Ebenezer Tripp Seekell was my 4th Great Uncle on my Father’s side. Ebenezer was born on February 1, 1836 in Taunton, Massachusetts to Moses Seekell the 3rd and Huldah (Tripp) Seekell. He was the second oldest of 9 children. He also had two half siblings.
There isn’t much information on Ebenezer other then I have a Census record from 1855.
After this census record Ebenezer boarded the Whaling Bark Desdemona n November 7, 1855. The ship set sail for the Pacific. Ebenezer was a Boatsteerer. On a whaling vessel a boatsteerer was considered a prestigious position. He was one of the most responsible members of the crew, his duty was to pull the forward oar of a whaleboat until reaching striking distance of a whale. He then would harpoon the whale with an iron, while the boat-handler guided the boat. As a boatsterrer his life was a little better then the regular crew. Ebenezer’s bunk would have been in steerage and he would have gotten to eat in the mail cabin after the captain and his mates left, where regular crew members where sent barrels of food to the deck.
It is unknown how Ebenezer died but on February 21, 1858 while at Sea by Sulawesi Tengah, Indonesia he did. I am currently investigating whether or not there was a logbook that survived this voyage as I have come across other logbooks for the Desdemona from different trips. My hope is that the logbook will give information on what was happening in February of 1858 and maybe even list how people died.
The 1855 departure of the Desdemona was Mastered by Thomas Howland Smith. On this voyage the Desdemona sailed to the Pacific where in there nearly five year journey they collected 1,712 barrels of sperm oil and 1 barrel of baleen whale oil. According to the New Bedford Whaling Museum:
Apart from the dangers of the hunt, life on a whaleship could be unpleasant:
- Rats, cockroaches, bedbugs, and fleas were facts of life, perhaps because of the oil and blood that were not removed from the decks by scrubbing. The men endured these creatures in their food, in their bunks, and on their bodies – Sharp-edged tools, hostile natives, and shipboard arguments led to injuries. It was usually the captain who dealt with illnesses, using limited knowledge and supplies from the medicine chest. Occasionally, a captain’s wife on board would nurse ailing crewmen
- Punishments included being “put in irons” and flogging (whipping). If a man disobeyed orders or otherwise displeased captain or mate, he suffered one or the other. The “cat-o’-nine-tails” (a whip of nine knotted lines) was often used. It was painful for the crewman who experienced it, and frightening for others to watch.
I imagine it was a very hard life. Ebenezer boarded the ship at the age of 19 and died at 22. I hope to someday be able to complete this tale.
*Thank you to my cousin Ann Marie for sending me the link to the crew list for the New Bedford Whaling Museum. With your help I finally put together the life of Ebenezer.*