The Voyage Begins.

Greasy luck!

After the owners O. & E. W. Seabury made final provisioning for a three-year voyage, and signed on crew, sailing day was set as October 1, 1850. Monongahela was warped off the wharf out into the stream, Acushnet River, and anchored there in advance of sailing day. She dropped down below the fort in Fairhaven, across the Acushnet River, with the crew aboard. This was a precaution against those who would desert at the last minute, thinking of loved ones, the absence of three years, hazards of the coming voyage and realizing they had made a mistake.

 

Land sharks.Shipping agents, "land sharks," had tantalized greenies with promises of great catches and wealth. "Ya'll take ten sparm 'fore ya're six weeks out!" Captain Davis, in his book, Nimrod of the Sea (1874), wrote about a land shark enticing a greenie:

There’s fresh beef in plenty; the porpoise is to be had for the catching, and there’s muscle in porpoise – it’ll stiffen you up, porpoise will. Then there’s albatross as big as geese – a little oily, but you’ll get used to that, and it makes a man waterproof to eat albatross.

As soon as these lads were introduced to experienced men in the crew, those who had shipped on a whaler before, they realized that they had been fooled into something they dreaded.

After Jason Seabury's last whaling voyage, his first as captain, he returned home in January 1850 on ship Minerva, with a successful cargo. But his celebration was cut short when he learned that Mary Ann Heath, his intended wife, had become pregnant and had a baby one year prior to Jason''s return. This news would weigh heavily on Jason's mind and heart until his death.

 

Jason would have spent hours with Mary Ann at William Sherman’s house, where she lived away from her family, before his departure. Jason wanted to marry before the voyage, but Mary Ann told him that her physician advised against it. Jason had his duties as master of Monongahela, and their good-byes had to be brief.

Monongahela’s original crew, signed on in New Bedford, consisted of twenty-nine men in addition to the captain. Others would be recruited in the Azores and Brava. The official New Bedford crew list named the following:

Jason Seabury, Captain, 1/12 lay
Charles Walling, First Mate, 1/25 lay
John W. Smith, Second mate, 1/55 lay
Christian Thomaston, Third Mate, 1/65 lay
George W. Corsa, Fourth Mate, 1/90 lay
Chapley Smith, Boatsteerer, 1/110 lay
Frank P. Broker, Boatsteerer, 1/110 lay
David Gunn, Boatsteerer, 1/110 lay
Richard Rundell, Cooper and Ship Keeper, 1/65 lay.
James H. Smith, Cook, 1/175 lay
John Taitano, Steward, 1/190 lay
Henry Miller, Seaman, 1/190 lay
Jose Gulate, Greenhand, 1/225 lay
Jose L. Sylvasa, Greenhand, 1/225 lay
Francisco Pangelinam, Ordinary, 1/210 lay
Peter Callander, Carpenter, 1/210 lay
Thos. W. Williams, Greenhand, 1/225 lay
Philip Hanglin, Blacksmith, 1/215 lay
Joseph W. Cutting, Greenhand, 1/225 lay
Wm. Morgan, Greenhand, 1/225 lay
Charles Decker, Greenhand, 1/225 lay
Harrison Gates, Ordinary, 1/210 lay
John Michael, Ordinary, 1/210 lay
Bradley Bailey, Greenhand, 1/225 lay
John Leman, Greenhand, 1/225 lay
Wm. Richardson, Ordinary, 1/200 lay
Pliney B. VanBuren, Greenhand, 1/225 lay
Martin Webb, boy, 1/250 lay
Charles Brown, 2nd Cooper, 1/190 lay
Harlow Palmer, Greenhand, 1/225 lay

 

Five others had signed on in New Bedford, but were scratched from the crew list before sailing, for individual reasons not recorded. Some reasons for not showing up on board were: the crewman sobered up, thoughts of loved ones dictated that he stay ashore, he couldn’t leave his girl friend, he learned what the final pay would be for four year’s work (probably debt), he found another berth with a higher rank or lay, or he would rather sign on a packet for a shorter voyage and have no smelly, grimy decks. Boys from the inland farms might develop a sudden fear of water, especially since there was so much of it. Couldn’t see across it like the pond in the cow pasture back home.


Sailing day finally arrived after a few days: a tug took agents, owners, officers and families out to the ship to say their farewells. The last item taken aboard was the chronometer, used in navigation to determine longitude, carried in hand by the captain. On an outgoing tide, anchors were weighed to the singing of a windlass shanty. The sound of the shanty singing brought everyone’s attention to the ship, knowing that the time to leave had arrived and the anchor was being hoisted. Shanties were work songs to aid in many of the jobs on the ship. Singing shanties was not just some musical frivolity. The songs were work songs to aid in everyone working as one. The songs also gave a spirit and sense of camaraderie when employed in strenuous tasks. Herman Melville described sea shanties:


"But I soon got used to this singing; for the sailors never touched a rope without it. Sometimes, when no one happened to strike up, and the pulling, whatever it might be, did not seem to be getting forward very well, the mate would always say, “Come men, can't any of you sing? Sing now and raise the dead.” And then some one of them would begin, and if every man's arms were as much relieved as mine by the song, and he could pull as much better as I did, with such a cheering accompaniment, I am sure the song was well worth the breath expended on it. It is a great thing in a sailor to know how to sing well, for he gets a great name by it from the officers, and a good deal of popularity among his shipmates. Some sea-captains, before shipping a man, always ask him whether he can sing out at a rope." – Herman Melville, Redburn


This was the first time the crew had to work together. The shanty man began singing the lyrics to one of the many work songs he knew, such as Randy Dandy O. Additional verses were made up spontaneously until the work was finished. In order to raise the anchor a ratchet on the windlass was turned and engaged a pawl with a loud clicking sound.


Roused from repose, aloft the sailors swarm,
And with their levers soon the windlass arm;
They lodge their bars, and wheel their engine round,
At every turn the clanging pawls resound.


The windlass turned and slowly raised the anchor, clanking the pawl in the ratchet in accompaniment to the shanty. Crewmen heaved on bars they placed into sockets on the windlass, turning it to the tune the shanty man sang out. After a few clanks of the pawl the bars were removed and inserted into the next windlass position, and the crew heaved ‘round again, loudly singing the chorus. If the men did not sing with vehemence the shanty man would cry, “Why don’t you make some noise?” In this example the shanty man sang the first and third lines of each verse and the men heaved and bellowed out the rest as they worked to the tune.

 

Now we are ready to head for the Horn,
Way, ay, roll an' go!

Our boots an' our clothes boys are all in the pawn,
Timme rollickin' randy dandy O!

Heave a pawl, oh, heave away,
Way, ay, roll an' go!

The anchor's on board an' the cable's all stored,
Timme rollickin' randy dandy O!


Randy is defined as lascivious, lecherous, of or characterized by frank, uninhibited sexuality. Completely different words to the shanty were most likely sung on board ship. Almost all work shanties had vulgar words derogatory to the captain, cook and all their ancestors, or verses graphically sexual in nature. Viewing whalemen as handsome, polite, dashing young men would be naive. Most foremast hands were strong, hard working, hard fighting, hard drinking men and boys with little or no education. Many crewmen were teenagers. Other words sung to Randy Dandy O are:

 

As I went through the clover fields
Hi randy dandy oh

I saw two whores kick up their heels
Galloping ralloping dandy oh

One named Sal the other named Sue
Hi randy dandy oh

Said I to Sue, I’ll put it to you
Galloping ralloping dandy oh

I laid her down behind a stump
Hi randy dandy oh

And made her ass go humpity bump
Galloping ralloping dandy oh!


Each following verse becomes more graphic.

An able-bodied seaman is a notch above an ordinary seaman, and is defined as “an experienced seaman certified to perform all routine duties at sea. Whalemen, on the other hand, and most all sailors, defined an able-bodied seaman as "a seaman who could hand, reef, steer, drink, frig, fight, rounded the Horn three times, had seven doses of the pox, and had been shanghaied out of ’Frisco in the clothes he stood up in.” To know what these men were really like, some dirt, foul language and bruises must be thrown on the image of the clean-cut romantic young heroes.


The time had come for families and owners to leave the ship and return to shore. Herman Melville described a typical parting in Moby Dick, when the boat taking non-crew back to shore pulled away from the whaleship in the stream. Owners called back to the ship with last minute instructions, anxious for the ship and crew, but more anxious for a profitable voyage:

 

"Be careful in the hunt, ye mates. Don’t stave the boats needlessly, ye harpooneers; good white cedar plank is raised full three per cent within the year. Don’t forget your prayers, either. Mr. Starbuck, mind that cooper don’t waste the spare staves. Oh! the sail-needles are in the green locker. Don’t whale it too much a’ Lord’s days, men; but don’t miss a fair chance either, that’s rejecting Heaven’s good gifts. Have an eye to the molasses tierce, Mr. Stubb; it was a little leaky, I thought. If ye touch at the islands, Mr. Flask, beware of fornication. Good-bye, good-bye! Don’t keep that cheese too long down in the hold, Mr. Starbuck; it’ll spoil. Be careful with the butter- twenty cents the pound it was, and mind ye, if—"

Bark Josephine leaving New Bedford on a whaling voyagw.
Bark Josephine leaving New Bedford on a whaling cruise

 

As Monongahela weighed anchor, accompanied by the shanty, the shore became crowded with families, friends and loved ones shouting “God speed the voyage” and “Greasy luck!” Everyone waved handkerchiefs and hats. Reality of the ship finally heading out to sea for three years produced many fears for those on shore.


Sing fare ye well, my lady,
Sing fare ye well awhile,
Sing fare ye well, my lady,
I’m going to leave you now.


Several miles out Monongahela left the pilot boat and raised sail. Jason Seabury headed Monongahela out of Buzzards Bay on October 1, 1850, bound for the newly opened North Pacific and the multitude of bowhead whales. Captain Jason Seabury was then twenty-eight years old.


Taking sun sights with a sextant.

Captain taking sun sights.

(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce)

 

The first day at sea traditionally included an address by the captain to the crew explaining what was expected and what was required, and what would not be tolerated. Some men where old seasoned whalemen and knew the rules, but every captain had his own requirements, and the greenhands, “greenies,” had never heard the requirements before. A typical address by the captain was somewhat like the following:


"Men, you all know why you’re here. You are going to catch whales. Some of you have never seen a whale before. It’s the biggest animal you can imagine, bigger than that damned cow you left at home on the farm. And whales, they don’t like getting killed, so they try to kill you first. You can’t be afraid of ‘em or you won’t be of use. You’ve got to be tough, and by Jehovah we’ll make you tough! Most of you greenies don’t know what hard work is. You will learn to know pain and sweat and blood. You will stand your watch on deck, not any part of your watch below, and you’ll stand it in any weather, sick or not. You will roast like a pig on a spit at the tryworks in the sun of South Pacific, and you’ll freeze your hands and numb your face in snow and ice on the crosstrees in the Arctic. You will go aloft in gales and rain and snow. Stragglers and those unwilling to do their duty as I say or the Mates say will be severely punished. Anyone faking illness to get out of duty will also be severely dealt with. No shirkers on this ship!


"This whalin’ is a serious business and the owners are counting on you. If you favor them, they may favor you with another voyage, and maybe a better lay if you show great promise. But you’ll have to work hard and earn it. To take this business seriously you have to be serious. Therefore, there will be no skylarking, no gambling, no fighting, no grumbling. And no spirits at all on this ship, or ashore! And when in the islands there is to be no fornication! [A smile flickered across the faces of all but the greenies.] You will never speak to me unless I ask you a direct question. Walk on deck foreward and aft on the lee side. You will be fed good and nourishing food, and sufficient of it to keep you in health and strong to do your duties. If anyone complains ‘bout the victuals, he won’t get any more. And you won’t waste victuals or anything else on this ship! Do whatever the Mates tell you. They are telling you what you have to do to make this a profitable voyage, and to keep you in good health to accomplish that. You may them, but everyday you will be stronger and all the better for it. Boatsteerers, you will locate yourselves in the mid-ship area on deck, away from the foremast hands, and you will ignore them. When going on a whale you will do exactly as the boatheader says and do it immediately. Records are kept in the log and any boatsteerer that doesn’t take enough whales will be dealt with. Strike well, and dart the second iron. Do as you’re told and you won’t get into trouble. The mates who are boatheaders in your assigned boat will review with you the ship’s signals to the boats when down for whales.


"Mates, you will keep everything on this voyage running smoothly. You will teach the men to pull and what other duties are expected of each oarsman in the boats. You will show them and teach them all cordage, running and standing rigging. You are responsible for overseeing all tasks: catting the anchor, trimming the sails, keeping the ship clean, lowering the boats, cutting in, trying out and stowing down the oil. You will maintain discipline and a healthy respect for the Lord. You will be an extension of me, and do exactly as I would. I expect the First Mate to keep the ship’s log and review it with me each day after supper. You will also shoot the sun and keep our latitude and longitude accurately, using the chronometer often enough to verify your lines. You show me that you have what it takes to become captain on your next voyage. And you will see to it that the men read and write letters on deck only on Sunday. Clothes will be mended and washed on Sunday. We rely on the Lord to keep us from harm and to bless us with a profitable voyage. Therefore we will honor and respect the Sabbath. But if whales are raised on Sunday, we will lower! Otherwise we will be rejecting gifts the Lord has given us, and cheating the owners.


"Men, you will now be assigned your watch and boat crews. Working together is the only way I’ll tolerate any task getting done. You will learn by hard back-breaking labor how to row a boat, and row together as one, in fair weather and foul, bright daylight and night as black as Hades. Keep the stroke! Sing out at every stroke! And sing out when hauling! And pumping ship! And heavin’ on the windlass! Sing out as loud as you can! It gives you good lungs, and everyone will know you’re awake. Singing is good for the soul.


"If I forgot anything, you are still responsible for it. No weakness, no shirkers, no disobedience. You are dismissed now. See the Mates to get your crew assignments and watches. Lively, now!"

Foremast hands chose their bunks in the forecastle. These living quarters below decks in the bow of the ship were squalid. In Etchings of a Whaling Cruise, J. Ross Browne describes the crew's quarters, in sailor's parlance, the fo'c'sle:


Life in the foc'sle "The forecastle was black and slimy with filth, very small and hot as an oven. It was filled with a compound of foul air, smoke, sea-chests, soap-kegs, greasy pans, tainted meat, sea-sick Americans and foreign ruffians. The ruffians were smoking, laughing, chattering and cursing the green hands who were sick. With groans on one side, and yells, oaths, laughter and smoke on the other, it altogether did not impress [me] as a very pleasant home for the next year or two. [I was] indeed, sick and sorry enough, and heartily wish [myself] home."

High humidity, the smell of sweat and rotten food, mingled with the heavy, greasy odor of the sooty whale oil lamps made the air oppressive. The only fresh air available was from the narrow companionway left open in good weather. Gambling and fighting were commonplace, making sleep difficult. The crowded small, narrow triangular-shaped room under the deck of the bow of the ship was home to almost twenty foremast hands for three years, and was only about sixteen-feet wide. With little head room, standing erect was difficult. The sides were lined with two tiers of narrow, short wooden bunks, taking up most of the room. These bunks seemed short, and they were, so the men could wedge themselves in to prevent falling out in rough weather. Today many see the short bunks as evidence that “people were shorter in those days.” That is simply not true. The foremast hands had a straw mattress, called a donkey’s breakfast. Each sailor’s sea chest acted as his only seat and table. No port holes gave light. Smoky oil lamps burning the worst quality whale oil provided what dim light there was. There was not floor space enough for twenty men to stand at the same time.


After the traditional address by the captain, the watches on Monongahela were set. These were known as the starboard watch and the larboard watch. When on watch crewmen and officers would perform the essential duties of standing a trick at the helm (crewmen), navigating (officers), trimming sails, and keeping a lookout. Each half of the crew stood watches three times each day, four hours at a time. Try watches or quarter watches were six hours on and six hours off when processing a whale. These watches started when a whale was killed and cut in.


Working on the sails aloft.

Aloft.

(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce)

Monongahela set experienced lookouts at the crosstrees immediately after sailing from New Bedford to search for sperm whales during the long voyage through the Atlantic to the Arctic. These first days at sea also served as training for crewmen. Deathly seasick, filled with terror and dread at every lurch or roll of the ship, thrown hither and thither by the heaving deck, dazed and confused by their strange surroundings and faint with dizziness each time they looked upward at the soaring, lofty trucks, the greenies were ordered into the rigging.


A short time after leaving port the landlubbers were able to go aloft, man the yards and even keep a lookout from the to'gallant cross-trees. Some learned the rigging, ropes and sails quickly. But some never learned to distinguish sheets from shrouds no matter how hard the mates tried to pound it into their heads. But they were still good whalemen: they could learn to pull a whaleboat. Whenever the sea conditions permitted, the boats were lowered and the men were drilled by the experienced boatsteerers in handling them. At first all attempts at any of the needed skills were cumbersome and awkward, even laughable. Many young lads from the farm had never seen an oar. When blackfish (small pilot whales) were sighted, the boats lowered for a real chase and good practice. The pilot whales would each yield only two barrels of oil, but this was good training in harpooning a whale, cutting in a whale, cutting the blubber from the blanket to horse pieces to bible leaves, boiling and stowing the oil. When pilot whales were not to be found a wooden keg might be towed by the ship and the whaleboat crews would row after it and harpoon it for practice. Training continued without a break from dawn to dusk and was kept up for the first four or five months.


Next comes the running rigging,
Which we're all supposed to know.
'Tis " Lay aloft, you son of a sea cook,
Or overboard you go.


More likely:


Oh, here comes the mate in a hell of a stew.
He's lookin' for work for us sailors to do.
Oh, it's “Fore tops'l halyards!” he loudly does roar,
And it's “Lay aloft, Paddy, ye son-o'-a-whore!”


Coordination in lowering boats, rowing, sailing and capturing the whale was essential. The men had to work together as a seasoned and well experienced team. This coordination was especially needed among the ice where maneuverability was difficult and timing critical. A whale could drag the whaleboat into the floes, or dive under them, which could result in a lost whale and whalecraft, or life of the crew, both of which were common enough. Two weeks after sailing Jason Seabury wrote a letter to his brother, Otis, and mentioned the crew’s abilities and potential:


"I cannot judge of my crew yet. I am affraid [sic] however that one or two of them will not amount to much one of them Williams I think his name is, says he has been taking medicine these three years for the consumption. He is a verdant youth. He came to me the second day out and wanted to know if I had any tooth brushes for sale. I told him our supply was small and we could not accomidate [sic] him. I went along forward about an hour after and saw that he had one of his jaws unshiped [sic] entirely and had a jack knife a picking the teeth. I thought to myself you will make a good one to eat hard bread. I have several other invalids but I am in hopes of fetching them out bright."


Very soon the men could handle the oars and could pull in unison. Keen rivalries between the different boats' crews enhanced the desire to become the best. They could row after a whale over a long distance and approach the whale like ghosts, quietly without frightening their prey. Then after an arduous battle with the beast, they would tow it back to the ship, possibly several miles, to be the first crew to return with a prize.

BLOWS !

 BLOWS!

    (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce)

 

When a whale was sighted the lookout cried out, “There she blows!” Other cries from the lookout may be, “There she breaches!” when a whale was seen leaping out of the water. When the lookout saw the whale’s tail as it commenced a dive, he would call out, “There goes flukes!” When only the sea thrashed into foam was seen, but not the whale, the call was, “There she whitewaters!” If only the back of the whale was seen, and it couldn’t be identified by the characteristics of its spout, the lookout might yell “There she blackskins!” And if a sail should be sighted, the lookout would inform the crew, “Sail ho!” Of course when land was sighted the cry was “Land ho!”


Also on the first day at sea boats’ crews were picked. There were six men, four men and a boatsteerer plus a mate or captain as boatheader in each whaleboat. Boatsteerers, or harpooners, were in a class by themselves. They were expected not to interact with the foremast hands and to remain in the waist of the ship when on deck. In addition to acting as the harpooners, they were to head the watches on deck. They enjoyed more privileges than the rest of the

BREECHES !
BREECHES !
(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce)

crew. The officers were the first, second, third and fourth mates. They acted as the boatheaders when approaching a whale, and changed positions with the boatsteerers after harpooning, or darting, their prey to be in position to kill the whale with a lance. From earliest times it had been a tenet of the whale fishery that only an officer could kill the whale. Mates lived in the aft portion of the ship, and would dine with the captain. The blacksmith, carpenter, cook and cooper also ranked higher than ordinary crewmen. When the crew chased a whale, these men remained on board as ship keepers. The official ship keeper so named in the crew list was the cooper, Richard Rundell. Foremast hands were the greenhands and ordinary seamen, living in the forecastle.

FLUKES!
FLUKES !
(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce)

 

Jason Seabury was not happy on this voyage, being extremely homesick only days after leaving New Bedford. Mostly he longed for and was worried about his betrothed Mary Heath. On October 17, 1850, just sixteen days after sailing, Jason remarked in a letter to his brother Otis:

 

"The Owners of the Mongola [Monongahela] Combined have not got money enough to hire me to come a whaling again, to feel as I have felt since leaving home. It would take about six millions to pay me up for what I have suffered already on this voyage."

 

 


Later, on March 18, 1851, he wrote in another letter to Otis:

"The loadstone that draws me towards home is powerful very powerful. It is needless to explain my meaning for you both [Otis and Caroline] know well what I mean. All is if you consider me as a Brother look upon her as a sister and shield her as much as possible from those scorching tongues that would degrade her. In so doing you will do me a favor that I shall not easily forget."


Jason mentions “his wife to be” in his letters, which explains his extreme unhappiness and home sickness. Interestingly he never mentioned her by name, Mary Ann, and never mentions her child. It is as though he were in fear of letting hidden dark suspicions into the light to be seen where he would have to face them in reality.


Jason’s letters carried an undertone of insecurity and anguish concerning those at home. Such a mental stress over years at sea could have affected his judgment. Jason also complained often that he had received no letters from anyone at home. He begged his family to write to him.


"Do not my Brother & Sister be unmindful of me but send me letters often and in every possible way to cheer my lonely hours for they are many very many and remember that a letter from one is next to seeing and feeling them."


But he did not request that Mary Ann write to him, at least in the surviving letters. Another letter continued his loneliness:

"I am in hopes of haveing [sic] letters and hearing from you all at home. I am greatly in need of something to cheer me up and if you expect from the Monongola, [Monongahela] to get any oil – you will have to keep me well supplied with letters and informed of all that transpires at home. If you do not I shall be as blue as indigo. Yes blue as the bluist bluism, and I shall almost disown you as relatives."

Jason also missed his nieces and the good times at home. On March 18, 1851 he included his nieces, Carrie and Sarah, daughters of Otis and Caroline, in his letter:


"And Carrie and Sarah you must write me often and tell me all the news for you don’t imagine how much it will gratify your Old Uncle to hear from his nieces in the shape of a neat little epistle. I don’t care about its being a love letter still you must express as much love in it as you choose and if you don’t consider me too old to bear you around when I get home may do so occasionally to repay you for writing me.


"You have probably had most of your sleigh rides for this winter by this time and warm weather will soon be with you again. I should be happy very happy to spend the coming summer with you but my destiny leads me far from you. I shall have to spend it up in the Arctic."


His five year old niece, Carrie (Caroline O. Seabury), wrote to her Grandmother, Sally Woodman Seabury:


Jan 3, 1852


Dear Grandma

Uncle Jason is going to bring me home a white fox skin to make me a muff of. I think it will match my Cuffs & tippet – very well indeed.

From Carrie

PS I had a very pretty great doll new year’s day with a pink silk bonnet & green cloth [illegible - socgal ?] with bright buttons she was real pretty. Margret gave her to me & her name is Jenny Lind. Good bye


Carrie

Copyright © 2007, 2008 Thomas Lytle. All rights reserved.

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