Friday, December 20, 2013

A Letter to a Friend, 1876. A Homecoming, 2013.

When Sallie Smith went with her husband aboard the bark OHIO in search of whales in 1875, she would have rare moments of female companionship. To make up for that lack, she kept busy in a number of ways including working with her husband, Capt. Fred Smith, on creating scrimshaw pieces, writing a journal, and corresponding with friends at home. With no local post office available at sea, she counted on the vagaries of meeting up with other ships that would be heading into port where they could then post the letters. Weeks or months might pass before the opportunity to do so arose. In one letter to her friend Minnie Chace in 1876, she included a crude illustration of a whale hunt, utilizing a whale stamp to give shape to the whale being harpooned by her crew. In the illustration of her letters below, you can see the similarity between the actual whale stamp imprint on the left and her fanciful drawing on the right (which she signs with: "drawn by Smith the Artist").  The small clutch of letters were obtained by the Museum just a few weeks ago.

Letters from Sarah G. (Sallie)Smith to Minnie Chace, 1876.
VFM 2062, Manuscripts Collection, G.W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport.

The Museum has more than 150 things belonging to Capt. Fred and Sallie, including two journals from aboard the OHIO, numerous scrimshaw pieces, a newly-acquired lapdesk and much more. The following illustration is from one of the journals kept during the voyage of the OHIO beginning in 1875. This hand-written account of the voyage came to the Museum in 1941 and had attached to it a hand-carved, wooden whale stamp in the likeness of a sperm whale. The impression on the journal page from the stamp is identical to the one on the letter above. Reuniting the journal and the letters after almost 140 years, and more than 70 years since the journal arrived at the Museum is a very satisfying experience, as well as instructional as the appearance of the whale stamp on both pieces acts as historical verification for both. Not that there was ever any doubt!
Journal kept on board the bark OHIO, 1876-1878, Capt. Fred H. Smith, master.
Log 400, Manuscripts Collection, G.W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport.

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