Maritime Log #35 Maritime Museum Hosts Thoughtful Play on Women of Newburyport

Maritime Museum Hosts Thoughtful Play on Women of Newburyport

By Dyke Hendrickson, Custom House Maritime Museum Outreach Historian

Most recorded history of nautical Newburyport focuses on men, but our Custom House Maritime Museum recently presented a thoughtful play on the lives of several prominent women.

The show was “Captains, Wives and Daughters,” and it was staged once at the museum and later, at the Actors Studio.

The one-act play was set in Newburyport in the 1870s, and dealt with the legacy of Capt. William Graves, then deceased.

When Capt. Stephen Bray’s daughter joins the Graves women for a holiday dinner, “resentments are stirred, and more than their silence is broken.”

One theme developed was that hardship occurred when captains and other mariners are gone – sometimes permanently.

Newburyport sailors went to sea for years at a time; it was said that some young men had sailed to Hawaii or India but had never taken a coach to Boston.

Numerous ships were lost at sea and many crew members never returned. That often meant that women were suddenly left alone to run the house and raise the family.

The Maritime Society, an early benevolent organization, provided funds to families of lost captains and their top aides.  But they were officers. Families of crew members generally had no formal support.

“Captains, Wives and Daughters” deftly delved into the challenges that women in this community faced. Younger women might have felt pride about the seafaring life; older family members who had seen tragedy were more muted about their feelings.

Though nautical travel and trade were lionized in history books – generally written by male historians – the women left behind often endured hardship as a result of the life at sea.

“Captains, Wives and Daughters” provided a refreshing look at a forgotten facet of a seaside community dependent on maritime trade.

Playwright for the show was Adair Rowland; director was Kathleen Isbell.

The cast, in colorful period garb, included Maureen Daley, Allegra Larsen, Shannon Muhs and Sally Nutt. Costumes were by Carla Crombie.

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