- Historic Sites
The Man Who Discovered America
The story of Manjiro, the shipwrecked waif; of the kindly captain from Fairhaven; and of how Japan, hidden away from the world, learned strange news of other lands
December 1956 | Volume 8, Issue 1
Soon after John Mung joined the family of Mr. Eben Akin, Captain Whitfield went to New York to sell the whale oil. Not only did he conclude a very profitable business deal, but he also remarried in New York, on May 31 of that year. He married Miss Albertina B. Keith of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, and returned home in the height of happiness with his beautiful bride. Then he purchased a fourteen-acre farm with some buildings in Sconticut Neck, a mile or so from Fairhaven, for $1,000. There they established their new home in a house they built, to which John Mung, after a while, came to live to make himself useful in doing the household chores. On the farm Captain and Mrs. Whitfield, with the help of John Mung and a hired farm hand, kept several cows, horses, pigs, and about 100 chickens and also raised wheat, corn, potatoes, grapes and so on.
It is told that, as a person of consequence in the town, Captain Whitfield had his own private pew in one of the three churches. One Sunday morning Manjiro went to church with him and sat beside him in that pew. One of the deacons of the church, who had been horrified, came to see Captain Whitfield after a few weeks and told him that the Japanese boy would have to sit in the pew for Negroes, because some of the members had objected to having Manjiro sit in the Captain’s pew. Captain Whitfield bowed politely and made no reply, although he wanted to say, “As long as I live, I shall never attend your church.” Immediately he took a pew in another church but soon met with the same result.
Before long, the Captain found that a Unitarian church was willing to admit John Mung into the fold, so that he decided to take the boy to this church every Sunday. Eventually the Captain and his family became its members. The church’s principal supporter was Mr. Warren Delano, Sr., who was an influential townsman and the great-grandfather of the late Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Once he was deeply moved when he heard a sermon in which the pastor said that even a humble man was often called upon to do an important job. He was astonished when he was told that one of the greatest followers of the Lord was a fisherman. When the sermon was over, he said to himself, I am glad that a fisherman’s blood is in me. What can I do when I am a man?
Manjiro was happy in this small New England town because, as the Captain’s foster son, he was allowed to do whatever was normal for any Fairhaven boy of that period, but sometimes he felt very lonely thinking of his poor widowed mother. Then he would take out a small tattered cotton kimono which his mother had made for him and bury his face in it and sob. He would wipe his tears with it and talk to it in Japanese as if he had been talking to his mother. He thought then as if his mother had been there to cheer him up because he knew that it was his mother who had made it for him and the only thing he had to remember her by. He always said on such occasions, “Mother, I will come back to you somedayl”
One day, Job C. Trippe, who was a classmate of John Mung, happened to come into the latter’s room and found him crying with his face buried in the small tattered kimono. When John told him why he was crying in such a manner, Job Trippe began to cry and they both cried together for some time. But when he suddenly noticed that John Mung’s head was sticking out of a big hole in the kimono, he began to laugh and they both laughed together. Much impressed by Manjiro’s attachment for his mother, Job Trippe wrote a few days later a very touching composition on the theme of mother love. Those who heard him read this composition in class were deeply moved.
When John Mung came to live with Captain and Mrs. Whitfield at the Sconticut Neck farm, he lived in a home for the first time in his life. When a small boy, he had lost his father, and his mother was poor. She used to go down to the beach every day to help the fishermen draw dragnets to get a few small fish for her children. But in Sconticut Neck, he lived with his foster father and mother who were always kind to him, although like any other New England parents, they were by no means soft. At last, he could satisfy his hunger for fatherly love from Captain Whitfield. The three often worked together on the farm, and he was as happy as a boy could be. He worked hard and they liked him.
On Fourth of July he was taken by Captain Whitfield to Fairhaven to see the sham fight and the parade, which he always recalled and talked about even before the Japanese officials. In Sconticut Neck, he observed the quaint custom of Halloween and celebrated Christmas, with the tree, candles, presents, turkey dinner, and carols, in its New England setting.
In Sconticut Neck he soon found that there were several playmates with whom he could go fishing when he was not too busy farming or reading books. He made many friends. On May Day, John Mung and other children went a-Maying before sunrise in the nearby field to gather wild flowers and tree branches, and they returned to the village in triumph, John Mung carrying the Maypole. It was told by the late Mrs. Eldridge G. Morton that on a May Day when she was still a small child, John Mung hung a May basket on her door with the following verse: