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The Captain’s Widow of Sandwich

Self-Invention and the Life of Hannah Rebecca Burgess, 1834-1917

Megan Shockley, 0, 0

Publication Year: 2010

“Shockley has written a fine historian’s biography that is also a good read. The Captain’s Widow of Sandwich shows how Burgess created her own heroic persona and how that particular version of one woman’s story embodied and ennobled the ideals of an embattled Cape Cod community.”

Published by: NYU Press

Front Matter

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p. v

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pp. vii-ix

When my husband and I visited Cape Cod in 2002, little did we know that our vacation would take me to my next research project. A fateful trip to the Sandwich Glass Museum and Historical Society on a rainy day introduced me to Rebecca Burgess through the collection she so carefully crafted before her death. The woman’s story of adventure and tragedy ...

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Author’s Note on the Journals

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p. xi

I have chosen not to edit the spelling or grammar in Rebecca’s or William’s entries. All underlining in the quoted text is Rebecca’s. Rebecca kept several journals, and all can be found at the Sandwich Glass Museum and Historical Society or the Jonathan Bourne Historical Center. Abbreviations of the journals in the endnotes are as follows: ...

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pp. 1-10

In 2007 a visitor to the Sandwich Glass Museum and Historical Society on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, would have seen many exhibits related to the development of the glass industry and the impact it had on the town. As museum goers moved through rooms of beautiful glass bowls, tumblers, plates, and other precious objects, they would have come across an unusual cabinet. This cabinet bore the name “Hannah Rebecca Burgess” in gilt letters ...

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1. Rebecca’s World: Developing Character

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pp. 11-26

Pages of dedications from friends and family members are interspersed with colored prints of anthropomorphized flowers, given female forms, costumes, and personalities based on each flower’s representation of a virtue or vice. At various points, Rebecca added real flowers to the pages, which remain pressed in them today. The book could have been held in Rebecca’s hand and taken to school, church, and on visits ...

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2. Becoming the Captain’s Wife: Crafting Personas and Defining Relationships

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pp. 27-56

Though Rebecca’s autograph album provides the only information about her youth, her first two donated journals speak volumes about her life and her relationship with William. Rebecca kept two separate journals in the year prior to her going to sea with William; one she began almost immediately after her wedding, and the other she started right before William’s ...

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3. Rebecca at Sea: Fashioning a New Identity

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pp. 57-82

Rebecca became part of the history of America’s clipper ships, the highly acclaimed, wondrous transports that marked the zenith of the U.S. shipbuilding trade. Maritime historian Margaret Creighton called the ships “white-winged marvels” and noted that clippers made their money from speed and the competition to get to the port faster than other ships. This made captains ...

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4. Challenges and Transitions: Shifting Identities

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pp. 83-110

In this ship William and Rebecca traveled from Boston to San Francisco, then on to China, London, and Chile. Rebecca began the voyage with high hopes, but as the months wore on she seemed to face almost nothing but trouble, both on the sea, in her own spiritual life, and with her husband. The way Rebecca narrated the story in her journal, ...

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5. A New Era, a New Narrative

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pp. 111-132

... she made a promise never to marry again, the young woman perhaps saw nothing before her but solitude. The twenty-two-year old woman’s writings suggest that she was overcome by despondent feelings immediately upon William’s passing, and she recorded these feelings for years after William’s death. Rebecca continued to write in the last journal that contained William’s ...

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6. Visible and Invisible: Rebecca’s Multiple Identities

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pp. 133-158

From the time of William’s death through the 1870s, Rebecca kept five separate journals, four of which she donated to the historical society. The donated journals complete the picture of Rebecca’s activities during her widowhood and suggest that although she spent much of her time reminiscing about William in the cemetery, she did participate in community activities, ...

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7. From Legacy to Legend

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pp. 159-184

Rebecca had been telling her family and friends the story of William’s death for years, and had even begun to write her reminiscences for the wider public. But this remarkable event—the return of her Bible through the noted maritime author Richard Henry Dana—may have made Rebecca think that her story had potential to inspire a wide audience, even long after her own ...

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pp. 185-188

Rebecca wanted to be remembered in her community as a proper Victorian wife, a grieving and devoted widow, and a maritime heroine who failed to save her husband but who saved the lives of more than thirty crewmen from certain peril as she navigated the Challenger to Valparaiso in 1856. She succeeded in making both Sandwich and Bourne embrace her story as ...


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pp. 189-210


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pp. 211-242

Works Cited

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pp. 243-254


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pp. 255-266

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814741290
E-ISBN-10: 0814741290
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814783191
Print-ISBN-10: 0814783198

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 643562592
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Captain’s Widow of Sandwich

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women -- Massachusetts -- Sandwich -- Biography.
  • Sandwich (Mass.) -- Biography.
  • Sandwich (Mass.) -- Social life and customs -- 19th century -- Sources.
  • Middle class women -- Massachusetts -- Sandwich -- Biography.
  • Seafaring life -- Massachusetts -- Sandwich -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
  • Ship captains' spouses -- Massachusetts -- Sandwich -- Biography.
  • Burgess, Hannah Rebecca, 1834-1917.
  • Burgess, Hannah Rebecca, 1834-1917 -- Diaries.
  • Autobiography -- Women authors -- Case studies.
  • Women -- Identity -- Case studies.
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