BARKER, BENJAMIN - American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

BARKER, BENJAMIN (1817-18??). Beyond birth records in Salem, Massachusetts, the only documents that survive of Benjamin Barker are twenty short novels published under that name between 1845 and 1847 and one in 1855. Those with authors’ prefaces all indicate that he was living in Salem at the time of their composition. Barker, who in one preface described himself as a contributor to “the world of cheap literature,” wrote in the popular genres of his day: historical romance, patriot’s story, frontier tale, South Sea island adventure. Barker wrote five novels under the pseudonym “Seafarer,” all published roughly a century after his death; among them are Bold Buccaneer (1955), The Cook’s Cruise (1960), and The Haunted Ship (1958).

Almost half of his literary output is sea adventure that, like that of such Barker contemporaries as Joseph Holt Ingraham,* “Ned Buntline” (Edward Zane Carroll Judson*), and Maturin Murray Ballou,* exploits the more sensational aspects of the genre popularized by James Fenimore Cooper* a generation earlier: piracy, military battles, mythical sea creatures, and ghost* ships. Barker’s main contribution to sea fiction is the creation of the female pirate,* best represented by the figure of Ernestine in his last novel, The Bandit of the Ocean: or The Female Privateer (1855), published under the pseudonym “Harry Halyard.”* The female pirate reiterates a theme that runs throughout Barker’s fiction: the ambivalent position of the willful woman in a patriarchal society. To exercise their will, characters such as Ernestine become outlaws. [See also WOMEN AT SEA]

Dean DeFino