Fanny Sets Sail

Fanny Appleton Longfellow grew up on Beacon Street in Boston Massachusetts (1817-1861), the daughter of the textile industrialist, Nathan Appleton. As an adult, she married the famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and they live with their family at 105 Brattle Street in Cambridge. That site is now part of the National Park Service and in 2017, we will be celebrating the 200th birthday of Fanny Longfellow – Fanny 200!

This blog series details Fanny’s journey at the age of 18, on her family’s two year Grand Tour of Europe. The main sources of information are the six daily journals that she kept, as well as her sketchbooks, which are now part of the collections at the Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historical Site.

Fanny Sets Sail!

November 16th – November 20th, 1835

Those trackless deeps where many a weary sail
Has seen above the illimitable plain
Morning on night & night on morning rise
Whilst still no land to greet the wand’rer spread
Its shadowy mountains on the sunbright sea.


So begins the first of six journals dedicated to the travel records of Fanny Appleton.  On November 16th, 1835, we find young Fanny standing on the deck of the Francis de Pau, anxiously waiting to set sail for Europe from the New York Harbor.

She’s a self-proclaimed (maybe self-consciously) Anglophile, loves French fashion, and has been diligently studying and copying Italian Renaissance masters back in her home at 39 Beacon Street, in Boston for years previous to this. It’s unique that she, as a young lady, would be allowed to experience the Grand Tour. Usually it was a coming-of-age experience for wealthy young male Americans, like her brother, Thomas Gold Appleton. He had been sent to Europe two years previous by their father and had brought back stories and gifts for his younger sisters. It was supposed to be brother Charles’ turn – but he had passed away a month previous from tuberculosis. As a change of scene, their father, Nathan Appleton, owner of textile mills in Lowell, decided to invite his daughters and a couple other traveling companions on the trip.

Frances Elizabeth Appleton

Fanny Appleton by GPA Healy (1834), LONG 4437

And so you have the following traveling party:

  • Nathan Appleton – Father and chaperone.
  • Thomas Gold Appleton – the oldest brother, age 23.
  • Mary Appleton – sister, closest friend, age 22.
  • Fanny Elizabeth Appleton – our protagonist, age 18.
  • William Sullivan Appleton – second cousin, age 20.
  • Issac Appleton Jewett, aka “Jewett” – cousin, age 26.

The Appletons were sent off by a crowd of well-wishers – family and friends who stood on the docks of New York City to say “Bon Voyage” to the travelers. It was an appropriately emotional affair, according to Fanny:

Flowers and kind wishes were showered upon us in equal profusion, and if the latter could fill ours sails with breezes… short would be the passage.

However, the lack of breezes was exactly the problem. They were stuck in New York harbor, still in sight of the shoreline, until the wind changed. So, the girls “dried our eyes and settled our curls, put a seal on Signor [sic] Melancholy, and amused ourselves with the coming of the cocks, the gabbling of the geese, the yawling of the sailors and the Captain’s one-sided grins.”

This is also when Fanny took a moment to trace out her first sketch of the trip. In it, you can see the skyline of New York in 1835, complete with a “dark picturesque windmill.” “Our last link to American ground,” declared Fanny.

As they waited for favorable winds, the younger part of the Appleton crew started to poke around the ship, attempting to gain their sea legs. They appraised their fellow passengers with interest, as well as with some criticism about their gaudy outfits (she is a teenager, after all).

The next day, November 17th, saw a change in the wind and they finally set sail! By the afternoon, they were off Sandy Hook, New Jersey. That evening Fanny experienced two firsts. She saw a “star cast a track across the ocean,” and at 10:30 p.m. she was called out on deck to see the Aurora Borealis:

…there were pillars of light shooting up from the sea & gradually an arch of the deepest most brilliant rose-colour glowed across the sky, relieving the sails with magical distinctness & making the bright stars dazzling as diamonds in a ruby ocean.

The following few days were filled with hop-scotch, jumping rope, reading the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and climbing the rigging (not Fanny – she said that was for the “appetite-hunters”). She walked arm-in-arm with the Captain around the ship and he admired how quickly she relearned to walk, teaching her nautical terms and how to “box a compass.” She took to this quickly, proudly writing letters home to her friends in Boston using as many of terms as she could fit on a page.

One event of note that Fanny records in detail – including a drawing done by her brother, Tom, pasted into her journal – was the washing of the pigs: “One poor victim was dragged forth after another… — seized by the ears” and dunked into a barrel of water, where it was subjected to the “most uncivil ‘scrubing [sic] from brawny hands.” From there, the pigs were brought to a new clean sty for their sea voyage.

For dinner, they were served pea-soup, “baigne aux du pomme” (apple fritters) and they drank champagne. The evening was spent in pleasurable company, writing letters, reading books aloud, and playing whist. When the sun set, Fanny saw the ocean aglow that night with phosphorescence and a school of mackerel, which surrounded the ship, “flashing in the ink sea like sparks.” The fish and the plankton light a way for their ship in the night:

…breathing a path of fire for her High Mightiness [the Francis de Pau] and every distant wave capped with a tongue of flame.

Our next blog installment continues Fanny’s journey across the Atlantic.

Citation: Frances Elizabeth Appleton Longfellow Papers, Journal LONG 21487, 16 November 1835 – 31 January 1836, pp. 1-23.


5 thoughts on “Fanny Sets Sail

  1. Pingback: “A Child of the Tempest!” – Chronicles of Castle Craigie

  2. Pingback: C’est magnifique!: Fanny Explores France – Chronicles of Castle Craigie

  3. Pingback: “A Universe of New Sensations”: Fanny Explores the Arts in Paris – Chronicles of Castle Craigie

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