Jeanne Baret, a French woman from the Loire Valley, and her lover, botanist Philibert Commerson, implemented an elaborate plot so she could join him on a French expedition around the world, led by explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville.
Just before Bougainville’s ship, the Etoile, set sail in December 1766, Baret dressed as a man and showed up on the dock to offer her services – introducing herself as “Jean.”
They set sail, and over the couple of years amassed more than 6,000 plant specimens – including one they named for the expedition’s commander, bougainvillea. Although later found out to be a woman, and disembarked along the way, she later made it back to France – the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. (Cohen)
The credit of first American woman to circumnavigate the globe is given to Lucia Ruggles Holman – like Jeanne Baret’s, her trip around the world had its complications.
The 1819 departure of the Pioneer Company of missionaries to the Islands missionary was in danger of indeterminate delay because they lacked a physician.
One in the company, Samuel Ruggles, thought of Lucia, his sister, and her suitor, Thomas Holman, a physician practicing in Cooperstown, New York. If the doctor could be persuaded to join the missionary cause, events could proceed on schedule.
Ruggles thought Lucia and Thomas could marry, and then he would have the company of kin on this endeavor. However, Holman, a recent graduate of Cherry Valley Medical School in New York could not marry due to the debts incurred by the doctor’s unsuccessful practice. Then, a solution appeared in the guise of becoming missionaries.
The Prudential Committee acting on behalf of the American Board assumed the debts, purchased the necessary medical books, instruments, drugs, and supplies, and sent Holman to the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall for training. (Wagner-Wright)
On October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of American Protestant missionaries from the northeast US set sail on the Thaddeus for the Hawaiian Islands.
Dr Thomas Holman and his wife Lucia joined two Ordained Preachers, Hiram Bingham and his wife Sybil and Asa Thurston and his wife Lucy; two Teachers, Mr. Samuel Whitney and his wife Mercy and Samuel Ruggles and his wife Mary; a Printer, Elisha Loomis and his wife Maria; and a Farmer, Daniel Chamberlain, his wife and five children.
After rounding Cape Horn (the southern tip of South America) and 164-days at sea, on April 4, 1820, the Thaddeus arrived and anchored at Kailua-Kona on the Island of Hawaiʻi. Hawai‘i’s “Plymouth Rock” is about where the Kailua pier is today.
On April 11, King Kamehameha II gave the missionaries permission to stay. However, “The King gives orders that Dr. H. and our teacher must land at Kiarooah – the village where he now resides, and the rest of the family may go to Oahhoo, or Wahhoo.”
“(H)e wanted the Dr. to stay with them, as they had no Physician and appeared much pleased that one had come; as to pulla-pulla (learning), they knew nothing about it. Consequently it was agreed that Dr. H. & Mr. Thurston should stay with the King and the rest of the family go to Oahhoo.” (Lucia Ruggles Holman)
Things did not go smooth for the Holmans and the rest in the mission – it started on the trip over – “Long before the close of the voyage this little community began most sensibly to feel the unpropitious influence of a most refractory spirit in (Dr Holman) …”
“… (who declared) determination not to comply with the principles established by the Board, & expressed to us in the instructions of the prudential committee, for the regulation of our economical policy.”
“Both the Dr. & his wife spoke often of acquiring personal wealth & returning early if they should succeed, to their own country. The Dr. objected to subscribing to our byelaws founded on the above named principles, because he said they cut him off from his original plans.”
“He wished to acquire the miens of returning at pleasure to America, & to educate his children there &c. … When he was referred to the general tenure of our instructions, he replied … that he had not subscribed them all &c. Sister H. too, from the time of leaving Boston repeatedly talked loudly of returning to her friends.”
“He has now received the 2nd admonition – Br. Thurston says ‘it is most manifestly our duty to proceed in our course of discipline with him even to excision if he does not confess his faults & evidence repentance future amendment’”. (Bingham to Samuel Worcester, October 11, 1820)
Dr. Holman, contrary to the unanimous advice and request of the brethren, left them, and went to reside on the island of Maui, more than 80 miles from any of them. This they considered an abandonment of the mission.
“The subject is too painful to dwell on, except when imperious duty demands – All the mission family is exhausted with it and with one voice, much as they need a physician, they would desire the Dr & his wife were safely landed on their native shore.” (Bingham to Evarts, November 2, 1820)
After only four months in the islands, the Holmans had not adjusted to the spirit of the mission. (Kelley) He withdrew from the mission on July 30, 1820 and returned to the US with his family (including Lucia Kamāmalu Holman born in 1821).
On October 2, 1821, Dr. Holman and family accepted free passage home on the Mentor, a whaleship, via China and the Cape of Good Hope. Mrs. Lucia Ruggles Holman is believed to be the first American woman to circumnavigate the globe. (Portraits)