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Captain Mary Patten of ‘Neptune’s Car’

While we’re celebrating Women’s History Month, it is worth remembering the story of Mary Patten’s captaining a 216-ft clipper ship around Cape Horn to San Francisco.

On a run from New York to San Francisco in 1856, the captain of the clipper ship Neptune’s Car fell ill. Then, somewhere in the vicinity of Cape Horn, Captain Joshua Patten fell into a coma. The first mate lobbied the crew to pull into Argentina or return to New York. The captain’s wife, Mary (the only other person aboard who could navigate), assured them that she could get them to San Francisco. She won their unanimous support.

Neptune’s Car rounded Cape Horn under her command, and arrived safely in San Francisco. At the time, Mary Patten was 19 years old — and eight months pregnant. She is considered the first female commander of an American merchant ship. The hospital at the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY, is named for her.

Captain Mary Patten
© 2023 Wikipedia

After 56 days she sailed Neptune’s Car into San Francisco without the aid of a pilot. One month after docking, she gave birth to her first child.



  1. Marlaina Pipal 1 year ago

    This surely impressed me. Awesome skill and confidence.

  2. Diane Austen 1 year ago

    Girl Power!

  3. Liz 1 year ago

    Fabulous story— thanks for posting

  4. Jim Boyd 1 year ago

    Mary Patten was definitely a wife who shared the confidence of her husband and truly understood the environment she traveled in. There is no doubt that she also held the respect of the officers and crew to be able to convince them that they could and should carry on. I’d have liked to have heard the conversations that transpired between the first mate and crew which convinced them to continue.

  5. Ron Harben 1 year ago

    When ‘Neptune’s Car’ finally dropped anchor in San Francisco Bay, the crew rejoiced and threw a congratulatory party for the heroic wife of the captain who brought them safely into port. The food and drink was abundant and Mary had consumed much rum (This was before anyone knew about FAS.) And, as drunken sailors are want to do, Mary got a very large tatoo on her on her very large pregnant belly; it read:


    • Paul 6 months ago

      Ha! You must have been reading family letters…. ole Aunt Nelly used to tell some duzzy’sd – OR you must have just made that up! Ha!!

    • Ron Harben 6 months ago

      Yep, just made it up.

  6. Brent Gilliland 1 year ago

    Incredible and inspiring. More than anything, this is a testament to the strength and influence of a solid, trusting marriage. And Mrs. Patten was with child-wow! Mary Patten for President!

  7. milly Biller 1 year ago

    There is a wonderful book about this- I believe it is called ” Captain’s Wife” or something like that. I have it somewhere in the library, and will dig it out again

  8. George DeVore 1 year ago

    Ten years ago we named our own boat after the fabled Clipper ship. The classical context of ‘car’ in the pre-automotive age conveyed to me something like Neptune traversing the seas in his chariot. In all that time only one person has approached us with knowledge of the Clipper ship and Mary Patten. What a feat she accomplished in an all-male seafaring environment! Can you imagine how little respect was afforded women in the 19th century? An inspiring story that we always enjoy hearing.

  9. Bill Nork 1 year ago

    Awesome woman!

  10. Woody 1 year ago

    Great story by John Riise. We need more stories like this in Lectronic ! Keep them coming. JR……

    Captain John “Woody Skoriak”

  11. Terry Collister 1 year ago

    Why had no one made a movie of this?

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