I took the opportunity yesterday to catch up on the Bay of Fundy Blog. For anyone who is interested in life on, around or under the Bay of Fundy, this is an excellent blog. Among the posts that Terri has made recently was a memorial to Captain Molly Kool of Alma, New Brunswick. 70 years ago Captain Kool became the first female registered sea Captain in North America. This post got me thinking about the story of another woman from the Bay of Fundy who ended up acting as the Captain of a ship in 1870.
As a young girl, Elizabeth (Bessie) Pritchard Hall had made many trips with her father, Captain Joseph Hall of Granville Ferry. Bessie and Captain Hall are in the image at the top of this post. During the Age of Sail, it was not uncommon for the families of sea Captains to accompany them on extended voyages. Obviously, this was more common in merchant vessels than in the navy. This practice permitted the Captain to maintain some of his family life and allowed family members to see the world. A child who paid attention would eventually learn how the ship was handled and some basic navigational skills.
On March 24, 1870 Captain Hall and his twenty year old daughter were aboard the 1444 ton full-rigged ship Rothesay preparing to leave New Orleans, Louisiana. In addition the being Captain, Hall was a part owner of the vessel. They were bound for Liverpool, England with a cargo of cotton. As often happened, the ship had spent a long lay-over in port and a large portion of the crew had deserted. Although the ship was working with an undermanned crew of only six men in addition the the Captain, First Mate and carpenter, they set sail anyway. As the ship rounded the tip of Florida and entered the Gulf Stream, the First Mate and Captain both came down with smallpox. Before taking to his bunk, Captain Hall appointed his daughter Captain and promoted the 72 year old carpenter to First Mate.
With the help of the remaining crew, "Captain Bessie" spent the next 12 days tossed in a storm between Florida and Newfoundland. In addition to acting as master, Bessie stood a regular watch from 8pm to 2am. When the weather cleared, they plotted a course for Cape Clear, Ireland with their storm sails set. On May 12, with the ship given up for lost, they arrived in Liverpool. A voyage which should have taken 30 days was stretched into 49.
Elizabeth Pritchard Hall of Granville Ferry is reputedly the first woman to captain a ship across the Atlantic Ocean. Locally, she has come to be known as "The Seafaring Maiden of Granville". At the age of 21, Bessie gave up her life at sea and returned to Granville Ferry where she married and raised a family. In an interesting twist, the Hall family home in Granville Ferry, the house featured in this post, was purchased by a descendant of the family a few years ago. The house is now being operated as a bed and breakfast called A Seafaring Maiden. I am sure that Bessie would be proud.
All for now,