April 2, 2012

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: Where Did Teens Live? The young man and the sea

John Singleton Copley's
Midshipman Augustus
Brine, 1782. Courtesy
of the Metropolitan
Museum of Art
at Flickr Commons

Sea?  We’ve been talking about the Great Plains in the 1800’s.  What does the sea have to do with the Great Plains?  Ah, think about it!  Across the northern half of the United States lies the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes connect to the sea.  The Great Lakes have been a bustling nautical highway for most of our history.  In the 1800’s passenger lines carried immigrants to busy ports on the lakes – the same immigrants who settled the vast tracts of land lying to the west and south.

Early on there were sailing ships. Steamers and paddle wheelers replaced sailing in the early nineteenth century.  Ships needed crews.  Boys, some very young, signed on to learn the trade of a common sailor and often spent most of their lives aboard ship.  In the navy, boys destined to be officers joined as midshipman.  The painting of the handsome lad you see to your left was thirteen when he joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman.

It’s easy to romanticize life aboard ship back then.  But life was harsh, dangerous, and sometimes fatal.  For a glimpse of life aboard a ship in1834, read Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr.  He was nineteen when he set out as a common sailor.  You can read the book here: http://mysite.du.edu/~ttyler/ploughboy/pgtwoyearsbeforethemast.htm.

Next topic:  Teen Life Way Back When:  Where Did Teens Live?  Hey, you forgot the girls!
For references and additional reading, click Extras.

See Carol's Reading Recs for more great books about boys at sea.

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