A Sea of Misadventures
Shipwreck and Survival in Early America
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: University of South Carolina Press
Series: Studies in Maritime History
List of Illustrations
The image of shipwreck has long been a part of recorded history. Every maritime society collected tales relating to maritime disasters, castaways, and those who simply disappeared. The horror of shipwreck, the excitement in the human drama, and a fascination with faraway lands riveted readers as doomed sailors and passengers prayed for divine mercy. ...
This book would not be possible but for the numerous individuals who offered their support. First and foremost I would like to thank William Pencak, Anne Rose, Matthew Restall, and Lorraine Dowler at Penn State University for their advice, support, and invaluable criticisms. ...
Life at sea was never easy. Extreme weather conditions, hard work, bad food, and dangerous working conditions made even a calm day difficult. Many sailors lamented their time at sea. Some acted out with drinking or violence, others deserted at the first possible chance, and yet a few turned inward and wrote letters or kept journals. ...
1. Fact or Fiction? The Publication of American Shipwreck Narratives
Survivors of shipwrecks often wrote about their experiences, and they did so for a variety of reasons—to make money, to demonstrate God’s presence, or simply to find a sense of closure. Beyond such personal motives, these narratives furnished excitement and adventure as well as practical suggestions concerning proper survival behavior that authors hoped would appeal to eager audiences. ...
2. The Legalities of Loss, Wreck, and Ruin
Shipwreck was a fact of life for all maritime cultures. Although these catastrophic events often happened beyond the sight of land, the consequences of such failures had far-ranging repercussions. Vessels not only carried precious cargoes of human life but also represented financial investments for owners, underwriters, and insurance companies. ...
3. God, Nature, and the Role of Religion in Shipwreck
An 1834 collection of shipwreck accounts suggests that “nowhere more, than in the dangers of the sea do we find the Hand of Providence.”2 The event of shipwreck forced individuals to face the fragility of their own mortality, and the narratives provided an excellent format for revealing the wonders of God’s abilities or for reaffirming the all-powerful forces of nature. ...
4. They Worked Like Horses but Behaved Like Men
The sea affords an excellent arena for understanding the concept of masculinity. Sailors often entered the maritime world at a young age, and they quickly learned acceptable standards of behavior and created familial allegiances at sea.2 ...
5. To Honor Their Worth, Beauty, and Accomplishments
According to traditional scholarship, women rarely went to sea. Nineteenth-century concepts of separate spheres supposedly kept women tied to home and family while men explored the vast oceans. Romantic views of wives waiting anxiously for returning husbands and issues of a proper middle-class behavior distorted historians’ depictions of women’s place in the maritime world.2 ...
6. Chaos and Cannibalism on the High Seas
Disaster situations allowed participants a level of flexibility with regard to behavior, when they were no longer bound by conventional social constraints. And yet disasters rarely led to total disruption; rather after an initial period of confusion the victims sought any means available to reestablish social order. ...
7. Portuguese Narratives: A Comparative Perspective
Printed Portuguese narratives, though written almost a century or more earlier than the English and American accounts, provide a useful comparative model for understanding the major themes of shipwreck narratives: gender, status, and religion. In addition Portuguese narratives express a different national and religious identity from English and American publications. ...
Though shipwrecks often occurred out of sight of land, they nonetheless affected those at home. Friends and families lost loved ones, and merchants and owners faced financial losses when ships went to the bottom of the sea. ...