“My Dear Mother”: Dr. James Taylor White
Edited by Gary C. Stein, from the March-April, 2020 issue of Alaskan History Magazine:
In February 1894 Treasury Secretary John G. Carlisle authorized Captain Michael A. Healy to employ Seattle physician James Taylor White as surgeon for the upcoming Arctic cruise of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear. This was White’s third cruise to Alaska for the department’s Revenue-Cutter Service, a predecessor of the U.S. Coast Guard. In 1894 White participated in missionary Sheldon Jackson’s three-year-old project transporting domesticated Siberian reindeer to Alaska to prevent supposed starvation among Alaska’s Native population.
White was an astute observer. Not only a physician, he was an avid naturalist and amateur ethnographer. Everything he saw interested him. While his 1894 diary thoroughly describes people and places he encountered, there is a briefer source offering another perspective of that summer on the Bear. His personal correspondence is in the Alaska and Polar Regions Collection and Archives at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He wrote extensively to his mother, Ione Taylor White, throughout his 1894 cruise describing not only what he saw but his personal opinions as well, some of which material never entered his diary.
White boarded the Bear at San Francisco in mid-April. At the end of that month the cutter sailed to Seattle for coal and then stood north for Sitka, arriving at Alaska’s capital on May 11. By early June the Bear had cruised along Prince William Sound to Kodiak Island.
My dear Mother:
We left St. Paul [harbor], Kadiak Island yesterday. … After having been in smooth water so long it rather upsets one to be suddenly plunging into a rough sea. Strange to say it affects me very little and I have noticed, as well as others, that it has little or no effect on my appetite.
The trip has been delightful and peaceable. On the whole we have a nice set of officers and no trouble has been experienced, though it is rather too early to talk much. If all is as well when we get through the Arctic part of the trip as now I will be thankful, for that is when it tries one to the utmost. Mrs. H— [Mary Jane Healy, the Captain’s wife] is very pleasant to all and I think influences the Capt. more than he or anyone else imagines.
Dutch Harbor Alaska. June 11th ‘94
My dear Mother:
Dutch Harbor is the headquarters of the new trading company [North American Transportation and Trading Company], and as it is their interests we are to look after we stay here. It is only a couple of miles from Unalaska, so we spend most of our time there. I went over yesterday to attend some of the school children, and I am going in today to patch up a broken head.
Just when we leave here for the Arctic I don’t know but presume it will be about the 16th inst. We have received no mail so far and if the mail steamer is not on time, we will not receive any until next September. Not knowing how things are there I can but hope and wish that all of you are well and that my letters when received will speak of good and happy times.
Today is beautiful, bright and warm. We are taking on coal and everything is dirty and upset. To be continued in my next—-
I remain, well and contented, your affectionate Son
For More Information:
• Gary C. Stein “‘A Desperate and Dangerous Man’: Captain Michael A. Healy’s Arctic Cruise of 1900.” The Alaska Journal, 15 (Spring 1985): 39-45.
• Gary C. Stein “‘The Old Man is Good and Drunk Now’: Captain Michael A. Healy and the Cruise of 1889.” Alaska History, 24 (Spring 2009): 16-43.
• Gary C. Stein “‘Their Feast of Death’: The Wreck of the Whaler James Allen.” Coriolis, 7 (No. 2, 2017): 21-48.
• Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Dept. of Botany Collections.
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