Life at Sea: Introduction

Life at sea

Crew Working on Deck in a Storm

Thousands of Mainers went to sea in the nineteenth century. Some were fishermen, responsible for handling their craft as well as bringing home a good catch. Others sailed between Maine ports and eastern cities carrying lumber, limeLime

Calcium oxide (CaO), obtained from limestone, and used in mortars, plasters, cement, bleaching powder, and in making paper, glass, and steel.
or granite. Still others ventured further, taking lumber, and salt fish to the West Indies and bringing back molassesMolasses

A thick syrup produced during the sugar refining process.
and rum. Mariners from Maine shipped in the Atlantic Ocean trades, sailing on packetsPacket

A vessel traveling on a regular schedule between two ports for the carriage of mail, goods, and passengers.
or other ships to England, France, the Baltic, and the Mediterranean. By the mid-1800s, Maine sailing vessels were making long voyages into and across the Pacific.

Shipping was a business, just as it is now, and merchant vessels carried both goods and passengers. Life on board ship lacked most of the amenities found ashore or on vessels today. Seafaring could be beautiful, but there were often cold storms or periods of intense heat with no wind. A voyage from New York to ChinaChinak

During the period of the China Trade, when Mainers were sailing to ports in China, the Qing (or Ch'ing) Dynasty (1644-1911) was in power. The Qing Dynasty was established by the Manchus in northeastern China, and expanded to surrounding territories of Inner Asia, establishing the Empire of the Great Qing.
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in 1880 took at least a year and more likely two. Before electronic links, communication with home depended on ships exchanging letters in ports around the world.

Joanna and Lincoln Colcord aboard 'Clara E. McGilvery'

Maine captains sometimes took their families along on voyages. Although this life had many hardships, it offered a chance to learn about other cultures and to have many unique experiences. Joanna and Lincoln Colcord were two children from Searsport who were born at sea and spent much of their childhood aboard their father’s vessels. Joanna later called her brother and herself “children of the world.”