restricted access The Religious Spaces of American Whaling
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The Religious Spaces of American Whaling Richard J. Callahan, Jr. P+++++++p There is no place that is not haunted by many different spirits hidden there in silence, spirits one can “invoke” or not. Haunted places are the only ones people can live in. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (1984) The ship Morrison, under the command of Captain Samuel Green, Jr., set out from New London, Connecticut, on September 16, 1844, bound for the North Pacific on a whaling voyage. The ship headed east across the Atlantic, planning to round the southern tip of Africa into the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. By October 17 the ship was approximately two days’ sail north-northwest of the Cape Verde Islands. The prospect of a potential stop at Cape Verde for supplies put the Reverend Thomas Douglass into a contemplative mood. Douglass was not a whaling man himself; he was catching a ride aboard the Morrison to the Sandwich Islands (known today as Hawai’i), where he was to work as a missionary. Shipboard life was new to him. He had spent the first week or so aboard seasick. But now, more than about the weather, he was concerned about the night watch’s ability to stay awake. He was anxious about running into closepassing ships. They had encountered six vessels over the past month, one coming quite near.1 Cape Verde was a familiar port to New England whalers. Douglass knew that he might be able to send some letters back home from there, prompting him to think about the people and activities he was missing while traveling about the ocean. “Of everything interesting in the progress of science, Literature, Commerce , & Religion, both in our own country & in the whole civilized world we must be content to remain ignorant for a long time,” he wrote in his journal. “We are now separated from home by a distance of more than three thousand miles & we are increasing that distance at the rate of nearly two hundred miles per day.” Yet, he wrote, neither the vast expanse of the open ocean nor “even infinite space 134 Richard J. Callahan, Jr. itself can in the least retard or obstruct the delightful mental communion of mutual friends. By imagination we can thus instantly annihilate distance.” Considering the problem of distance and connection, of the relationship between the spaces of memory, desire, and geography, Douglass—a well-educated Protestant minister—surprisingly turned his mind to the popular practice of mesmerism: “could we but transfer our bodily senses with our thoughts, as the advocates of mesmerism pretend to do, our intercourse consisting no longer of mere visions of fancy, would assume the character of actual reality.” Just a few months earlier, in April 1844, a whaling man in the north Pacific also felt the tug of his New England home pulling at his heart and mind. And, in response, he also reached for mesmerism. About two hundred miles from the Sandwich Islands and four months into his voyage, Daniel Kimball Ritchie, second mate on the ship Israel of New Bedford, dreamed that he put a crewmate into a mesmeric sleep and “sent him to a certain house in Boston where he could a tale unfold.”2 A little over a year and a half later, Ritchie took mesmerism a step further. Now on the ship Herald of New Bedford, having shipped aboard in the Sandwich Islands after he was released from jail (where he had been locked up over a dispute with the captain of the Israel), Ritchie wrote the following entry, dated January 22, 1846, in his journal: This evening at 8 o clock I put a young man into Mesmeric sleep & went with him to N Bedford to his fathers house. he described the rooms & told me that his mother oldest sister & Aunt were in it. he then went home with me & described our house told me that there was an elderly lady settling by the fire reading or sewing. described the room and furniture . he then went into the kitchen told me there was a young woman cooking something in a pot. he then went into the Front yard said there was snow on the ground. I then took him to Boston to no 12 Carver Street he said there was two young ladies in the room one was reading out of a gilt edged book. we then went to Newton, to Mr Collins house & went into the sitting room. he said their was an old lady...


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