Dear Absent Ones

Captain Seth-Pinkham | Nantucket Historical Society

Helen Marsall & Captain Seth Pinkham. Photos courtesy of the NHA.

Despite the superstition that it was bad luck for a woman to be on a ship at sea (except for naked women who were said to calm the waters, but that’s another tale to tell), it was not unheard of for Nantucket women to accompany their husbands on whaling voyages when their husbands were captain.

In their Nantucket Corner exhibit for 2017, the Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) titled “Dear Absent Ones”: The Seafaring Pinkhams, shares the experiences of an island family who went to sea.

This exhibition looks at Nantucket seafaring through the eyes of the Pinkhams, a local family whose sons and daughters went to sea over multiple generations. The focus will be on three generations of the Pinkham family: Seth Pinkham and Mary Brown Pinkham (a whaling captain and his wife); Malvina Pinkham Marshall and Joseph Marshall (Seth and Mary’s daughter and her whaling master husband, whom she accompanied on whaling voyages); and Helen Marshall (Malvina and Joseph’s daughter, who was born in the Azores and went on whaling voyages with her family). Other family members are represented in images or in relevant artifacts throughout the exhibition as well.

Visitors explore stories of adventure, love, melancholy, and loss as evidenced in the family’s letters, clothing, toys, furniture, and portraits. The exhibition features a group of Captain Seth Pinkham’s letters to his family and friends, which were acquired at auction for the NHA in 2016 through the generosity of an anonymous donor. Additional artifacts that will be highlighted in the exhibition are textiles that belonged to Malvina Pinkham Marshall and a scrimshaw-handled jump rope made for Helen Marshall by the second mate on the Aurora.

“Having acquired this fantastic set of family papers, we are so pleased to tell the story of the Pinkham family in more depth,” says Michael Harrison, NHA Robyn & John Davis Chief Curator. “It expands on family material we already have, which includes both archival material and artifacts. We’re taking the opportunity to tell the Pinkham’s family story using the broad range of what we have in our collection.”

“Dear Absent Ones”: The Seafaring Pinkhams is on view in the NHA’s Nantucket Corner gallery in the Whaling Museum, 13 Broad Street, during museum hours, and is included with museum admission.