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Mary Patten, the First American Woman to Command a Ship

Mary Ann Patten came from a seafaring family and married a sailor, Joshua Patten, who soon became a ship's captain. That ship, Neptune's Car, had a cursed history, but Joshua was game to command, and Mary accompanied him. She studied navigation while they sailed around the world. On their second voyage, Joshua fell ill, and the first mate broke his leg. The financiers behind the voyage wouldn't wait, and replaced the first mate with the first guy they found, William Keeler.  

Keeler proved an incompetent shitheel in record time. His list of infractions are staggering: he’d sleep through half his shifts; he set course through reef beds; he had to be ordered to do simple tasks; and finally, he just outright refused to do some tasks, like putting out sails. About a month in, Joshua put him in chains and confined him to his cabin.

While he didn’t have many other options, this choice proved deadly for Joshua.  He’d relied on Keeler to keep the course while Joshua slept. But with Keeler gone, the ship facing constant gales of snow and sleet, and no other crew members able to handle navigation — the second mate was illiterate, the third an idiot — Joshua had to stay up all day and night.

Increasingly, he relied on Mary to help confirm the position, course, and speed. He recognized she was a better mathematician than he was, even when he wasn’t out of his mind from staying up all day and night.

But by the eighth day of staying up, it became clear Joshua was out of his mind from more than that. After navigating to the Le Maire Strait, he collapsed. He’d developed pneumonia, which only exacerbated the undiagnosed ailment he’d started the voyage with: Tuberculosis meningitis.

That's when Mary took command of Neptune's Car. She was 19, pregnant, and had a sick husband to care for. The weather was horrendous. Keeler tried to incite a mutiny. Read the story of Mary Patten and the ship she commanded at Rejected Princesses. -via Strange Company 


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