- by Carol Standish
Letters from Sea 1882~1901 (Tilbury House, Publishers; 165pp; $35) edited, with a running explanatory narrative by Parker Bishop Albee, Jr. is a selection from the correspondence among Captain Lincoln Alden Colcord, Jane Sweetser Colcord and their son and daughter who were sometimes left at home in Maine with the "Grandmas" to attend school.
A Searsport native and sailing ship captain, Colcord was an ardent family man for whom the separation from his home was difficult. Owning shares in the boat allowed him, as captain, to bring family members along on his many sea journeys. On the day of their wedding in 1891 he and his bride embarked on a three year voyage. They sailed from New York to Australia to Japan to Chile to New York picking up and delivering cargo at each port. On this voyage, both Colcord children were born. The Captain made note of the latitudes and longitudes marking the births on board. Over the next 11 years, Colcord made 16 voyages. His wife and one or both of his children accompanied him on ten of these trips.
Mother Colcord's letters are mostly motherly, admonishments to be good, bundle up, study hard and be careful with money. She does describe with some enthusiasm the social life among the families of American captains in Hong Kong harbor. "We had a good time last evening aboard the Cushing-we three and an English captain were invited to tea, and they did have a layout…We came up on a steam launch…which saved us a long sail in the sampan…we lie a full three miles from the Cushing."
With time, however, she tires of the sea life (it may have been the miscarriage she had in a storm off the coast of British Columbia that soured her). In 1902 she writes to her son, "…as much as I dislike and dread the sea-life, still I shall be greatly disappointed if Papa has to go away alone once more…I know how utterly miserable he has been most of this voyage [sailing alone]." Mrs. Colcord's letters reveal little of herself but a quite a bit about the domestic routines in the captain's quarters, the social lives of the family abroad and of course, her worries.
The Captain's letters shine. He does reveal himself-to be an utterly charming man, humorous, good-natured, tolerant, observant, appreciative of his work and his surroundings and almost painfully humble. "…I never expect anybody to do anything expressly for me. And when anyone does, it take a long time for me to get it through my head. But when I understand, I'm knocked all of a heap…." He is also a skilled deep water man and includes considerable detail about the running of the ship, "We left New York with the tail end of a nor'wester, which very soon petered out, as I expected it would."
The collection is a fine read, depicting a warm family life among the Colcords and providing grist for fantasies of round the world adventures in "full-rigged ships." Family photos, some taken and developed by daughter Joanna on board ship complement the letters.