American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

HARLOW, FREDERICK PEASE (1856-1952). Frederick Pease Harlow was born in Mount Morris, Illinois, on 12 December 1856. He was the youngest son of Frances Ann Winsor and William T. Harlow, an educator and Methodist minister originally from Duxbury, Massachusetts.

Harlow’s first experience at sea was on board the coasting schooner David G. Floyd in 1875. The captain of the Floyd was a neighbor, and Harlow’s father had privately requested that the captain make the experience as “disagreeable” as possible, in a vain effort to dissuade his youngest son from following in the footsteps of his three older brothers. Aboard the Floyd, the young Harlow learned the ways of a sailing craft from the deck up. The customary hazing of a greenhorn, an anchor-dragging storm, and a near collision with another schooner all challenged Harlow on his first voyage. He became skilled enough to leave the vessel an “ordinary seaman.”

Undeterred by his father’s meddling, Harlow sailed on board the full- rigged ship Akbar in December 1875. The voyage gave him firsthand knowledge of deepwater sailing. His experiences in the Far East trade on board the Akbar furnished him with the basis for his book The Making of a Sailor or Sea Life aboard a Yankee Square-Rigger (1928), republished in 1988 by Dover.

This volume, written when Harlow was over seventy, offers an enlightening account of shipboard life and politics. Harlow kept a detailed journal of his experiences aboard the Akbar. With journal in hand and over fifty years to reflect on the varying events of the voyage, he relates the square- rig experiences of his youth. Included are music and lyrics to dozens of chanteys. Also included are detailed technical descriptions of the mechanics of square-rig sail. The Making of a Sailor is the most readable of all similar works, on a par with Richard Henry Dana’s* Two Years before the Mast* (1840).

In 1878 Harlow sailed on the bark Conquest from Boston to Barbados, West Indies, where he observed the African connection to sea music.* He settled in Seattle in 1890 and held jobs with the Occidental Fish Company, the Washington Shipping Bureau, and the Puget Sound Navigation Company. After retiring, he traveled around the world, built ship models, and continued to write.

The Conquest voyage provided much of the material for his second work, Chanteying aboard American Ships (1962). It contains more than 110 chanteys with musical notation drawn from nineteenth-century singers, other researchers, and expanded music from The Making of a Sailor. Completed by 1945, the work first appeared in installments in The American Neptune in 1948 and was published posthumously in its entirety. Today it is considered one of the principal sources for nineteenth-century sea music.

Glenn Grasso