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The Plough Boy Journals

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19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. LXX, No. 6 (Dec 1889)
pp. 441-446

First published in Flag of Our Union, Vol. 24, No. 48 (Nov 27, 1869).

. . . .



      The scene of our story opens on the little island of Nantucket, the ultima Thule, or "jumping-off-place," of Massachusetts. The time dates back more than half a century ago, to a period when its people were more isolated than now from the continental world. A strange compound of the Quaker and the Puritan elements, they might almost be said to dwell in a miniature world of their own, so far as intercourse with the mainland of their own country was concerned. But the hardy young men pursued their giant game in distant seas, while their faithful Penelopes waited and hoped in their island home, for the return of the long-absent wanderers. A race of men and women possessing, even at the present day, some marked characteristics, and to a certain extent, sui generis.

      A bright, rosy-cheeked maiden, full of life and animal spirits, in spite of her plain garb, was Rachel Barnard, who stood looking through the back window of one of the quaint, comfortable old houses on "North Shore Hill." The window commanded a view of the white sand-beach with the broad Atlantic beyond, and no vessel arrived or departed, at least during the hours of daylight, unseen by some member of the Barnard family. The old folks could hardly have lived out of sight of the sea; the marine picture framed by the sash of the broad north window had become a necessity of existence.

      A gale was blowing from that quarter, rolling in a sea which made a "heavy chop" on the Bar; and the girl stood gazing thoughtfully at the angry white caps, till a shade of anxiety settled upon her fair face, and the usual roguish look about her lips was subdued to seriousness.

      "What's thee thinkin' of, Rachel?" asked her mother, who was putting a batch of pies to bake in the cavernous brick oven, which, large as it was, was only a sort of outwork or flanker to the immense chimney. "Come, thee'd better be helpin' me with the work, than to be idlin' and gawkin' out there. The Perseverence won't come down to the Bar to-day, I can tell thee. If she's off Block Island, she won't get in till this wind blows out; and if she's got into Holme's Hole or Oldtown she'll stay there to-day, I reckon."

      "But just think how it blows, mother!" said Rachel; "and we haven't heard anything for three or four days. I do hope she won't come on the coast at all in such weather."

      "There's no danger; so thee needn't borrow trouble. Go about thy business, and David Whippey'll find thee all in good time, I'll warrant. I've seen many a wuss time than this; and when thy father was looked for home in the Good Success" ––

      "'T wasn't the Good Success!" interrupted her husband. "I know jist what thee was going to tell her about; but thee's got the wrong v'y'ge. 'T was the Ruby that thee meant, Nabby."

      "Well, mebbe I did mean the Ruby. I've got 'em mixed up. What I was going to say, was – There now take that pipe right out, Eeben Barnard! Thee isn't goin' to smoke it here in the kitchen, while the bak-


in's going on. If it's stormy outdoors, thee can go down-suller."

      Eeben was fain to comply with the request thus urged, and to profit by what might be termed a hint in the imperative mode. But the story about the return of the Ruby, whatever it might have been, was lost to Rachel, and consequently to my readers.

      "There's a vessel coming in!" said Rachel. "She's almost into the Bar, but her sail is so small that I didn't see it until now."

      "It's close-reefed," observed the mother, knowingly, as she also took her stand at the window. "That's 'Lijah Coleman, comin' from the Vin'yard. I wonder that he should come at all to-day, but perhaps he's got some very particular news. Eeben!" she called at the cellar-door, "come up and get the spyglass and look at 'Lijah comin' in!"

      "That's 'Lijah, sure enough," said the ancient mariner, after a careful scrunity of the approaching vessel. "I guess I'll go down-along, and see what news he's got. He'll be in to the wharf with this breeze by the time I get down there. If there's any word from the Perseverance, Rachel," he continued, with an unctuous wink in her direction, "I'll come right back and let thee know."

      It will be seen that Nabby Barnard (or as the "orthography of the period" has it, Abbie, for she had been invested with the solid old scriptural name of Abigail) was more than an amateur in matters marine; as indeed were most of the island women of her age at that time. She could hardly have stood up through the whole of Hamilton Moore's catechism; though she understood many sea-phrases, and even made use of them herself, sometimes unconsciously. She was no heroine of yellow-cover romance, to stride a quarter-deck with a horse-pistol in each hand; though she might have kept a forecastle in subjection by a more feminine weapon, even as she did her good man Eeben, who had himself borne the reputation of a Tartar on shipboard in his days of active service.

      "There now, Rachel," said she, "I want thee to fly round and lend me a hand; and, as I told thee before, don't borry trouble. I shouldn't wonder if thy name and David Whippey's were called in meetin' next Fast Day. The Perseverance has got a good voyage, and David bears an excellent name."

      "How does thee know that, mother?" asked the girl, opening wide her blue eyes.

      "Well, I never told thee before; but thee knows that Peter G. saw him and gammed with him in Lee Bay – that's down to the Galley-paguses."

      "Yes, I knew that."

      "Well, Peter G. told me that David was called the fishiest boatsteerer aboard, and was always sure of his second iron with any kind of a decent chance. Now then, what does thee think of that?"

      The daughter made no reply, other than a blush of pride, such as a true Nantucket maiden might feel at this flattering testimony to the prowess of her knight. She went about her work thoughtfully, and with little heed to the wagging of her mother's energtic tongue. The gale increased in violence, roaring round the corners of the porch, and rattling the Spanish-brown back door till the latch-string vibrated like a pendulum.

      "Father's coming! and he has brought good news, I think, by the looks of his face." It was the first time the anxious girl had spoken for many minutes.

      "Shut the storm-door when thee comes in!" hailed Nabby, with her face against the window, as Eeben's boots were heard stamping up the back steps. "And that scuttle over the pump in the porch wants flxin' before it blows any harder, or we shall have the whole roof torn off," she continued as he entered, securing both outer and inner doors.

      "Ay, it's time to batten down all the hatches!" was the reply. "'Lijah Coleman got in just in good time – much as ever 't he came across at all. He's brought news for thee, Rachel. The Perseverance took a pilot yesterday, off Montauk!"

      "What did I tell thee?" put in his spouse.

      "But she hasn't got in yet," said Rachel, still cherishing an undefinablc fear.

      "No, she isn't in," replied the old sailor, "nor she can't well get in with this wind. She may be several days outside. When I was in the 'Ark' we beat and banged over a fortnit after we made the land."

      (Eeben Barnard is not to be understood as claiming to have been coeval with Noah; but simply as referring to a well-known Nantucket whaler with that singular name.)

      The storm continued two days with little abatement, before it blew itself out. For days and weeks thereafter the old telescope was in almost constant use at the north win-


dow of the Barnard mansion, as well as at many others, where anxious hearts yearned for the arrival of dear ones. But anxiety merged into apprehension; apprehension into despair; and the Perseverance came not. Several other ships which had left the cruising grounds at a much later date, had reached home in safety; and it was at last conceded by the most sanguine, that the old ship must have gone down in the gale with all hands, including, of course, the Montauk pilot who had boarded her, as reported.

      Rachel Barnard mourned sincerely for her sailor-lover, and for a long time, like her namesake of old, refused to be comforted. The summer passed away, and September set in with no tidings from the lost mariners. A new suitor for the girl's hand had appeared, in the person of Amos Coffin, who had arrived second mate of the Galen, and was going out again as mate in the same ship. She was slow to listen to his proposals of immediate marriage, though backed up, as they were, by the approval of her parents. The young man was importunate, as he had no time to lose, and there could be really no objection to him on the score of character or professional standing.

      The reader has already seen that Nabby Barnard was, to use a homely but expressive phrase, "the best horse in the team," and that her husband would be likely to acquiesce quietly in any arrangement upon which she might decide. And though the good dame was not deficient in natural feeling, neither was she wanting in the managing thrift which distinguished the Folger stock from which she had sprung, and, as a general thing, the religious sect of which she was a member.

      Averse, from conscientious scruples as well as from maternal tenderness, to anything like coercion of her daughter's actions in a matter of such moment, she felt it right to use great latitude in the way of moral suasion.

      "I think, Rachel," she said, one day about the middle of September, as they sat sewing together, "that thee had better make up thy mind to have Amos Coffin. I speak for thy own good, for I don't believe thee'11 ever do better."

      "I can't think of it yet, mother," said the girl. "And though perhaps I ought not to say so, it seems sinful for thee to urge it so soon. It is hardly certain yet that the Perseverance is lost."

      "For that matter, nothin' is certain in this world; but I would like to know where thee thinks she could possibly be, not to be heard from for five months after she had made Montauk P'int and took her pilot? Will thee answer me that?"

      "No, I cannot answer it; but still I feel that I ought to wait longer, even were it only out of respect to David's memory."

      "It can do no good, Rachel. And since thee has seen fit to taunt me with sinfulness, I must say it is sinful to dwell upon thy loss so long as thee does. The Lord has taken away the man thee had sot thy heart upon, and thee must bow to His will."

      "So I try to do, mother, but it is too much to ask of me to marry so soon."

      "But thee knows how the case stands, and that thee must make up thy mind very soon, for the Galen sails next month. And it seems to me like flyin' in the face of Providence to throw away such a chance as thee has offered thee now. I don't know of any young man belongin' to the meet'n' that would make thee a more likely husband than Amos Coffin. Of course thee knows I wouldn't want thee to marry out o' the meetin'."

      "I've nothing to say against Amos Coffin," replied Rachel. "I suppose I could learn to love him in time, but not now. And if he really cares for me, why not – I hear that he is going a short voyage this time; does thee know if that is true?"

      "Yes, it's true that the Galen is flttin' for 'Brolus Banks, and that's a kind of plum-pudd'n' v'yage. I don't think she'll be gone more'n a year. But thee knows 'a bird in the hand's worth two in the bush,' and I think thee's foolish to put him off. I shall be sorry for thee if thee loses the chance. His folks are well off, and Amos is pretty forehanded of his own earnin's."

      "I don't care for that, mother," said the warm-hearted girl, rather impatiently; "and I think it's even more sinful to urge that as an argument."

      For in trying to serve God and mammon at one and the same time, Nabby Barnard had lost a point. Her advice to look after the main chance followed too closely upon her sophistical reasoning about submission to the Divine Will.

      And though, in virtue of the strict habits of respect and obedience to which Rachel had been reared, a mother's wish, strongly expressed, was in most cases tantamount to


a direct command, yet in this instance she felt herself called upon to disregard it. She could give no encouragement to a new suitor while there remained a possibility of David Whippey's return. And Amos, on learning her determination that evening, accepted the situation, resolving to make another voyage and bide his time.

      When Eeben Barnard rolled up the curtain of the wide north window the next morning, his eyes fell upon a ship under sail heading for the anchorage at the back of the Bar. She was coming down rapidly before a favoring breeze, and had already begun to strip her light canvas for coming to.

      "Come, Nabby," cried the old man, as he hurried for his spyglass, "it's time thee was stirring thy stumps. Here's the John Jay coming down to the Bar, loaded as deep as a sand-barge. I don't think he's prudent, so late in the season, and almost time for the line gale. He'd better gone into Oldtown. Better gone into Oldtown," he repeated, musingly, as he was adjusting the focus to his own particular mark. But as soon as he rested the glass on the wooden bar, nailed across the window for that special purpose, and brought his eye to it he exclaimed: –

      "'Tain't the John Jay. It's a bigger ship, and she's got something in her foretops'l – a P–– Nabby, it's the Parseverance!"

      "Eeben Barnard, thee's crazy! The Perseverance went to the bottom long ago."

      "If she did, she's blasted and come up again, for there she is, afloat, and well manned, too, by the way things are handled."

      "'Le' me take the glass," said Nabby, imperatively, suiting the action to the word, and changing the focus to her mark.

      A glance was enough to satisfy her.

      "Thee's right, Eeben; it is the Perseverance. But we must break it easy to Rachel, or the poor child '11 go crazy."

      A boat was seen pulling in for the Cliff Shore, as soon as the ship anchored, and the whole mystery was soon explained. It was, indeed, the Perseverance, safely returned, and bringing an agony of joy to many hearts which had been long in mourning. But short-lived was the sunshine to the heart of Rachel Barnard, to be obscured by yet darker clouds than before – for her lover was not on board!

      The pilot had been put on board off Montauk Point, as reported, but as the gale came on the same night, the ship was blown off, and while lying to, her leaks, which had before before been considerable, increased to so great a degree that it was thought advisable, for the safety of the ship, to put her before it. All that night and all the next day the storm howled with unabated fury, and the ship had run so far to leeward while scudding, that when the weather moderated they found themselves a long way off the coast. As the wind still continued from the northward, the pumps were kept going, and the ship ran down to a point in the island of Barbadoes. Here it was found necessary to discharge the whole cargo, and repair the ship. Various causes of delay occurred, and much time was thus consumed before she was in readiness to sail again for home.

      A few days before her departure, David Whippey went on shore, with others of his shipmates. He separated from the rest – and that was all that was known of his fate. But traces of blood had been found on the pier, with marks of a violent struggle. The young man never reported himself on board the Perseverance; and, with heavy hearts. his shipmates gave up the last hope of his safety, and spread their canvas for Nantucket Bar.

      At that date, communication with the West India Islands was not, as now, a thing of every day; and no tidings of the ship reached Nantucket from the day of the gale until she appeared off the Bar with flying colors, bringing her own report.

      Of course, under the circumstances, it was no time for Amos Coffin to press his suit upon the stricken girl. But as Rachel had freely promised that she would remain single until the return of the Galen, unless he to whom she had been plighted should appear, alive, to urge his claim, he went on board with high hopes, trusting that the great healer, Time, would remove all obstacles to his union with her.

      The Galen had nearly completed a successful cruise on the Abrolhos Banks, when she was boarded by a officer from a British frigate, who was sent on some trifling matter of business, which required but a few minutes' stay. The boats' crew were ordered to remain in their places, alongside. But the mate, in tending the man-ropes at the rail, recognized a face among that little group of seamen, the sight of which stirred a demon within him. The face of young Whippey, who all at home supposed to have been murdered on the pier at Barbadoes – the victim of a press-gang, doomed to servi-


tude for an indefinite period under the British flag!

      The impulse to speak his name in tones of hearty cheer was checked ere it found expression. Amos Coffln, whose reputation had stood without blemish, was tempted beyond his strength. He pretended not to recognize his fellow-townsman, and fell back out of sight; but a sealed letter, dexterously thrown, fluttered at his feet on the quarterdeck. Looking furtively about him, he hastily concealed it. The officer passed down the side into the boat; she was pushed off, and Whippey went back into bondage, without a word or a sign from one of his townsmen.

      Amos Coffin alone possessed the secret of his existence. The letter was directed to Rachel Barnard; and, strange to say, he who could make up his mind to keep the secret, to disown and abandon his friend because of rivalry in love, could not break the seal of the letter addressed to her. He tore it to shreds and threw it into the sea. He reasoned that the secret was now safe in his own breast. None of his ship-mates could have recognized Whippey in the boat, or, of course, they would have mentioned it freely. It was not certain that Whippey himself had known him (Coffln); and, as for the letter, he could not possibly know what became of it, after he tossed it over the quarter-rail.

      So, with the worm remorse gnawing at his heart, yet still unable to bear the thought of giving up at the eleventh hour the Rachel for whom he had served so long, he kept his own counsel; and the true-hearted maiden, despairing of ever hearing further tidings of her first love, yielded to his persevering suit, backed up by the advice and persuasion of her friends. She consented to become his wife at a certain date, still with the same reservation; for she had never yet been able to give up David as entirely lost.

      The Friends had been informed in open meeting, on two consecutive First Days, of that which they all knew before – that marriage was intended between Amos Coffln and Rachel Barnard. The elders, from the high seats facing the congregation, looked down with complacent approbation upon the fair maiden, who was to find, in this fortunate marriage, forgetfulness of her deep sorrows, and a recompense for her long-tried patience; and glanced, with a feeling of professional pride, at the well knit figure of the young seaman who was to command the Galen on her next voyage, as he sat, in demure silence, on the "men's side" of the meeting-house – with his guilty secret burning at his vitals.

      Nabby Barnard, the very incarnation of bustle and importance, had made preparations for the great event on the most liberal scale that their means afforded, while Eeben, well content with the turn which matters had taken, looked on approvingly, as he compared notes with his intended son-in-law respecting the recent cruises of the Galen, as following in the tracks of the Ark and the Ruby.

      Time and again, during the fortnight covered by the public announcement of the banns, had Coffln, as he looked in the fair, chastened face of his bethrothed, been tempted to reveal the truth. But it was too late; it would be cruel, now, to probe an old wound, almost healed. There was not one chance in a hundred that Whippey would ever live to return, he reasoned. He was swallowed up in the insatiable maw of the English navy. There was no prospect of his discharge; for the Bonaparte wars were interminable, and the wooden walls must be manned, by fair means or foul. Was it not better for Rachel to be kept in ignorance, and to become his wife, than to wear out her young life in hopeless waiting for a prospective happiness which could never arrive?

      Thus he strove to quiet his conscience, and, in everv case, ended with the miserable reflection that it was too late – that he had gone too far to turn back. He could never make up his mind to confess the suppression of Rachel's letter; he must still wear the mask, and continue to act the living lie.

      The plain, unpainted seats of the Friends' meeting-house were all filled with spectators, including many who were not members of the Society, on the appointed "Fifth-Day," which was to witness the union of the young couple. The usual silence, which pervades the assemblages of these peculiar people at all times, save when some number is inwardly moved to break it by what has been aptly termed "thinking aloud," was intensified as they stood erect and took each other by the hand, to perform, with their own acts and voices, the most interesting and impressive of all our forms of marriage ceremony.

      At this moment, a powerful young man, clad in the garb of the sect, with his face shaded from observation by the brim of his


broad hat and a handkerchief held in his hand, entered, and walked quietly down the aisle, towards the spot where the twain had taken their stand to exchange solemn promise in the presence of God and man. A slight frown was seen to gather on the brows of the elders at this untimely interruption; but Amos Coffin, too much preoccupied in mind to notice it, had already commenced aloud the formula: –

      "I now take this, my friend"––

      "Rachel!" spoke the new-comer, in a low, reproachful voice.

      She turned her modest glance at the sound; their eyes met, and, with the single word "David!" on her lips, she sank to the floor.

      Whippey sprang forward, supporting the light form with one arm, while the other, with the fist involuntarily closed, was extended towards the conscience-stricken bridegroom. But a single look at the eyes, flaming with an expression so out of place in this temple of peace, was sufficient. Amos tottered from the presence of him he had wronged; then, recovering himself, rushed from the door.

      "What meaneth all this?" asked several voices at once, breaking the spell by which utter astonishment had held them until now. The whole congregation had risen in their seats, and the young man was, of course, generally recognized.

      He had deposited his burden in the arms of her parents, and now turned towards the inquiring elders. He had no trace about him of the placid Friend – he was but the wronged, indignant, impetuous son of the ocean. For the Quaker-seamen of Nantucket, in that day, might be said to live in a kind of dual existence.

      "It means this!" he roared, in a voice of thunder. "That Rachel Barnard is saved, just in time, from a life of misery. For she must, sooner or later, have found out the baseness of the man who has just sneaked out of this house."

      "Baseness?" repeated Rachel, recovering herself. "How is this? His conduct to me was ever honorable."

      "So you believed, in your trusting innocence," he answered, turning to her. "But he knew, Rachel – he alone, of all here present, knew that I was alive, and serving in a British man-of-war under compulsion! and he had the baseness to pretend that he knew me not!"

      "Perhaps he may not have known thee, David," suggested a mild voice from the high seats.

      "Do you want more proof than this cowardly conduct at sight of me now?" demanded the young man, fiercely. "I threw him a letter – a letter directed to her; he destroyed the letter and kept the secret. May it burn his base heart as long as he lives!"

      "David Whippey, thee forgets where thee is! Is this a time or place for such language? Peleg," he continued, extending his hand to meet that of his associate elder, "it is well that we bring the meeting to a close, and that this matter be explained elsewhere."

      The hand-shaking was the signal for the gathering to disperse; and the return of the lost seaman, as it were, from the dead, with the attendant circumstances, was soon the subject of gossip and discussion throughout every household in the island.

      When 'Lijah Coleman sailed for the Vineyard on the afternoon of the same day, he bore Amos Coffin as a passanger. He was known, in after life, to have been in command of a whaler from one of the British provinces; but he could never again face his indignant fellow-townsmen.

      After a suitable interval of time, Rachel Barnard again stood in the same spot on the floor of the meeting-house, and exchanged promises with her first love. The descendants of this marriage, though, for the most part, apostates of the peculiar religious faith of their ancestors, still "vex the sea with their fisheries," and wield the harpoon and lance with vigor and skill, as of yore.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Amos Coffin's Fall.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 70, No. 6 (Dec 1889)
Pages: 441-446