Artifact Corner: Honeymoon Journal

Hi Everyone, Happy 2024, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at the honeymoon journal of Frances Henrietta Delord Webb. She wrote this journal while sailing across the Atlantic and traveling across Europe with her husband, Henry Webb. The journal begins with her departure from Plattsburgh in August of 1832. She and Henry then travel south to visit his family in Connecticut. They then headed to New York to board a vessel bound for the coast of France. Frances writes about the journey across in some detail. Here is an excerpt from her journal:
“We have occasionally seen some of the productions of the deep – our attention has been called to the shouting of whales, and the playing of porpoises about the ship – I last evening witnessed quite a singular phenomena, the emitting as if it were sparks of fire in the wake of the vessel – it appeared something like riding through fire – how it is produced I am not philosopher enough to tell, but it strikes me it may be a sort of electricity.”

It seems like what Frances is discussing when describing “riding through fire” is what we today call bioluminescence. Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by living organisms. It is a form of chemiluminescence. Bioluminescence occurs widely in marine vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as in some fungi, microorganisms including some bioluminescent bacteria, and terrestrial arthropods such as fireflies. She also describes hearing whales and seeing porpoises playing in the wake of their ship. The vessel they were on was called the Rhone, and was a sailing vessel. While the first steam vessel crossed the Atlantic in 1819, steam transport did not become commonplace until the 1840’s.

Frances’ next quote comes the following day, “Also among the deeds of yesterday we spoke a vessel bound for Quebec – there is something very pleasant in falling in with a vessel – like the passing of a compliment with a friend – Another day has passed over us finding ourselves in longitude 19 – latitude 48-23 – here sits my dear husband and myself driving our pens famously.”

This passage was a bit of a challenge. It took us a fair amount of time to try to locate the coordinates that Frances lists in her journal. After some calculations, we believe their ship was closing on the coast of France, but still had not passed Britain. The navigational system that the ships captain was using was called a chronometer, which were first developed for marine navigation, being used in conjunction with astronomical observation to determine longitude. By the time of their voyage chronometers were almost 100 years old, and a very reliable tool for navigating open water. The coordinates she lists were a bit wonky, but with some sleuthing, we were able to see where they were in the Atlantic when Frances was writing that passage.

The journal Frances wrote is incomplete. It is believed that she left a portion of it in Europe. It is a fascinating document detailing life and traveling in the early 1830’s. The journal is in good condition, given it’s age, and the shear miles it traveled during their Honeymoon. We are so lucky to have this document in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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