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    Re: More on Thomas Hubbard Sumner
    From: Trevor Kenchington
    Date: 2005 Feb 9, 09:01 -0400

    I am well aware that New England was a different country with different
    traditions -- as my previous message made clear. The differences were
    many, including not only attitudes towards trade and work at sea
    (themselves two very different topics) but also the nature and purpose
    of a university education. On the latter point, of course, the Scottish
    tradition was quite different to the English, back when the latter had
    only the two Medieval universities, besides the transatlantic
    differences. [Would it be accurate to suggest that Harvard's role in
    early 19th century Massachusetts was closer to that of a Scottish
    university than an English one? I don't know, and it is far off topic
    for this list, but I rather doubt that it was possible to study
    mathematics and astronomy at Oxford in the 1820s.]
    But what really was the New England tradition at the time? As best as I
    understand it, it included the idea that the sons of leading merchants
    would go to sea, initially working as seamen but on a fast track to the
    quarterdeck, command and then a shift ashore to manage the family's
    fleet and the business of buying and selling cargoes. Did it also
    include the sons of architects, such as Sumner, taking the same route?
    More particularly, did it include either group of young men shipping as
    truly common seamen, with no particular expectation of rising to
    quarterdeck status? Jim's words imply that that is what Sumner did. Did
    he? And if so, why? Was it a relatively normal thing for a man in his
    position or was it a last available option, following his divorce? I
    would suggest that, if we are to understand how the celestial LOP was
    really discovered, we need to understand what caused its discoverer to
    be off the Smalls that morning -- what combination of tradition and
    necessity sent him to sea and whether he clawed his way aft from the
    forecastle or was only ever there as an initial step on a planned
    training path.
    All of which raises a bunch of other questions, of course, about how
    high a barrier there was between forecastle and quarterdeck aboard
    contemporary New England ships. It doesn't seem to have been that high
    between the senior seamen and the Second Mate, with individuals being
    shuttled between those roles during a voyage at the Captain's whim (see
    the legal section of Dana's "Seaman's Friend"). Perhaps every common
    seaman aboard New England ships was a trainee master mariner, which
    would put yet another spin on Jim's description of Sumner as "a common
    I am also well aware that Dana shipped out to California in the
    forecastle. (Who on this list isn't?) But that was a very exceptional
    voyage made for very exceptional reasons -- different to the disgraceful
    divorce which may have driven Sumner to sea but no less exceptional.
    Besides, while Dana signed on as a common seaman and worked in that
    role, it is clear from his book that he was always regarded as something
    vaguely different from the common run of common seamen. Did Sumner
    similarly  retain family connections at home which, in his case, helped
    elevate him from seaman to navigational innovator? Or was he truly just
    one of the crowd in the forecastle who then pulled himself up by his
    bootstraps? I doubt that we will ever know.
    Too many questions, none of which we are likely to answer on this list.
    Trevor Kenchington
    Nels Tomlinson wrote:
    > Trevor, it certainly wasn't unthinkable for a Harvard boy to ship out.
    >  See here: http://www.sandiegohistory.org/bio/dana/dana.htm .  Dana
    > shipped out as a common seaman on a two-year trip to California in
    > 1834, because his eyesight  was failing.  I'm sure that it was
    > unusual, but probably not quite scandalous.
    > He came back, finished his education (the respite from study must have
    > helped his eyes), and went on to make something of himself.
    > Remember, this wasn't the U.K. and Oxford, this was a different
    > country, with a different tradition.  There wasn't a lot of old money,
    > and the British idea that trade was disreputable hadn't really caught
    > on back then.
    Trevor J. Kenchington PhD                         Gadus@iStar.ca
    Gadus Associates,                                 Office(902) 889-9250
    R.R.#1, Musquodoboit Harbour,                     Fax   (902) 889-9251
    Nova Scotia  B0J 2L0, CANADA                      Home  (902) 889-3555
                         Science Serving the Fisheries

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