MAYO, WILLIAM S[TARBUCK] (1811–1895). Born in Ogdensburg,
New York, William S. Mayo was a successful physician and author of popular
adventure fiction. His mother’s family had been in the whaling industry for
generations, and his father served in the merchant marine and owned a
boatbuilding business. Family lore and his father’s tales probably contributed to his desire for adventure and influenced his writings about the sea.
From 1838 to 1840 Mayo sailed to northern Africa, the Barbary Coast, and
Spain; although he reportedly kept notebooks of these journeys, none have
been found.
Mayo’s fiction satisfied the popular appetite for exotic travel adventure.
His travel experience formed the basis of his first novel, the critically acclaimed and best-selling Kaloolah; or, Journeyings to the Djebel Kumri: An
Autobiography of Jonathan Romer (1849), which focuses on the protagonist’s adventures in America, at sea, and in Africa. His second novel, The
Berber (1850), which features a Barbary pirate,* was based on Mayo’s travels
and his study of Moorish life and customs. Romance Dust from the Historic
Places (1851), a collection of miscellaneous writings, also focuses on the sea
adventures of captains, pirates, and merchants. Mayo often touched on social
issues and the need for reform in his sea fiction. In “The Captain’s Story”
(1846) and Kaloolah, he denounced the harsh treatment of sailors. Also in
Kaloolah the evils of slavery are represented through a depiction of the brutal
conditions aboard a slave ship. Kaloolah has been suggested as a source for
Herman Melville’s* Moby-Dick* (1851); an article by Cecil D. Eby Jr., published in the New England Quarterly, compares the two works (1962).
In 1851 Mayo married into wealth, resigned his medical practice, and
pursued private business interests. In 1862 he published a thirty-three-page letter to Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of the navy, Gideon Welles, in which
he presented his plan for establishing American control of the seas. He did
not publish fiction again until his 1871 novel of manners, Never Again.