On a Member of the Staff

We forget that, once upon a time, going trans-Atlantic meant going by boat. Even when air travel began on an intercontinental scale, ship lines crisscrossed the ocean between Europe and the Americas as an alternate form of getting from there to there—or vice versa. Today, other than cargo shipping, about the only way to cross the Atlantic is on a repositioning cruise by one of the Carnival-Norwegian-Princess type cruise lines.

Here’s a story about an Atlantic crossing back in the day when going by ship was the norm. In those days, the journey was about the destination and not the vacation trip we think of today. The staff onboard this particular ship consisted of not only the crew operating the vessel but also wait staff and servants for those who paid for the voyage.

One such servant was a young Englishman named William Trevore. In the grand tradition of that ocean-going nation, William, like other young men of his generation, had experience on other ships, but his time on the sea as part of the service crew had been limited to European waters. This was his first trans-Atlantic crossing. He had been hired on one ship first and then transferred to a new ship owned by the same company for the trip across the ocean. William made his goodbyes to his family and spoke about how much he looked forward to working for the passengers onboard.

According to those upon whom he waited, William performed his duties at sea with great enthusiasm. The company who hired him, the ship’s owners, were pleased with his work and attitude. He often entertained the passengers with tall tales of life at sea, of his numerous voyages in European trips over the years, and of distant, mystical islands that he hinted he had visited years before.

But in the mid-Atlantic, the sea grew rough. The waves were such that passengers were confined to their cramped rooms to keep the storms from potentially washing them over deck. “The voyage was difficult even for seasoned sailors, much more for those who had never been on a ship before,” one commentator noted.

Through it all, William continued to be his usually cheerful self and performed his duties as if nothing were amiss. Even as many of the passengers on which he waited grew seasick, William continued to try to make them smile. Most of those onboard were unused to life at sea, and the heaving and tossing was simply too much. Soon, the smell of the vomit permeated all areas in the passenger spaces. Through it all, William simply smiled and cleaned and served.

Such was William’s commitment to ensuring the passengers were clean and as supplied as they could be under such dire circumstances that his work drew praise in the ship’s log—an unusual thing for a lowly crew member of the wait staff on a trans-Atlantic voyage.

William’s contract with the company was only for one year, and, when his time was up, he eventually went back to England. He rose through the ranks of the English commercial fleet and eventually captained a ship of his own on which he made several trips back and forth from Europe to America.

Yet, for all his later experience on the seas, William Trevore forever spoke with greatest pride about his two month’s work aboard the Mayflower.

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