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photo of Mary Ann Hathaway Tripp

New Bedford Whaling Museum

The first American woman to visit China and one of the first to circumnavigate the globe, Fairhaven’s Mary Ann Hathaway Tripp (1810-1906) sailed with her husband, Captain Lemuel Carver Tripp, on several merchant voyages between 1833 and 1845. On her second voyage around the world they collided with a whaler on their ship Oneida.

Mary Ann Hathaway Tripp (1810-1906) was the first American woman to visit China and one of the first to circumnavigate the globe.

Mary Ann was born in New York City, the daughter of George Smith Hathaway, a merchant, and Eliza Lyon. They moved to Fairhaven when she was young as her uncle, Humphrey Hathaway, ran a shipping business in New Bedford.

Here she met Lemuel Carver Tripp, 10 years older, who was a captain on a merchant ship belonging to the Hathaways. They married in 1828 and Lemuel left less than a month later for a 14-month voyage. For the first four and a half years of their marriage, they were separated more than together.

It was unusual for women to sail with their husbands in the 1830s but Mary Ann made several trips with Lemuel between 1833 and 1845. In fact, she described her first voyage as the most important event in her life. On that first trip to China they attempted to enter the closed city of Canton on a ship named Florida. After some negotiations Mary Ann was allowed entry to the walled city.

This trip lasted 16 months. Travel was long and sometimes dangerous. On her second voyage around the world they collided with a whaler on their ship Oneida. This was noted in the Sandwich Island Gazette. She made this voyage three separate times.

The Hathaway business had offices in New Bedford, New York and Canton. They imported tea, hemp and silk and traded ginseng (grew along the Atlantic coast), furs, and products from the Pacific. As it became difficult to find cargo marketable for trade, they expanded their traffic to opium from India and Turkey.

Captain Tripp was a mariner but also a shareholder and master in the Oneida owned by the Hathaway brothers, Wm Swain and Joseph Grinnell. They looked in South America for cargoes, stayed several weeks in Canton, and returned with porcelain, cassia and hemp. They traded and invested in railroads, manufacturing, real estate and banking, foreshadowing today’s global marketplace as venture capitalists before the term came in vogue.

They did not travel between 1837 and 1842 due to economic unrest, and 1843 was their last trip together. In 1850 they built a home on the corner of Spring and Adams Streets in Fairhaven and welcomed niece Eliza Hathaway to their household. Eliza’s son, Lemuel Carver Tripp Wade, was raised by them. Lemuel died in 1864 and Mary Ann moved to William Street in Fairhaven where she lived until she died in 1906, the oldest woman in town at that time.

Mary Ann broke a hip which left her confined to a wheelchair for the last seven years of her life. Nonetheless, she welcomed people to her home where she often shared the many adventures of her years at sea.

Jo-Ann Beaulieu

Information from

  • Knipe, Mabel Hoyle. “Some Fairhaven Women: Their Concerns, Conceits and Contributions Circa 1700-1900.” 1985.

  • The Millicent Library archives.

  • Traveling with Mrs. Tripp: A Merchant Wife in the China Trade. Old Dartmouth Historical Society / New Bedford Whaling Museum, 1998.

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