History and Legend | By the Bay of Fundy |  Life Before the Spray | Return of a Legend | Lost At Sea

By the 1880s, Captain Joshua Slocum had commanded some of the finest American merchant vessels and sailed not only the Atlantic Ocean, but also the Pacific Ocean and the seas of China, Australia, Japan and the Spice Islands. He learned the seas, married, and raised a family aboard ship. 
 
In Australia in 1871, Captain Slocum had met and married the love of his life, Virginia A. Walker, mother of his seven children, all born at sea or in exotic ports: sons Victor, Benjamin Aymar (named for one of the Captain’s commissions) and Garfield, and daughter Jessie (twins and another girl had died in infancy). Later, just off shore from Buenos Aires in the summer of 1884, Virginia succumbed to suspected heart disease at age 34.
 
In 1882, while commanding the Northern Light, Captain Slocum directed the rescue of a group of lost Gilbert Islanders (Polynesians). Five survivors were left from a group of twelve, and they had been adrift in the Pacific 600 miles off course for six weeks. 
 
At a time when steamers were already undermining masted merchant ships, and when merchant timetables were tight no matter the mode of transport, stopping to take on the castaways was at great personal cost to Captain Slocum. But he was a man of conscience and duty, and he further served the grateful Polynesians by routing to Japan, where they were more likely to make their way back to loved ones. 
 
 
 
 
 
They did. The young man called ‘Whaggie’ was able to locate his fiancé in Hawaii, marry her, and they returned home together.  (Read this account in Captain Slocum’s Voyage of the Liberdade, published 1890). 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
A second marriage to Henrietta “Hettie” Elliott, a cousin, brought the younger Slocum children a mother figure even if the Captain did not find the same devoted companionship he had in his beloved Virginia. A year later in 1887, Hettie, Victor and Benjamin were aboard the Aquidneck, the Captain’s last commercial command, when the ship foundered on a sandbar near southern Brazil. 
 
Stranded with his young wife and two youngest sons, Slocum built the Liberdade, a 35-foot Sampan-style sailing canoe constructed of timbers salvaged from the shipwreck. He sailed his family back to the States, a 5,500 mile voyage to Washington, D.C. Hettie, though, returned to Boston life and never sailed with him again. 
 
That seven month journey on the Liberdade, sailing under starlit skies and accompanied by whales, was perhaps prologue to Captain Slocum’s greatest journey.