Originally built in 1835, the Roman was converted from a ship to a bark in 1868 and used as a whaling vessel. Instead of having square-cornered sails on all three masts, a bark had triangular sails on the mizzenmast, which was the mast closest to the stern. As a bark, it needed fewer sailors to work the sails. The Roman weighed over 350 tons and was over 108 feet long and 28 feet wide. With two decks, three masts and a square stern, it also had a bluff bow, with a billethead as decoration.
Captain Jernegan's quarters needed to be adjusted to accomodate the addition of his family since women and children rarely traveled on whaleships. This space consisted of a living room and bedroom. In addition to the captain's bed, the bedroom had two bunks Laura and Prescott shared, with a lattice-work door to prevent them from falling out when the ship rolled in heavy seas. A "small house" or room, six or seven feet square was built on the upper deck in the rear of the ship. This was where the children played, read and studied, and where Helen most likely did much of her handiwork.
Martha's Vineyard Museum