Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

June 21, 1883. I set out on the Mary Power on June 18th for Boston, got to N.Y. at 11a.m. and went on board the boat at once.  I disliked my stateroom and decided to go by land as it stormed.  I left N. Y. at 10:30 and worried half-sleeping through a hot night.  I reached Kendall’s just as they were at breakfast.  How glad I was to find them all well, and the same at the Dame’s and the Barney’s the next day.

Today I have been at the Bond’s to look at chronometers want one at $200 which has been tested and is only about 6 years old.  Its rate is remarkably steady even when at sea.  Also, I bo’t a mantle, a head dress and a fancy pink shawl . . .

As I have noted before, though born on an island, Maria did get seasick on occasion.  I too – even though I have travelled between Hyannis or Woods Hole and Nantucket since I was 1 ½ years old – get sick as well in rough seas.  Thus, I am not surprised she changed her mind.  The rough seas added to her distaste for the stateroom that she would stare at for a day or so seasick.  Why not go by land?!  Upon reaching Boston, she arrived at the Kendall household – the home of her sister Phebe and her husband Joshua.  The Dames and Barneys were family as well.  Her oldest sister, Sally, had married Matthew Barney.  With Sally now long deceased, this reference to the Barneys may be Maria’s nephew William Mitchell Barney, Sally’s son.  And the Dames refers to Maria’s youngest sister, Kate, and her family who lived in Lynn, MA.

A trip to Boston was to see family but also to make purchases in a place that was slightly more familiar.  A place where she knew the telescope and chronometer makers and had a relationship with them.  A chronometer was a clock that could be taken to sea and not be affected by the roll of the ship – thus she notes how “remarkably steady” it is.  Something that would be quite important for a chronometer.


Ah, To Be In the Third Grade!

Ah, to be in the third grade again! And, I have. In November and again this spring, I have been spending some time with the four Nantucket Elementary School (NES) third grade classes working in the fall on Wampanoag legends and again this spring helping the children to learn about Maria Mitchell and what life was like in her time. We have read stories and discussed them, looked at artifacts from the Mitchell House trying to figure out what some of them might be – oh, the ideas of a third grader! – and created some fun crafts that reinforce what we learn as a group. After a discussion of Maria Mitchell’s and her father’s role in whaling, we talk about how far the whalers traveled from Nantucket, how they navigated (William and Maria rated their chronometers), and their stops during the voyages that allowed them to bring back some really interesting souvenirs – including sailors’ valentines. Children then make their own valentines for a loved one.

When we delve deeper into life in the nineteenth century, we compare our time to that of Maria’s and sometimes it takes a bit of a discussion to get to the lack of electricity! Our craft: we create tin lanterns with candles – something that Maria’s Uncle Peleg Mitchell Junior once did – he was a tinsmith. We have a lot of fun punching the “tin” and sometimes I get my fingers whacked a bit as I hold the punch for them to hammer in the holes. You should see their expressions and hear their apologies when this happens – they are so very sweet (and a bit mortified and worried!). But it brings us together, and for the few for who English is their second language, we find some unique ways to talk about what we are doing – and for me to warn them to watch my fingers!

This is our second year of the program. It is a way for me to bring the Mitchell House to them because we cannot fit twenty-five third graders in the Mitchell House at once – let alone the 100 who comprise this year’s third grade. And this year, we were funded by the Community Foundation for Nantucket – and we owe them yet another big thank you! I hope to continue this program with the NES for many years. It is a great way for them to learn about Maria Mitchell and life in the nineteenth century, as well as the place of women in America and Nantucket for that matter, but also for them to get to know someone else in their community.