Merry Trippers on Great Brewster Island, 1891

Before Facebook people kept travel journals to document their summer adventures.  I recently saw an article about a wonderful album acquired by the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe Institute written by Helen Augusta Whittier which she titled:  “Ye Log of Ye Square Partie at Ye Great Brewster in ye pleasant month of July 1891”.   The author was an art teacher, photographer, avid promoter of women’s clubs and an entrepreneur who helped run the family’s mill business in Lowell. Helen, along with three of her well-educated, upper class friends sailed from Rowe’s Wharf in Boston on board the Nantasket Steamer landing at Pemberton Pier in Hull, Massachusetts.   There the “merry trippers” changed into more casual clothes and set off for Great Brewster Island in Boston Harbor on a lobster rig piloted by a man they dubbed “William the Swedish fisherman”.

Contemporary view of Great Brewster Island in Boston Harbor
Contemporary view of Great Brewster Island in Boston Harbor

Leaving behind their families (and apparently their identities) they simply called themselves the Autocrat, the gentle Aristocrat, the artistic Acrobat and the veracious Scribe.

Drawing from Helen Augusta Whittier's album.  Credit:  Schlesinger Library/Radcliffe Institute/Harvard University
Drawing from Helen Augusta Whittier’s album. Credit: Schlesinger Library/Radcliffe Institute/Harvard University

Their journal includes photographs of the house they rented for two weeks as well as floor plans of the rooms.

Photos from Helen Augusta Whittier's album.  Credit:  Schlesinger Library/Radcliffe Institute/Harvard University
Photos from Helen Augusta Whittier’s album. Credit: Schlesinger Library/Radcliffe Institute/Harvard University

The acrobat made sketches for the “glorification” of their album and lovely watercolor drawings of sunsets, sailing boats and the wildflowers they collected to decorate their dining room table.

Watercolor of nasturtiums gathered on Great Brewster  Credit:  Schlesinger Library/Radcliffe Institute/Harvard University
Watercolor of nasturtiums gathered on Great Brewster Credit: Schlesinger Library/Radcliffe Institute/Harvard University

I especially enjoyed reading the daily menus they prepared.  Breakfast:  coffee, oatmeal, fishballs, salt pork, fried potatoes and toast.  Lunch:  lobster –just boiled, crackers and preserved giner.  Dinner:  Fricassee chicken on toast, boiled potatoes and tea.

Photo from Helen Augusta Whittier's album.
Photo from Helen Augusta Whittier’s album. Credit: Schlesinger Library/Radcliffe Institute/Harvard University
Photo from Helen Augusta Whittier's album
Photo from Helen Augusta Whittier’s album Credit: Schlesinger Library/Radcliffe Institute/Harvard University

Roughing it on the island included fetching driftwood for the fire, lugging water from the well, walking to the seawall, wading and clamming.  William the Swedish fisherman brought them fresh milk, ice for the icebox, newspapers and on one happy occassion chocolates.   They also had a visit from the Lighthouse Keeper of Boston Light.

Boston Light Photo Credit:  US Coast Guard Auxiliary
Boston Light Photo Credit: US Coast Guard Auxiliary

For entertainment the trippers wrote verse, sewed, photographed, used a spy glass, sketched, waded in the cold sea, played a board game called halma and card games like solitaire.  Believing that “a contented mind is a continual feast” they also read aloud most notably these three books:

henry-esmond-by-william-makepeace-thackeray

Reading An American girl in London

Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott 51VBiJsTUpL

The friends weathered rainy days with a sense of humor even when the roof leaked soaking all the bedding in the east room and restless nights when the fog horn kept them awake all night.  However when it was time “to leave behind the uneventful days to return to the work-a-day world”, they would miss the fog horn which had come to have a friendly, protective sound. They would return home to “winter fireside dreams of dawns and sunsets by the summer sea.”

Watercolor from Helen Augusta Whittier's album
Watercolor from Helen Augusta Whittier’s album Credit: Schlesinger Library/Radcliffe Institute/Harvard University

If you are interested in reading more about this journal you can go to: http://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/schlesinger-library/collection/helen-augusta-whittier-album

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