About the Easy Readable Version of the Ship Merrimac of New London Journal
This version is to enable most readers to navigate the material quickly, and to better enjoy the full story of what we are being told in these pages. There are many things that are not familiar to the modern reader. Some of those things are the use of letters, like the long s that is written like an f. Some of it is the author’s handwriting, where his flourishes with the word “with” looks like it begins with an e and contains 7 letters. There is the lack of conventional spelling, and the author’s inaccurate spelling. I didn’t realize that Owyhe meant Hawaii until I said the word out loud.
The harder materials to transcribe were items in reference to the specific craft of whaling, words that are archaic, and words in either category that he also misspelled. Gamming is a specifically whaling term to refer to when whalers at sea spend time socializing on each other’s ships. They would “have a gam.” It didn’t help that he misspelled it as gaming. Some items about barrels caused a similar problem. The abbreviation of bbls for barrels is not particularly familiar. It’s also confusing if you don’t know that a pipe is a larger kind of barrel, and a chime is the rim of a barrel.
I have long enjoyed the challenge of transcribing hand-written documents from the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s close enough to what is familiar today, but just different enough to require some patience to decipher. It calls out for some real detective work and access to material about the past. When Captain Cook landed on the Sandwich Islands in 1778, he named one of them Atooi. Our author spelled it Attoi. It is today known as the Hawaiian island Kauai.
Since these log entries are sparse on punctuation and sentence structure, there is some interpretation as to where to determine the beginning and ending of a thought. But one thing does come through clearly. This author expresses his opinions about the people he encounters on his journey, and remarks on the things he finds noteworthy. There are the expected numerous notations about the ship’s travel, the other ships they encounter, and the natural comparison of how well those other ships are doing. There are the blunt, but one-sided, descriptions of his disputes with other people on the ship. And, there are his unvarnished thoughts on the people in the foreign lands he travels to. It is this last item that I find the most informative to us today. We see these foreign lands through the lens of a Yankee whaling man of color, and in so doing also see a deeper image of this man himself and his own culture.
As you set upon this adventure, imagine yourself beside him in the tedium and hard work of traveling for months at the mercy of the wind and sea to hunt whales to make a living. There are some things that still resonate with us today, even from such a romanticized profession as whaling.
Craig Showalter, 2021