of the Schooner Nancy
December 1821 to March 1822
Years ago at an auction in northern Oneida County, New York, I purchased one of those odd lots auctioneers put together of items hard to sell. In it was a book pasted full of items of a scrapbook nature. Removing them revealed the log of a voyage that started apparently in Thomaston, Maine, in December 1821. One or more pages have been lost, others tattered.
We do have a start of sorts: "Schooner Nancy from Thomaston to Norfolk, Saturday 7 Dec. 1821, Edward Crockett, Master, Dec. 8 -41, W 60." There are entries on December 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 1821, which indicate Norfolk as the destination. We may suspect calls into Boston, New York, and other places on this outward voyage but the record does not show them.
A certain amount of description is necessary to give the flavor of 1822 sailing: Schooners were of several types but there is no description of the Nancy. All that is mentioned is sails—a mainsail and a foretop sail which indicates a fairly small ship. In the back of the logbook is a partial log of the Mary Spear. Its crew was listed as: Robert Perry, Master, Eben Morse, Mate, John Gregory and Rufus Spear, seamen, and Israel Lindsay, cook. I think that one or more of the Nancy crew was among these men. I suspect Eben Morse, since a book of his was in the auction odd lot. The log entries for the Mary Spear follow the same style as the entries for the Nancy. The writing is much the same. But Crocket does seem to have written the Nancy log if we believe the personal pronoun's use. But he did not sign the end of voyage statement at the end of the Nancy log—nobody did.
To read the Nancy account in the original we need some idea of sea usage, the mechanics of the logbook and personal spelling. If Edward Crockett was the author of the log book entries, he had seaman skills, he appears to have navigated and set "sea time," based on his navigating ability. He "shot the sun" and translated it into 12 o'clock MR (Meridian time). He navigated from shore to shore points—presumably he had charts to work from but he also coordinated sea and land times. Eben Morse could do all these things, too, and when it came to figuring latitude and longitude there was his math book in the auction odd lot which he might have used for this purpose. So?
The log keeper spelled words by what must have been the Maine dialect, so "stove" was for "stave" and "cabile" for cable, etc. But long words you might only learn to spell in school he spelled without error. He capitalized words he considered important, such as, Barrels—not just barrels, etc. I remember oldsters doing that when I was young.
Weather descriptions are confusing. What they meant to a sailor in 1822 they may not mean to us today. Gales are a good example: we may think of them as strong winds, but the logbook notes moderate, pleasant, gentle and fresh gales, all apparently classified by the writer's impressions. Another complication is the word breeze—would a gale be constant and breeze be periodic? Would a light breeze equal a gentle gale? Did the term "flattening breeze" which now may apply to one that knocks the top off waves mean the same in 1822 or something totally different? Light winds seem to have been just above calm. We may be sure that calm is so weak that the ship, "hove to."
The logbook is damaged but since many of the daily items follow the same pattern much can be inferred from those still available. Further inference may be made from what we know about this time when economic activity was swelling in the United States. For example, the log pages were printed with spaces for necessary entries. It is an example of standardization in the economy as early as 1822.
Near the top of each page was a printed line stating "on a voyage from ___________ towards ____________" with spaces for the last port and the anticipated port. The destination was a place you hoped to reach but might not, due to weather and other hazards. Each printed page had room for two days record. Running down the left edge of the upper and the lower half of each page was a column of hours: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12. A line for each watch to note the courses and the winds and leeway. On the right sides were spaces for general remarks for each date. Remarks could vary from a simple statement such as "all these 24 Hours Heavy breezes and clear weather" to a crowded statement of the conditions often ending, "So ends these 24 Hours." In this log, E. Crockett's name headed each page. Across the bottom of each half page were boxes for jotting down sailing information: course, departure, latitude by dead reckoning, latitude by observation, longitude, bearing and distance.
Leaving off the question of a coasting voyage we have in the record: Thomaston to Norfolk, Virginia, Norfolk to Bermuda, Bermuda to Grand Turks Island.
The log after a few bits and pieces picks up on the ship's trip from Norfolk going to Bermuda: "13 Jan. 1822. Departed from Norfolk going to Bermuda at 5 P.M. saw Cape Henry light, W. by N. Dist. 10 Miles from this I take my Departure at 10 P.M." (This was the navigation base for time, etc.)
The Norfolk to Bermuda distance in fact took one month. The entries into the log tend to follow a pattern for a rather small sailing ship of that day finding a way with what navigation aids were available.
The readable portion of the log skips to 21 January, 1822, which noted the day began with fresh gales and clouds followed by squalls and changed to light wind and clear weather, "Made and took in Sail occasionally." This set a pattern of adjustment of sails to achieve maximum use of the weather to foward progress.
On the 22nd in moderate weather, "at 4 P.M. spoke a schr. from St Croy, Bound for New York." This may have been a meeting with a ship in a shipping lane up the Atlantic coast. A fair number of schooner-size ships must have followed this route. Apparently no interesting information was exchanged, such as we read of visiting between ships from various other ports. However, they may have checked figures of latitude and longitude.
The entry ends with "calm weather," but that for Jan. 24th began with "squally and fresh gales," and the remarks for the 24th noted, "began with fresh gales and cloudy and at 9 P.M. more moderate and kept a way." This showed an adjustment in an hour to hove to at 10 P.M.
The 25th was a busy day: "Heavy gales at 10 A. M. —laid her head to the Eastwards At 12 M.R. Made Sail." But later came the decision at "6 P.M. to hove to." Were they shutting down for the night? On the open Atlantic, night was an enemy of sorts and navigation was simplified to calculate how much drift occurred in the dark. There is no mention of navigating on the North Star, although something of the sort may have been used to check other findings.
January 26, began with "fresh gales" and at 2 P.M. Nancy was hoved to, at 10 P.M. the gale moderated.
Bermuda is near the Sargasso Sea where great amounts of seaweed collect. On the 27th the log has a notation, "this day saw large quantities of seaweed." Stories of craft stuck in the weed and lost circulated but did not seem to have been heard, or, if heard, believed by the Nancy crew.
January 28 was what must have been a business-like day. It began with, "fresh Breezes and clear weather. At 2 P.M. Set the flying Jib and at 8 P.M. tacked Ship and stood to the Westward and at 12 tacked again to the Eastward. Made and took in Sail Occasionally." All that is lacking is an estimate of distance covered.
January 29th began with clear turning to thick weather and January 30 began with thick weather that must have moderated somewhat for at 8 P.M. "tacked ship to the Westward." Thick weather perhaps was heavy fog and that complicated the steering and may have depressed the wind to slow Nancy's progress.
February 2, and 3 brought more thick weather. On the 3rd Nancy at 8 P.M. was "tacked to the Westward, At 6 A.M. saw a Brig. but did not speak her." Weather may have been a factor in this. The Nancy may have been skirting the Atlantic area which in our day is called the Devil's Triangle or Graveyard. The thick weather appears in entries through the 11th. A note of caution appears in the February 11th and 12th entries recording Nancy was "hove to" at 6 P.M. and twelve hours later sail reset when "laid to," making in the 24 hours 1 Knot—an instance of measuring drift by knots not miles.
Thick weather is listed for ten days during the month of the voyage to Bermuda. On the 13th "at 6 P.M. hove to, took two reafts in Main Sail at 5 P.M. Made the Island Bearing EBN Dist 20 miles made sail and kept away at 6 P.M. [Civil account] came too with our Best Bower [anchor] in St. George's harbor."
The turn-around place may have been designated as Bermuda but no mention of a cargo is in the record. Bermuda seems to have been a place where ships from Britain unloaded and smaller ships went to pick up cargo for various places on the Atlantic seaboard. It may be that there was no suitable cargo for the Nancy and instead, the trip was extended to the Grand Turks Island.
Getting from Bermuda to Turks Island was a difficult part of the voyage. On Friday March 8, 1822, when the day started with moderate gales and clear weather, something happened, either a deficiency of the ship or a quick spot of bad weather, or both. At 4 p.m. the foretop mast, went down over the bow and all hands were employed clearing away the rigging and getting, "Sail and spars on Deck." Apparently, they could continue to sail and not until 17 March is there the notation: "got in the F. topmast and sat [set] up four riging at 8 p.m. Bent the four topsail."
Meanwhile they had drifts on 2, 11/4 and 11/2 knots and had progress toward Grand Turk Island. "On the 12th of March at one half past 12 MR sighted the island at dist. of 10 miles and at 6 P.M. came too with the Best Bower off the island, at 8 parted the cabile [cable] made sail and cleared the Braker, sticking once, let go the small Anchor but lost the cabile and with much difficulty weathered the Brakers and put out the passage, having lost both Anchors." The next day at 4 A.M. they, "made Sail and stord [stood] in for the Island." On Thursday, March 14, 1822, they passed the grand Turk, Bore SSW at a distance of 6 miles.
On Friday, March 15, with weather "clear and calm, at 2 P.M. man'd the long boat after the anchors at 8 P.M. The boat returned with the Small Anchor." On the 16th, "Clear weather at 2 p.m. Came to Anchor in the hawks nest, got a spar from the ship Salm Prospect for a four topmast. at 6 A.M. got under way and Beat round to the N.W. of the Island and came to Anchor." There they fitted the F. topmast
On Monday with clear weather and light winds at 2 P.M. got under way and came to anchor off the [?], cleaned the hold and made ready for taking in salt. On Tuesday they began at 6 A.M. to take in salt and at 2 P.M. Crockett went on "the schooner Prospect and got her under way Bound for New York." He must have had some authority to do this, perhaps the adsence of a captain for the Prospect by death or dismissal. Crockett may have also served as the agent for the cargo owners.
Taking on salt as a cargo occupied several days. Grand Turks Island seems to have been noted for producing salt by evaporation of sea water. We have to wonder if some agent acted there for the Nancy to get a cargo, or if enough salt was stockpiled to warrant a ship simply calling with the expectation that salt would be available.
When the salt wells in New York were developed they may have competed with Grand Turks' salt. The salt for the Nancy is listed in the log at 2,000 and 1700 bushels.
© 2000, Robert V. Anderson