I did find it helpful, post-cursive. Although, why anybody whose handwriting has serifs needs to be ashamed of it is beyond me.

"Would you like to hear some news? Well I don't know of any."

Well played little Laura, if I could, I would give you a favourite.

Great post, vrakatar. Good by for to day!
posted by the latin mouse at 9:13 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


That site has great supplemental materials, too, including a photo gallery where we glimpse the young authoress as one of the most adorably fat 1-year-olds I've ever seen . There seems to be a ton of information to be had on this particular family-- wonder if anyone's written anything scholarly on them.
posted by Bardolph at 10:10 AM on September 16, 2010


Wow, I didn't see this until now! Awesome. ON my visit to MV in June, I had a sneak peak at this site from the museum staff. They put a great deal of research effort into it, and not only is it fun and interesting to look at whaling from Laura's perspective, it is actually probably the best resource on nineteenth-century whaling that exists online, because of the depth of the interpretation and the use of abundant original source material. They've done an excellent job. There's one glaring gap that I hope subsequent additions will fill, and that is music of the sea - they had wanted to add more, but it seems that may be put off for a later date. Whalers generated an unusually rich body of music because, unlike the sailors on cargo ships, they had a lot of downtime to fill.
posted by Miko at 6:38 AM on October 5, 2010


« Older The 727 that Vanished....  |  Grand Rapids-based Calvin Coll... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments