Jane French Sweetser Colcord (1857 – 1913) was the mother of Lincoln and Joanna Colcord, whose story is told in the book Letters from Sea (see bibliography). Jane married Captain Lincoln Alden Colcord on June 4, 1881, in Searsport where both had grown up. They left that evening for what became a three year voyage aboard the bark Charlotte A. Littlefield. Their two children were born during that voyage, and both children spent much of their childhood aboard ship.
Joanna Carver Colcord was born “in the South Pacific” and her brother Lincoln Ross Colcord “in the South Atlantic.” Jane’s journals recorded her babies’ births, as well as less pleasant events. In October 1883 as the bark and her captain struggled with leaks and heavy damage from the storms they had encountered, Jane wrote:
“Link has decided to put into St. Thomas for the bark is leaking so much more…he says he knows this will be the ruination of him and if it wasn’t for the babies and me he would run her until she sank under him.”
“October 30, 8 P.M. Link decided to try for New York and here we are almost in after a siege I can tell you!.... I do long to get in and feel safe once more. It has been awful!”
“New York, November 2 - We are here at last and so thankful, thankful, thankful!”
Ellen Mary Cutter Starrett (1838-1903) was the wife of Captain Henry Atherton Starrett of Belfast, Maine. They were married May 26, 1863. The story of Ellen Starrett’s life at sea is found in her journals. It is evident from her own writing that her first years at sea were marked by persistent sea sickness, and deep longing for her family and home in Belfast. Henry worried about her and spent many hours reading aloud to her as she mended and crocheted.
Her early discomforts did not sway her from her chosen life, and she went on to bear her first child in 1865 while in Singapore Harbor aboard the T.J. Southard. For the birth of her second child, however, she stayed behind while her husband went to sea in the Egeria. This was the only ship that Captain Starrett ever lost when it wrecked off the coast of Ireland near Waterford in 1873. Another of Captain Starrett’s vessels was the ship Frank N. Thayer, of which he built a detailed model now owned by Penobscot Marine Museum. The model took seven years to complete.
Ellen Cutter Starrett’s daughter, Anne Atherton Starrett, gives us an account of her own life at sea with her parents and younger brother. Through her eyes we see a picture of her mother at sea and the floating home that Ellen maintained for her family.
Anne wrote: “My earliest recollections are of the little cabin which was “home” to us, our living room. It was finished with highly polished hard wood- the floor though carpeted when we were in port, was bare when we were at sea and carefully scrubbed every week. The furniture (center table, chairs, sofa, sewing machine) was screwed down to guard against the rolling and pitching of the ship- The skylight in the center was fitted at either end with shelves which held my mother’s plants. She found that geraniums and fuchsias were hardy enough to thrive and blossom in the salt air. In the middle of the skylight hung my yellow canary, swinging happily with the motion of the ship unmindful of the vagaries of wind and weather which played so large a part in the life of a sailor.”
From Anne’s writing we also get a picture of a very patient mother who allowed her children to each have a dog, Anne’s being a white Skye terrier and Frank’s a black lab. Cats aboard were common but the Himalayan pony this family acquired in Calcutta and brought home was most unusual.
Before her husband’s retirement from the sea in 1882, Ellen Starrett visited many ports and took a keen interest in all that she found growing there. Over the years she found, mounted and preserved a vast collection of sea mosses from around the world.