On December 11, 1856, just 19 days after leaving Callao, William died, leaving his wife to bravely assist the crew in navigating the clipper ship to safety, battling harsh seas while coping with the loss of her husband. On December 13, the Challenger safely reached port at Valparaiso, where Rebecca, accompanied by her husband’s body, boarded a steam vessel that would bring them to Boston. Rebecca wrote very little immediately after the death of her husband, overwhelmed with grief for her loss. On December 22, she wrote, “William, my dear Husband, Let me devote the remainder of my Days on earth, in cherishing thy memory. William thou wast my first love, and never can I forget thee.”
At just 22 years old, Hannah Rebecca Burgess spent the rest of her days as a widow, living a quiet life at her family home in Sandwich. Rebecca was well supported by her family and friends and worked hard to raise money for a variety of projects for her church. The community embraced her. “They called her ‘Aunt Rebecca,’” Shockley says. She kept her promise to William that she would never take another husband. “Despite many proposals, Rebecca never married again,” Schofield says. “She was devastated after her husband’s death and visited his grave every day for quite some time.”
While Rebecca never navigated the open sea again, the memories of her trips with William and her heroic journey remain very real at the Sandwich Glass Museum’s fascinating exhibit. Pieced together, the documents, photographs, and other items tell a story of a young girl, a tragic love story, and an incredible journey—on land, on the sea, and through time.