Owen Coffin

(to whom Nantucket Sleighride is dedicated)

by Miles O'Neal

I always thought there was something I was missing about Mountain's Nantucket Sleighride. It just didn't quite seem like it was all there. The lyrics were suspiciously haunting and unfinished, and there was a definite sinister, sad undercurrent to the guitar breaks. Turns out you have to know the story.

But you might wish you hadn't...

Owen Coffin was cabin boy aboard the whaler Essex, which was destroyed by a sperm whale in 1819. Owen ended up in the lifeboat with Captain Pollard, his uncle. Two other lifeboats also put out. During the next 3 - 4 months, the lifeboats separated. One was never seen again, but some of those on the remaining two boats were eventually rescued.

The long journey was an attempt to reach Peru. The Marquesas islands were much closer, but were known to be inhabited by cannibals.

During those long months at sea (and on desert islands), many of the men died. The remainder eventually had to resort to cannibalism to survive. After the dead of natural causes were consumed, the men determined to draw lots to see who would sacrifice his life for the others. Owen Coffin ``won'' the lottery. The Captain tried to take Owen's place, but the youth insisted on his ``right''. The executioner was also drawn by lot. That ``winner'', another young man named Charles Ramsdell, also tried vainly to swap places with Owen. Again he refused. Owen's body kept the others alive for ten days (Captain Pollard refused to eat his nephew). Another man died, and his body kept Pollard and Ramsdell alive a few more days until they were rescued.

Ultimately 8 of the 20 sailors of the Essex survived.

``...'Cause you know I'm coming home soon .''

Based on the shipwreck journal of Owen Chase, First Mate on the Nantucket whaler, Essex. Thanks to Jennifer Gilden for making the information available on the web.

original url: http://www.rru.com/~meo/music/owen-coffin.html
Last updated: 10 September 1997

Copyright 1997 Miles O'Neal, Austin, TX. All rights reserved.

Miles O'Neal <meo@XYZZY.rru.com> [remove the "XYZZY." to make things work!] c/o RNN / 1705 Oak Forest Dr / Round Rock, TX / 78681-1514