Joshua Slocum

Captain Joshua Slocum

Photo caption above: Portrait of Joshua Slocum. This photograph is believed to have been made in October, 1895, shortly after Joshua Slocum’s Atlantic crossing from Gibraltar to Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil. Silver gelatin print.

Current Exhibition: “The Spray will Come Back”: Solo Circumnavigator Joshua Slocum

Captain Joshua Slocum (1844–1908) knew early on that the only life for him involved the sea. Born at Mount Hanley, Nova Scotia, in 1844, Slocum grew up there and later at Brier Island where his father opened a boot shop. Slocum left home as a teen and by twenty-five years old had become a sea captain. He purchased his first sailing vessel at thirty-seven years old, and he and his growing family lived happily delivering cargo around the world. Fourteen years later, in 1884, his wife, Virginia, died at Buenos Aires. In 1886, he married his twenty-four year old first cousin, Henrietta M. Elliott. After a few years, Hettie, not accustomed to life at sea, chose to stay ashore near family.

As the world was moving to more efficient steamships, Slocum’s sailing skills were becoming obsolete. A complex man who refused to transition to steam, Slocum seldom fared well during time spent ashore. His life was at a standstill in 1891 when he received the offer of a derelict Delaware Bay oyster sloop. While single-mindedly resurrecting the sloop Spray in Fairhaven, Massachusetts he conceived a new dream, to be the first to sail alone around the world.

His three-year solo voyage, a testament to his fortitude, was a feat that stands unrivalled to this day. His inscription written in a copy of his classic narrative Sailing Alone around the World, speaks of the sea in its most seductive and welcoming moods, as a refuge or an escape from the cares and pressures and woes of life on land.

Joshua Slocum returned to Fairhaven in 1898. “With a fair wind, she waltzed beautifully round the coast and up the Acushnet River to Fairhaven, where I secured her to the cedar pile driven in the bank to hold her when she was launched. I could bring her no nearer home.”  His written account of the voyage stands as one of the greats of seafaring literature.

On November 12, 1908, Joshua Slocum, age sixty-four, sailed the Spray for the West Indies. He was never heard from again. Although no trace was ever found, his larger-than-life reputation caused unconfirmed sightings for years in the Caribbean and South America.


Now Available

A Man for All Oceans: Captain Joshua Slocum and the First Solo Voyage Around the World

Joshua Slocum Bookcover

Author Stan Grayson has been researching Slocum’s life for years and has uncovered primary sources that have yielded information to fill significant gaps in our understanding of Slocum’s life and voyages. Grayson also authored A Genius at His Trade: C. Raymond Hunt and His Remarkable Boats in 2015.

The Whaling Museum and Tilbury House Books partnered to publish A Man for All Oceans. Learn more about the publication. Jacketed hardcover,  416 pages, 6.5 in. x 9.5 in,  85 photographs and maps

Purchase A Man for All Oceans online or in the Museum’s gift store The White Whale.