The Athena

The ship Athena

A while back, I posted about the ship that brought the Chastains across the Atlantic to America—The Athena. Originally, I incorrectly identified the Athena as a steamer. I’ve since learned that it was a sail ship and have finally been able to track down an image (thanks to Ken who commented on the original post). It is in a book called Ships, Saints, and Mariners: A Maritime Encyclopedia of Mormon Migration 1830-1890. The Chastains were not Mormon, but the Athena made dozens of trips across the Atlantic, often carrying Mormons.

The following is from pages 20-21 of Ships, Saints, and Mariners. This specific crossing took place two years after the Chastain’s journey, but it gives an idea of what they were risking in sailing to America.

Athena: 1058 tons: 167′ x 36′ X 23 ‘
Built: 1857 by George Thomas at Quincy, Massachusetts

Flying a German flag, the Yankee-built Athena on 21 April 1862 began one of the most unpleasant voyages in the annals of Mormon migration. This square-rigger sailed from Hamburg with 484 Scandinavian Saints under the leadership of Ola N. Liljenquist, a Swedish master tailor and one-time burgher of Copenhagen. Elder Liljenquist was the first Scandinavian convert to return to his native land as a missionary. A strong spiritual leader, he served two missions in Europe, one as president of the Scandinavian Mission. Later he was ordained a patriarch in the LDS Church and became an early settler in northern Utah.

After arriving at Hamburg from Copenhagen, the Saints traveled five miles up the Elbe River to board the Athena. Master and part-owner of the ship was Captain D. Schilling, who early demonstrated a harsh and hostile attitude toward his passengers. To his dismay, Elder Liljenquist soon learned the difference between the German and British laws in providing for emigrants during passage. He recalled, “The water for use on shipboard taken in on the Hamburg Elbe, rotted long before we reached out destination; the provisions were of very inferior kind and the way it was cooked was still worse, and then not half enough of it.”

When the Mormons protested, Captain Schilling reminded them that he had carried emigrants across the Atlantic for twenty-five years and that his was the sole authority on the water. To emphasize his point, he produced the irons and handcuffs he used on passengers who did not follow his orders and persisted in complaining. Elder Liljenquist wrote in his journal: “One Sunday afternoon, after we had concluded our afternoon services, I suppose through jealousy and not having any influence with the Saints, he threatened to throw me overboard and I suppose he would have carried out his purpose had he dared to.”

The Athena steered a course north of Scotland. The weather was fair, and soon the ship was in the Atlantic Ocean. Liljenquist wrote:

“We had favorable winds for several days, with considerable motion of the sea, and therefore many suffered with sea sickness. Two weeks after leaving Glückstadt we had covered about half the distance to New York, but from that time the wheel of fortune rather turned against us. While we hitherto had been favored with good winds, these now turned, and then at other times we had a perfect calm. The captain steered towards the southwest until we reached the Gulf Stream, about 300 miles south of the New Foundland Banks. After that we had such a calm for a whole week that not even a feather stirred and the temperature of the water and air varied between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This sudden change from the cool north, together with the bad water, which became stagnant from the heat, caused the sickness, which already had a hold among us, to increase rapidly. The measles took away 33 of the little ones, and several of the adults also suffered with bowel complaints and diarrhea. The first winds that blew the captain utilized to take us further north into a cooler climate. Now, we are well, thanks to Him, who holds our destiny in his hands. Five adults have died, namely Ole Nielsen, 37 years old; Christine Poulsen, 29 years old; Hans Nielsen from Amager, 52 years old; Ane Nielson, 70 years old, and Kaisa Jensen, 65 years of age. The captain ordered the cook to make oat meal porridge for the sick in the morning, rice at noon, and sage porridge in the afternoon.”

After a forty-seven-day passage the Athena arrived at New York on 7 June. Thirty-eight passengers had died, one of the highest death tolls of any emigrant company. Many others had taken ill. Two days later the company was on a train headed for Florence…

The Chastains were lucky. Not only did they avoid disease and Captain Schilling’s wrath, but, thanks to what must have been almost unceasing fair winds, their trip lasted just 21 days, a far cry from the 47-day nightmare suffered by Liljenquist and his fellow passengers.

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