Set in post-Revolutionary War New England, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is the biography of Nathaniel Bowditch, author of The American Practical Navigator, nicknamed the “Sailor’s Bible.” While I never paid attention to the author’s name when I was a child, I’m sure I read several of Jean Lee Latham’s biographical works. I recognized her writing style at once.
When Habakkuk Bowditch’s ship founders on the shoals near Salem, Massachusetts, the family is left in poverty. His second son, Nat, is much smaller than his other other sons, and Mr. Bowditch doesn’t expect Nat will have the strength needed to join the family tradition of working on a ship. So he decides to send Nat into indentured service. There will be one less mouth to feed in a family of seven children and Nat will be able to earn a living after nine years. Nat lives with another family for nine years to learn the trade of ship chandlery, the business of supplying equipment and commodities for ships.
Nat’s intuitive understanding of math concepts combined with his passion for helping ships sail as safely as possible drives him to a phenomenal self-education. He learns bookkeeping, Latin, French, Italian, navigational techniques, and advanced mathematics, all with the purpose of writing a book which will correct mathematical errors in established navigational books.
But don’t think this story is only about academic subjects. Nat’s adventures from the Cape of Good Hope to the island of Sumatra add all the action a reader could wish for.
- Nathaniel Bowditch’s life is well-documented, and Latham’s story holds true to all the facts.
- Children reading this will get a strong sense of the New World culture circa 1800.
- Because of the early nineteenth century culture, some adults may have a problem with the attitude of such things as “boys don’t blubber,” or that society approved of profits from whaling and sealing expeditions.
- Do you think Nat had a good attitude once he was indentured to the ship chandlery? Why or why not?
- Did Nat ever receive a college degree from Harvard?
- Why did wives of sailors need to be independent, able to run their entire households and provide for their families?
- Nat sailed on five different voyages. Which one of those voyages did you enjoy reading about the most?
As a Vintage Read, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is both educational and entertaining.