Podcast Episode 190: Mary Patten and the Neptune’s Car


In 1856, an American clipper ship was approaching Cape Horn when its captain collapsed, leaving his 19-year-old wife to navigate the vessel through one of the deadliest sea passages in the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Mary Patten and the harrowing voyage of the Neptune’s Car.

We’ll also consider some improbable recipes and puzzle over a worker’s demise.


In 1943, the U.S. considered releasing glowing foxes in Japan to frighten Shintoists.

Rice University chemist James Tour fashions stick figures from organic molecules.

Sources for our feature on Mary Patten:

Paul W. Simpson, Neptune’s Car: An American Legend, 2018.

Glenn A. Knoblock, The American Clipper Ship, 1845-1920, 2014.

Sam Jefferson, Clipper Ships and the Golden Age of Sail, 2014.

David Cordingly, Seafaring Women, 2010.

Jane D. Lyon, The Great Clippers, 2016.

Bill Caldwell, Rivers of Fortune, 2002.

Julie Baker, “The Troubled Voyage of Neptune’s Car,” American History 39:6 (February 2005), 58-65.

Raymond A. Rydell, “The California Clippers,” Pacific Historical Review 18:1 (February 1949), 70-83.

Ann Whipple Marr, “Mary Ann Brown Patten,” Oxford Dictionary of American National Biography, Dec. 2, 1999.

“Neptune’s Car,” Ships of the World, 1997, 356.

Kenneth J. Blume, Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Maritime Industry, 2012.

“Mary Patten, 19 and Pregnant, Takes Command of a Clipper Ship in 1856,” New England Historical Society (accessed Feb. 2, 2018).

“The Story of Mary Patten,” National Sailing Hall of Fame (accessed Feb. 2, 2018).

“Women in Maritime History,” San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, National Park Service (accessed Feb. 2, 2018).

Alan Flanders, “Clipper Neptune’s Car Saved From Disaster by Quick-Learning Wife of Stricken Skipper,” [Norfolk] Virginian-Pilot, Oct. 15, 2000, 3.

George Tucker, “Woman’s Touch Helped Clipper Ship Make History,” [Norfolk] Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 14, 1999, B3.

Joanne Lannin and Ray Routhier, “The Ladies of Maine,” Portland Press Herald, March 13, 1996, 1C.

“A Noble Woman,” Sailor’s Magazine, April 1857.

“A Heroine of the Sea,” Friends’ Intelligencer 14 (1857), 46-47.

“A Heroine Arrived — The Young Wife Who Took Neptune’s Car Around Cape Horn,” New York Times, March 18, 1857.

“A Wife Worth Having,” New York Times, Feb. 21, 1857.

“Report of the Select Committee on the Rights of Married Women,” Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Ohio, 1857, 110.

“Modern Female Heroism,” Annual Register, March 1857.

“The Heroic Mrs. Patten,” Boston Evening Transcript, June 23, 1857.

“Marine Matters,” New York Times, March 24, 1857.

“Neptune’s Car,” New York Times, July 27, 1857.

“Funeral of Capt. Joshua A. Patten,” New York Times, Aug. 31, 1857.

“Personal,” New York Times, Sept. 23, 1857.

“Marine Matters,” New York Times, March 20, 1857.

“Personal,” New York Times, March 20, 1861.

Listener mail:

Jeffrey Gettleman and Kai Schultz, “India’s Punishment for Plant-Eating Donkeys: Jail Time,” New York Times, Nov. 28, 2017.

Faiz Siddiqui, “Donkeys Destroy Plants, ‘Jailed’ for 4 Days in Orai,” Times of India, Nov. 28, 2017.

“50,000 Meows by @hugovk,” github, Nov. 1, 2014.

“Delicious Recipes,” scootah.com (accessed Feb. 23, 2018).

Wikipedia, “Echo Answer” (accessed Feb. 23, 2018).

Lindsay Flint sent this example of answering yes/no questions in Welsh.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Gillian Brent.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!