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A Shooting in Searsport

Researched by Leo Shea, Ph.D.

Lincoln Ross Colcord

Lincoln Ross Colcord

Want insight into Lincoln Colcord? Into the man and his times? Into his able, vast nautical, literary, social and political experiences and opinions? The Penobscot Marine Museum has an extensive “Colcord Collection”, in which you can find a considerable amount of his correspondence, manuscripts, photographs – they even have his typewriter! The bulk of this article is based upon file PMM 29-460, acquisition LB2005.29, in the Penobscot Marine Museum archives.

Lincoln Ross Colcord (1883-1947) is perhaps best known for his prolific writing. He authored innumerable articles, short stories, poems, as well as some novels. He also was a literary critic and provided newspapers, magazines and publishers with a seemingly uncountable number of book reviews. He was instrumental in establishing and operating the Penobscot Marine Museum.

Lincoln Colcord was a very social person. He had an extensive network of friends and acquaintances. Writers, mariners, academics, actors, artists and politicians easily befriended him. He even knew a pre-revolution Russian Prince! Of course, he was close to many, many Mainers, both mariners and landlubbers alike.

Before launching into telling you about a particularly humanitarian marshalling of his social network, let me provide some 1944-1945 Searsport, Maine context.

World War II was beginning to wind down in Europe. The local weekly newspaper, The Republican Journal, was filled with articles about locals in the military service and advertisements for purchasing war bonds. On Wednesday, November 29, 1944, two Nazi spies were put ashore in Frenchman Bay, off of the German submarine U-1230. They landed at Hancock Point, about two miles from Ellsworth. The following Sunday, December 3, 1944, off Mount Desert Island, U-1230 sunk a Canadian ship bound for St. John, New Brunswick, killing 42 crew members. This sinking was later believed to be a diversion to assist the spies in avoiding the FBI, Army and Navy personnel swarming over the entire mid-Coast area. The spies made their way to New York City; their primary mission was to determine whether the US would use the a-bomb on Germany.

Searsport was especially important to the military. Mack Point served as a Port of Embarkation for ammunition and high explosives going to Europe during WWII. In fact, Searsport shipped 435,573 tons of ammunition and high explosives between December, 1941 and August, 1945 (http://usmm.org – see “Troops and Cargo Transported During World War II Under US Army Control”). Lincoln Colcord’s correspondence at the time occasionally noted the Liberty ships in Penobscot Bay, heavily laden with bombs, as well as the patrolling Navy destroyers, particularly when writing fellow mariners or his son.

Lewis H. Rich (1905-1988) was born in Searsport and lived there throughout his life. He was a very hardy, healthy man who was usually employed as an electrician and who supplemented his income by lobstering. At the time at hand, Mr. Rich was employed as a foreman on the dock at the Port of Embarkation. He also served as President of Local 1519 of the International Longshoreman’s Association. This union local consisted of roughly 600 Port of Embarkation workers.

Exactly a week after the two Nazi spies landed on Hancock Point, on Wednesday, December 6, 1944, Lewis Rich was approached by two Army officers seeking his assistance. You see, there were suspicions about strangers seen in and about a small house or shack that was located near the shore by Mr. Rich’s house. Not surprisingly, given the wartime circumstances, rumors about the strangers developed.

Army Captain H.B. Morris and a Lt. Collins travelled from Boston to investigate the suspicions. They asked Mr. Rich to assist them in locating the building. He immediately complied.

The Army officers located the place in question but found that its door was padlocked. Nevertheless, Capt. Morris believed that it was essential to gain entrance. They would have to break in. So, Capt. Morris took his Thompson submachine gun and slammed the butt of it onto the padlock to smash it open. That is when his “Tommy gun” discharged, about a foot from Lewis Rich’s arm. The .45 bullet shattered a bone in his arm and tore away about an inch of the main nerve running down the arm, which controls hand movement. Of course, Mr. Rich could have been killed.

The local physicians could only work on Mr. Rich’s wound, not the severed nerve. As a result of the nerve damage, his hand was immobile. He could not move his fingers. There was no feeling in the hand. And, he needed to wait until the wound healed before they could work on the nerve. Finally, on February 16, 1945, Dr. Henry Marble sewed the nerve together during a 2 ½ hour operation at the Massachusetts General Hospital. After the operation Mr. Rich’s wife, Rose (nee: Keegan – 1906-1981), a practical nurse, stayed in Boston with him, providing the constant attention he needed for his seven week recovery period.

A year after the shooting, Lewis Rich was still unable to use his hand and could barely bend his fingers. He could not work at the Port of Embarkation, nor at his electrical or lobstering businesses. He had paid all of the medical bills. He and his wife were in serious financial difficulty.

Lincoln Colcord was outraged about the shooting and Mr. Rich’s plight. He wanted to help. Beginning May 10, 1945, he contacted Congresswoman Margaret Chase Smith. He wanted her to intervene on Mr. Rich’s behalf. At the time, Congresswoman Smith represented Maine’s Second Congressional District, which included Searsport. Lincoln had other business with her as well, in her capacity as a member of the then House Naval Affairs Committee. It seemed highly unlikely that Lewis Rich would get anywhere on his own.

Lincoln Colcord became a marvelous and eloquent advocate for Mr. Rich. He saw Lewis as a war casualty who was not interested in pursuing a pension. He noted that the Army did not deny the incident. However, in August, 1945, the Army paid but $485 of Mr. Rich’s $615 medical expenses, and, denied any additional payment for the loss of his work wages, for his wife’s time in caring for him and her loss of work wages, as well as for any additional medical expenses subsequent to August, 1945. Interestingly, adjusted for inflation, a 1945 dollar is worth $13.19 in 2015 (http://dollartimes.com).

Lincoln continued to advocate for Mr. Rich. He pointed out that Lewis’s injury could be a lifelong disability. He provided Congresswoman Smith with a rationale for Mr. Rich receiving a one-time payment of $15,000 to fully settle matters and all of the medical documentation. He suggested that Capt. Morris should be court martialed. Congresswoman Smith agreed with Lincoln and began the frustrating, arduous process of trying to make the financial matters better for Mr. Rich. She told Lincoln in her letter of May 15, 1945, that “The Rich case is one of the most amazing that I have heard about…”. She began an inquiry with the Army about Capt. Morris. On July 18, 1945, she notified Lincoln about what disciplinary action was taken against Capt. Morris – he was reprimanded. Lincoln later discovered that Capt. Morris had been transferred from Boston to Chicago.

By February, 1946, Lewis’s physicians believed he needed another operation. Lewis could not afford it. Lincoln notified Congresswoman Smith, who introduced a bill in the House of Representatives (H.R. 434, 80th Congress, 1st Session), seeking to provide Mr. Rich with a settlement sum of $15,000. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. On July 2, 1947, it was amended to the sum of $4000. H.R. 434 as amended was approved on July 30, 1947 (http://library.clerk.house.gov – see: “Calendars of the US House of Representatives and History of Legislation”). This was about four months before Lincoln Colcord died.

I wonder:
Did Lewis Rich ever regain the use of his hand?
How did Lewis Rich fare the rest of his life?
Why didn’t the Army officers take the time to get a tool, such as a crowbar?
Did anyone ever find the suspicious strangers?
Was the drastic reduction of the settlement sum a typical reflection of why President Harry S. Truman called the 80th Congress “the do nothing Congress”?
Just how would Lincoln Colcord have written this story for a magazine or newspaper?

Searsport Sea Captains React to the Fall of the American Merchant Marine

By Cipperly Good, PMM Collections Manager

During the American Civil War, as the Confederates immobilized 40% of Union ships, shipowners chose to reregister under foreign flags gaining protection from a law prohibiting the sinking of foreign neutral vessels. After reconciliation, Congress debated whether to repeal a 1797 law, which stated that once reflagged, a vessel could not repatriate to the United States. The Jones Act of 1817 prohibited US domestic port-to-port trade by foreign-flagged vessels. Shipbuilders from Maine and elsewhere, seeing a profit to be made by rebuilding the American Merchant Marine from scratch, successfully lobbied their legislators to keep the 1797 law intact. The American Merchant Marine never fully recovered.

The letters and newspaper editorials of Searsport’s sea captains began noting the decline. They blamed the government, competency of the crew and economics. David Nickels wrote in 1872:

But a few years since we had the largest Merchant Marine in the world…Now Alas how fallen- But I must confess I feel very little interest in its enlargement. We can never compete with England whilst our duties and taxes are so high on all that enters into the construction and fitting of ships. I cannot expect to see much change for the better in my days of service…

Perhaps when we have female suffrage we may manage to have a better-regulated tariff. But I presume the majority will vote the republican ticket, And as the party goes for the protection of large Corporations, and monopolies, individual enterprise will not much benefit by any reforms which the female Suffagians may inaugurate…

In all my going to sea, I have never had so inefficient a ship’s company. I cannot get anything done, without being on hand all the time. I am ready to swear to the best of my knowledge and belief, that the material which enters into the construction of the young men of the present day, must be sadly diluted.

Ship WILLIAM H. CONNER

Ship WILLIAM H. CONNER

Despite the hope of Maine shipbuilders for an increase of business, in 1877 Searsport built the last of its ships, the WILLIAM H. CONNER. Henry Hall reported on Searsport’s shipbuilding as part of the 1880 census:

All the vessels built were owned there, and it is said that there never was a vessel built on contract in Searsport for outside owners. A few years ago, when coasters became unprofitable, builders and investors turned their attention to other forms of business, and the industry has nearly died out in consequence…Excellent shipyards exist, but their value is not rated above one-third what it used to be.

In his shipboard newspaper, The Ocean Chronicle, Edward Payson Nichols blames government policies. In his October 9, 1883 editorial, Nichols writes:

What is to be the future of the American ships, and what is become of the few that are now remaining? Government will swallow them up…

the moment [an American ship] strikes the water all the birds gather around for a taste of the carcass: the broker, ship-chandler, carpenter, sail-maker, butcher, blacksmith, and down swoops the American eagle to fill her rapacious maw, and fastens her talons on the choiced bits. What does Government do for ships?…

Nothing for, lots against.

With American shipbuilding holding tenaciously to wooden construction with the rest of the developed nations building in iron, Nichols addresses the free ship, or foreign-flagged vessel controversy, in his December 4, 1885 editorial:

We have been listening for the last twenty years to arguments in favor of, and against “free ships.” Our sympathy has mostly been against, but, when it is all looked over, what is our gain by excluding foreign built ships from carrying our flag? All the legislation in the world will never make wood compete with iron. Iron ships are now being built for less than 10 pounds a ton, which is as cheap as a wooden one can be made, and then the iron ship goes into the market and takes five shillings a ton more freight than the wooden one, which is often 15 percent, so the wooden vessel which just pays her bills, has to compete with the iron one which divides 15 percent of her freight…

The cry is, “We must protect our Merchant Marine,”- “Admitting ‘free ships’ would ruin our Coasting trade.”…There is not half of our coasters that pay more than bills, and depreciation; so the ones who really gain are those who have the bills, while the capital is not increased.

In his January 28, 1891 editorial, Nichols was still writing about the free ship debate:

Our Maine Senators, and Congressmen…prevent the building up of the U.S. Merchant Marine. It is a wonder they have been able to fight off the “free ship fallacy” and keep off intruders as long as they have…

what seems strange, is that there was not sound judgment enough to see that if there was nothing done to stimulate the building of ships, the ship might as well come in “free” as to employ the foreign ship and have none of our own…

Without aidfrom the government, the free ship will never do us more harm than it is now doing as belonging to another country, and as long as there is nothing done by the country, it will matter but little whether the ships hoist the Stars and Stripes, or some foreign flag, for the foreigner will get the money “all sa-mee.” There are a few fine ships belonging to the United States, but when the Stars and Stripes are hoisted at the peak, the ship is an honor to the flag, but the flag, no honor to the ship.

By 1902, Searsport fathers were discouraging their sons from entering the Merchant Marine. Lincoln Alden Colcord wrote to his son Lincoln Ross Colcord:

I think…that you would make a most perfect sailor, and perhaps your health would be better on the sea; but we all know that the day has gone by when sea-faring was a profession of a young boy to take up…

It is my hope now, that you will have a chance to get out the best there is in you.

Lincoln Ross Colcord’s response was to chronicle the American Merchant Marine through fictional sea stories based on his childhood in the China Trade, writing articles for the American Neptune and cofounding Penobscot Marine Museum.

Please visit the archives to read more primary sources about Searsport’s contributions to the American Merchant Marine. Select quotes were taken from original copies of the Ocean Chronicle, letters in the Nichols, Nickels, and Dow family papers, and the Colcord Collection. Photos of the captains mentioned in this article are also available through the online collections database: http://penobscotmarinemuseum.pastperfectonline.com.

The Fowler-True-Ross House

By Deborah Nowers

fowler-houseThe Fowler-True-Ross House sits prominently on Main Street and is a major building of the Penobscot Marine Museum. The docents who work in the house asked the library researchers for information related to the ownership of the house and whether there were objects in the collection that belonged to the residents. The collection includes a folder on the house that lists the ownership from a title search at the Registry of Deeds, but little on who they were.

Being a genealogist, I sought to identify the family groups who had lived in the house. I began with a time line begun by another volunteer listing the deed transfers and the individuals involved. Slowly I filled in the families. Using the resources in the library and internet sources, the families came into focus.

The land on which the house is situated was part of a large tract of land owned by Gen. Henry Knox. He had acquired much of the Waldo Patent, originally the property of Brigadier General Samuel Waldo, by marrying Waldo’s granddaughter, Lucy Flucker. A map in the Maine Historical Society includes a notation that the tract contained “576,000 acres equal to 30 miles square.”

General Knox then divided the land and sold parcels. In 1799, Robert Lord Sargent of Islesboro purchased the land where the Fowler-True-Ross house stands which was then in Prospect. He is enumerated in the 1800 U.S. Census in Prospect and in 1801 sold the parcel to Ephraim Colson, Sr.

Ephraim Colson’s family is outlined in a folder in the collection of Priscilla A. Jones, a well-known local genealogist whose papers are housed in the PMM library. It is unclear if Ephraim and his wife Phebe lived on the property. It seems likely as his five oldest children are recorded as born in Prospect between 1797 and 1804.

Fowler PlotThe house’s first namesake, Miles Fowler, purchased the property in 1815 and it remained in his family for 152 years, through four generations. Miles Fowler, a sea captain, had married Jane True in 1813. Their four children—Rufus Warren, Martha Jane, Cyrus True and Emily—grew up there. The PMM publication, Searsport Sea Captains reports he was captain on seven vessels from 1817 to 1840. He served in the War of 1812 as a private from September 2 to 21, 1814. In 1837, he was appointed Postmaster for West Prospect—now Searsport.

It appears from the deeds that the property was mortgaged in 1839 and redeemed in 1840, and sometime in the early 1840s Miles and Jane separated. In 1843, the property was purchased in trust for Jane Fowler and she subsequently purchased it for $1. She continued to live there and is enumerated in the 1850 Census in what had become Searsport with her son, Cyrus True; he was no longer using the Fowler last name. Miles was living in Bangor with a new wife and daughter.

At Jane’s death in 1857, the house passed to her three surviving children, Rufus Warren, Cyrus and Martha Jane. Rufus Warren Fowler’s wife Nancy then purchased it from the siblings. After her death in 1862, Rufus Warren became the owner. Like his father, he was a sea captain, also included in Searsport Sea Captains.

Only two of his children survived Rufus Warren, and at his death in 1873, Rufus Warren, Jr. and his brother Frederick inherited the house. Rufus Warren, Jr. purchased it and presumably lived there with his wife Abbie and children. The house was purchased in 1896, by his uncle Cyrus True. It then passed to Lucy (Merrithew) Ross, the wife of Cyrus’ nephew Andrew M. Ross, the son of Martha Jane (Fowler) and Andrew J. Ross. Father and son were sea captains.

Their daughter Rebecca M. Ross, a teacher, inherited the house in 1937 and sold it to the Museum in 1967.

The Museum collections contain a number of objects connected to the Fowler, True and Ross families. Miles’s eyeglasses, Martha Jane (Fowler) Ross’s portrait shows her wearing a broach that is also part of the collection. Her brother Cyrus True is represented with a half model, a trunk and a compass. There are photographs of Rufus Warren Fowler, Jr. and Andrew M. Ross as well as a collection of navigation instruments owned by Andrew M. Ross.

Fowler Descendants

Teaching with Small Boats Alliance

Searsport District High School students build a Shellback dinghy at PMM

Searsport District High School students build a Shellback dinghy at PMM

The sea connects all things. As we observed Columbus Day this past week, I traveled down to Mystic Seaport to attend the Teaching with Small Boats Alliance conference. However we feel about this holiday, we can agree that the Europeans came to America by ship. Whether it was the Viking and Basque fishermen looking for a new fishing spot or European navies looking for mast trees, a ship on the ocean brought them to the North American continent, and the Gulf of Maine in particular. Having found the riches of the continent, a trans-Atlantic and eventually a global trade was born. The best way to transport goods to market is by the sea. A single vessel can carry more of a load than any land-based mode of transport. Searsport and Maine in general provided the bulk of the United States’ deepwater sailors and officers in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the majority of the last wooden merchant sailing Downeasters and multi-masted schooners were built in our state’s coastal communities. Young children in Maine grew up learning science, technology, engineering and mathematics as they built boats and navigated them across vast oceans. Today our children are learning those skills in the classroom isolated from their real world applications and many students are failing those subjects.

The Penobscot Marine Museum is reaching out to those students failing in the traditional classroom.  Studies of information retention put reading and verbal instruction as the least effective way of retaining information, yet that is how we teach in traditional classroom settings.  Museums with their exhibits and living history demonstrations where students can hear and see the information has a 50% retention rate.  The highest rate of retention is actually doing a task.  The Penobscot Marine Museum has partnered with the Searsport District High School and local boat-builder Greg Rössel in developing a hands-on science and math curriculum geared for optimum  retention.  The SDHS teachers have developed science and math curriculum tied to building the Shellback dinghy. A select group of SDHS students during the spring semester take a class at the Penobscot Marine Museum with Greg Rössel.  While few of the students will pursue a career in boatbuilding, they come away with an understanding of trigonometry, physics, algebra, geometry and their own skills.  Wanting to know more and connect with similar programs, the Museum sent me as a representative of this partnership to the Teaching with Small Boats Alliance conference.

Searsport District High School Students working on a Shellback dinghy at PMM

Searsport District High School Students working on a Shellback dinghy at PMM

The Teaching with Small Boats Alliance (TWSBA) is a network of maritime schools, boat-building shops, museums and community groups whose vision is to give young people an awareness of and resulting pride in their learning through the hands-on study of the maritime arts, its history and its   relationship to success in math and science.  TWSBA’s mission is to   improve the effectiveness of these organizations through a sharing of ‘best practices’ that promote the values of scholarship, craftsmanship, ingenuity,   self-discipline and a true sense of accomplishment.  The conference this   year focused on organizational development, program development and curriculum   development.  It is all too easy to feel isolated when pursuing   non-traditional models in schools and museums; it is such a relief to meet   with sister institutions from across the United States that have implemented   similar programs and who are willing to share their successes and   failures.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel when so many are   willing to share their resources.  There were sessions on the   nitty-gritty issues of insurance, fundraising, human relations, and   leadership which, while not that fun, are necessary to   fulfill our programmatic mission to inspire, educate and recreate.    Other sessions discussed how to get passionate adult volunteers to provide   necessary, but otherwise costly, assistance in the boat shop and providing   one-on-one tutorials in boat-building with the students.  Representatives   from the United States’ nineteen maritime primary and high schools provided   insights in how to “marinize” the Common Core standards, reflecting how the   sea connects all things and all subjects.  Our location on Penobscot   Bay provides students with an open-air classroom in history, biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, etc.

Passamaquoddy ocean-going canoe

Passamaquoddy ocean-going canoe at TWSBA conference

Of course all talk and no hands-on activities is an anathema to this   group.  I brought down the Passamaquoddy ocean-going canoe built by members of the Penobscot and Western Abenaki nations during the summer of 2006 on the Museum grounds.   Between 2005 and 2010, native apprentices learned the art of birchbark canoe-building on our campus and demonstrated the process to our visitors.  The canoe was a project of note in the Indigenous Programs presentation at the TWSBA conference. Attendees spent three afternoons admiring their   workmanship and taking it out for a paddle in the Mystic  River.    In addition to paddling our canoe, I took a row in the four-man St. Ayles Skiff and one-man Bevin’s Skiff built by other student organizations.

Native apprentices build a Passamaquoddy ocean-going canoe at PMM

Native apprentices build a Passamaquoddy ocean-going canoe at PMM

I returned from the conference inspired to do more hands-on learning projects.  If you are interested in this way of learning, please visit   the Teaching With Small Boats Alliance website at https://sites.google.com/site/twsballaince/   .  Once you too are inspired, contact the Museum about volunteering with our area students at 207-548-2529 or skettell@pmm-maine.org .

Rowing the St. Ayle's Skiff

Rowing the St. Ayle’s Skiff

For Those in Peril: The Waterspout vs. the TROVATORE

Without the aid of NOAA weather radio or hurricane and storm tracking software, sailors had to rely on their weather eye and sound judgment to head for shore or batten down the hatches for a storm.  Shown here is the watercolor of the TROVATORE which wrecked when a waterspout hit it in the Mediterranean.

Oliver Park, First Mate of the TROVATORE

Oliver Park, Second Mate of the TROVATORE

Oliver Park relates the story: “When I came on deck I found a severe squall a-coming…  When the squall passed, which it did almost instantly, there was not a breath of air stirring. When it stopped, it stopped all at once. Voices sounded like hollering in a barrel. We staid [sic] in that state for a few moments. Then … a downpour of wind and water struck us. The last I saw was yards flying in all directions. Then I was submerged in water, and knew that the vessel was blown over on her side. The water was coming over me in such torrents that I thought the vessel was upside down and I was under her. But I happened to be on the upper side, and having to catch my breath I found I got a little air, and I hung on. Almost instantly the downpour of water stopped, and it stopped all at once.

A waterspout is like a tornado that picks up houses, only on the ocean it sucks up water into a big balloon-shaped body of water on a neck. When that neck hits something the water in the balloon comes down.  At the moment when that deluge of water poured over me, it was pitch dark, so I couldn’t see a thing, but in all probability the neck of the waterspout hit the vessel, and the water in the balloon-shaped part came down on us. When that downpour of water stopped so suddenly, the darkness grew less, and I could dimly see the state we were in. The masts were in the water, and the broad side of the vessel was up. I managed to climb up on the broadside, which was badly stove in.

Captain James Blanchard, master of the bark TROVATORE

Captain James Blanchard, master of the bark TROVATORE

[Emma Blanchard (wife of Captain James Blanchard) was stuck below was hollering]… She wanted to know if she couldn’t come out. Captain told her yes. I threw a rope down to where she was. Captain slid down on the skylight. She reached out and he took her by the hand. But he could not save her, for at that very moment, as we could tell by the sound, she died with her hand clasped in his. Instantly the vessel pitched forward, going down. I started and ran, and jumped right off the keel.

Bark TROVATORE

Bark TROVATORE

In the Water

The next thing I knew, I was being tumbled and jumbled upside down, going down in the suction of the vessel. But being a good swimmer from childhood, I knew what to do when I was in the water…In my aimless swimming I finally chanced to face west where a glimmer of light sky showed the breaking of the storm; and between me and that light streak I saw a dark object bobbing up and down. I …found it to be one of the main deck hatches about three feet wide and six feet long. …I found it would partially bear me up by lying lengthwise on it, concave side up, with my hand paddling at the side, stomach down.

I floated around on that for an indefinite period of time until I accidently ran afoul of another exactly like it. I got that other hatch and I wiggled around, and worked around and got under that other hatch crosswise. When I had the two of them, I could sit up instead of lying down, with only my legs in the water, but I didn’t have any rope to fasten them together, so I had to hold one against the other.

In the meantime the clouds had all rolled away, and a bright moon had come out. In the morning, I kept up a hollering all the time….[eventually] I heard the sound of a fog horn. Then I knew someone had heard my voice and was answering with a fog horn…. When the boat came up to me I reached out and caught the gunwale of the boat. But at that point the reaction set in and I had no control of my muscles. The men reached out and hauled me into the boat. I was so benumbed and bewildered I couldn’t speak.

It proved to be an Italian vessel…, they took me to the ship, where the other sailors rigged up a boswain’s [sic] chair which they put me in and hauled me aboard the vessel….and put me in a bunk.

One of only three survivors of the waterspout disaster, Oliver Park shipped back to New York aboard an American brig. His mother had heard the report that the TROVATORE had been lost, and only one officer and two sailors saved. Captain Greene Park, a captain with whom Oliver had served in the past, had reassured her and the whole neighborhood that “if swimming had anything to do with it I was the officer saved, for I was like a duck in water.”

For Those in Peril: Shipwreck Affects Four Searsport Families

Captain’s sons who wanted to go to sea learned on ships commanded by their father’s friends and colleagues.  It was a sad day when a ship went down with young men aboard.  The story of the wreck of the ELIZABETH is one of  loss for four Searsport families. Her master, Captain John Herbert Colcord, was travelling with his wife and two children, who were saved, although he died. Also drowned were James Edwin Herriman, 17-year-old son of Captain James Herriman, and Nathan Philip Pendleton, son of Captain Nathan Pendleton. Earlier, James Locke Pendleton, son of Captain James Gilmore Pendleton, was killed falling from the ELIZABETH’s rigging.  The Colcords had a long history of trading in San Francisco Harbor, and when the ship went down, Captain Colcord’s loss was felt in his hometown of Searsport and that of San Francisco.  A set of resolutions of regret for the untimely death of the Captain, and expressing the high esteem in which he was held, was drawn up by the principal merchants of San Francisco, engrossed and framed, and after being exhibited in the old Merchants’ Exchange, was presented to his widow.

 

Memorial Citation for Captain Herbert Colcord of the ELIZABETH

Resolutions of Regret for Captain J. Herbert Colcord of the ELIZABETH

Chief officer W.C. Barclay gave the following account of the loss:

We arrived off San Francisco… Feb. 21, 1891.  Despite the offer of two tugs to tow the ship through the Golden Gate, Captain Colcord proceeded under sail until 2 pm, when she was nearly through the Golden Gate, and the wind shifted, heading her off.  The tug ALERT, which had followed the ship in, offered to tow us for $50, which offer Captain Colcord accepted …  As soon as the tug started ahead, the hawser parted and the ship commenced to drift in towards the shore…The tug came up again and wanted us to take his hawser on our quarter to tow the ship off stern first, as the Captain thought we were setting in shore.  As the ship was paying off all right, Captain Colcord ordered the tug to pass the hawser over the bow and go ahead, which was done and proceeded towards the city….The ship at this time was drifting steadily to leeward, there being a strong and increasing breeze and the tug being unable to make any headway.  At about 4pm the ship struck heavily on Four Fathom Bank or Potato Patch, the tug still towing and whistling for assistance.  Soon after striking, the hawser broke or was cut away.  Part of the ship’s keel floated alongside and the ship commenced to leak badly….The tug RELIANCE now came to us and the ALERT went away.  Captain Colcord ordered the second cutter launched to carry his wife and two children to the tug, but she swamped under …with three men in her, they being picked up by the tug.  The dingie was then launched with mate Barclay and two men…Captain Colcord persuaded his family to get in the boat.  They were taken on board the RELIANCE and the dingie again returned to the ship.  By this time the ACTIVE had passed her hawser to the ship, she having worked over the bank…Captain Colcord decided to get the ship into the harbor and beach her, if a suitable place could be found.  The RELIANCE made fast to the ACTIVE and towed ahead of her but the ship drifted steadily leeward all the time, the wind having increased to a heavy gale.  Captain Colcord ordered…the long boat turned over…Mr. Barclay went forward and seeing the ship was close in to the breakers, launched the boat at once, put three men in her and ordered the second mate and boatswain not to allow the boat to leave the ship until he returned with the master.  Mr. Barclay then went aft to get the Captain, who had been injured in the side…but…the ship’s stern struck and she swung around broadside to the beach, with heavy seas breaking over her, it being about 7 pm…Captain Colcord was told that the boat was ready and that it was time to leave the ship.  He at first demurred, saying he was too much hurt to help himself, but he was finally persuaded to make an attempt.  While Mr. Barclay and one of the crew were assisting him along the main deck, a heavy sea came on board and injured him so that he died.  Mr. Barclay then went forward and found that the boat with 13 men in her had left the ship and could not return, leaving 9 on board.  We secured ourselves as well as possible forward.  About 8 pm the masts commenced to come down and the ship to break up, driving us out on the bowsprit.  A heavy sea washed us overboard and only Mr. Barclay succeeded in reaching the shore alive.  Four of the men from the longboat also got ashore.  The tugs had disappeared in the darkness.”

Ship ELIZABETH

Ship ELIZABETH

Of the 29 persons on board, 18 were lost.

For Those in Peril: Rescuing Fellow Mariners

When a ship suffers disaster far away from the nearest Coast Guard Base, the Coast Guard puts out a call to other civilian and naval ships in the distressed vessels area to come to their aid.  This age old tradition of assisting your fellow mariners in need often goes unheeded.  The Ladies Seamen’s Friend Society ensured that recognition went to these civilian rescuers, as evidenced by this silver medal given to Albert A. Gould of Lincolnville for his assistance in the rescue of the schooner JANE’s crew.

Ladies Seaman's Friend Society Medal awarded to A. A. Gould of Lincolnville, Maine

Ladies Seaman’s Friend Society Medal awarded to A. A. Gould of Lincolnville, Maine

The schooner JANE of Bangor, ME dragged onto the rocks at the entrance to New Haven Harbor, Connecticut and sank at 2 am on February 28, 1884 during a furious gale. The thermometer only registered 6 degrees above zero.  News of the wreck reached New Haven at 8 am and numerous rescue attempts were enacted.  The tug WILLIAM narrowly escaped swamping in the heavy seas in  the first rescue attempt.  The captain of the WILLIAM joined the tug FREDERICK C. IVES crew.  Nearing the wreck, the tug’s yawl attempted to reach the schooner, but was too frail and small for such work.  The tug could not approach any closer without wrecking on the reef itself.  Heading back for the harbor, they borrowed the yawl of the schooner ROBERT MORGAN, as well as two of the MORGAN’s crew.  Four volunteers in the yawl were able to rescue the JANE’s captain and two of her crew by passing several times over the wreck between her masts, rather than tying off and risking swamping the yawl.  The JANE’s crew had lashed themselves into the rigging, and had to time their descent down the icy shrouds of the schooner and into the yawl.  The fourth crewmember, Elsen, was too benumbed with cold to descend the rigging and it was impossible for the volunteers to rescue him as they became frostbitten and the yawl iced up.  They promised to return speedily and took the three crewmembers ashore.  The tug returned to port and borrowed the yawl of the schooner EMMA F. ANGELL and eight volunteers, including Capt. Albert A. Gould of Lincolnville, who proceeded out into the gale, which still howled with unabated fury, and struggled for an hour to return to the wreck but, succumbing to frostbite, returned to shore to dry out and try again in the afternoon after the storm began to abate.  Darkness set in when they reached the wreck, but they found Elsen still alive.  In a lull in the wind, a volunteer sprang into the rigging and with much difficulty helped the Elsen down into the yawl.  They rowed as quickly as they could back to shore and Elsen was taken to the hospital in New Haven.  The howling of the tempest, the dangerous character of the sea and the intense cold were almost enough to deter the stoutest hearts from venturing out, and it was great wonder that no one died.

For Those in Peril: Confederates on the High Seas

War put civilian merchant ships at risk as the opposing side sought to disrupt commerce.  The Confederate raiders terrorized Yankee shipping on the high seas.  The JOSEPH PARK of Searsport  was burned by the Confederate privateer SUMTER.

Capture of the Brig JOSEPH PARK by the privateer SUMTER. Sept. 25, 1861. signed George E. Bates, Stockton

Capture of the Brig JOSEPH PARK by the privateer SUMTER. Sept. 25, 1861. signed George E. Bates, Stockton

A sister ship from Searsport, the DELPHINE with Captain William Greene Nichols and his wife Lillias aboard, was taken by the SHENANDOAH in the Indian Ocean on December 29, 1864.  Lillias fought the Confederate’s fire with a tongue-lashing of her own.  A newspaper article commemorating Lillias’ 90th birthday tells the tale:

The SHENANDOAH lulled her victims into a false sense of security by flying the English flag.  Seeing another ship on the broad ocean provided crews and captains with a chance for a social call, and as Captain Nichols saw SHENANDOAH approach, he drew closer for a chat.  Once in range though, the SHENANDOAH fired a blank shot and then began clearing away her two forward guns, which caused Captain Nichols to hove to.  Lieut. Waddell of the SHENANDOAH informed Nichols that the vessel would be sunk, to which Nichols informed him that his wife was aboard and she was a delicate and nervous woman who would not survive the transfer to the Confederate ship.  Waddell seriously considered allowing the DELPHINE go, but had the ship’s surgeon check on Mrs. Nichols, who turned out to be a robust woman with strong nerves and an acid tongue.

Lillias Pendleton Nichols

Lillias Pendleton Nichols

The transfer of Lillias, her son Phineas aged six, and the steward’s wife was effected by a bosun’s chair from the SHENANDOAH.  Lillias insisted on bringing her canary bird in its cage and with perfect self-possession ordered the sailors of SHENANDOAH when to raise and lower the chair.  Once aboard the Confederate vessel, she inquired of Lieut. Waddell what he intended to do with them and where they would be landed.  When Waddell informed her they would be landed on the island of St. Paul, an inhospitable volcanic rock in the South Indian Ocean, she replied; “Never, I would rather stay with you.”

Captain William Greene Nichols

Captain William Greene Nichols

The SHENANDOAH set fire to the DELPHINE, and she drifted out of sight with her sails ablaze, a mass of flame and smoke.  Capt. Nichols took the loss hard, and as he was pacing a Lieut. Chew of the SHENANDOAH tried to comfort him saying “Captain, just think that if at daylight this morning you had changed your course a quarter of a point, you would have passed out of our reach and sight.”  To which Nichols replied: “That shows how darn little you know about it.  This morning at daylight I just did change my course a quarter of a point and that’s what fetched me here.”

The SHENANDOAH took the prisoners to Hobson’s Bay in Australia near Melbourne.  The books Lillias had brought onboard were returned to her, except for Uncle Tom’s Cabin which was tossed overboard and Capt. Nichols ship’s chronometer was kept.    Lillias’ reaction was “If those chronometers and sextants were mine, I guess I’d make them give them to me.”  Her last words to the SHENANDOAH crew were “I wish that steamer may be burned.”

CLARISSA B. CARVER v. GLENMORGANSHIRE

As shipping traffic increased in the 1800s, the number of collisions between ships rose.  The reason?  “The other guy wasn’t paying attention and hit me” or “I had the right of way!”  The rules of the road (sailing vessels with less maneuverability have right of way over small powered vessels, large tankers which have a slow response time in stopping or turning, have right of way over everyone) lessen the collisions, but only if there are no dare devils and if everyone is paying attention.

CLARISSA B. CARVER

CLARISSA B. CARVER

On the night of June 7, 1885, the ship CLARISSA B. CARVER of Searsport sailed into Hiogo Bay headed for the port of Kobe, Japan.  Bearing down on her was the British steamer GLENMORGANSHIRE.  Captain Leroy Dow of the CARVER ascertained that he had the right-of-way and his own vessel’s running lights were burning brightly, and ordered his helmsmen to hold his course.  The GLENMORGANSHIRE stayed on the collision course until she was three lengths from the CARVER, then turned her helm hard-a-port to cross the CARVER’s bow, instead the collision sank the CARVER in 40 minutes and so severely damaged the steamer that she had to be beached.  Luckily the wind was light and the sea smooth, and the crew of the CARVER was able to abandon ship, save the flag, and row ashore.

Leroy Dow and friends in Yokohama

Leroy Dow and friends in Yokohama

Dow immediately secured the services of British lawyer Lowder to institute proceedings against the steamer to recover damages.  While he waited for the case to go to trial, Dow secured a job clerking for American ships discharging and loading cargo in Kobe.  Dow was given an advance on the $1500 court fees by Dr. Charles Goddard Weld of Boston (one of the original rusticators on North Haven), who only asked that Dow send him the amount, with no interest, if Dow won the case.  In all the case took a year and four months to try in British Admiralty Court.  The owners of the CARVER sued for $100,000 in damages and the GLAMORGANSHIRE counter sued for $61,500.

CLARISSA B. CARVER Wreck Testimory

CLARISSA B. CARVER Wreck Testimory

CLARISSA B. CARVER Wreck Survey

CLARISSA B. CARVER Wreck Survey

The masters of both vessels, crew members, divers and nautical assessors were called in to testify.  The case hinged on whether the steamer had seen the green starboard running light of the CARVER and had taken proper precautions to avoid her, as she had right-of-way.  Testimony showed the light was burning brightly, but not observed by the steamer’s lookout, who one judge noted, was “not a sharp hand.”  The judges ruled in favor of the CARVER, awarding $100,000 in damages.

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For Those in Peril: Fire and Wooden Ships

As one can imagine, wooden ships and fire do not make for a good day at sea. Cargoes of case oil, charcoal, guano, and lime were prone to catching fire, spontaneously combusting or smoldering. Numerous vessels met their demise carrying these cargos.

Ship RAPPAHANNOCK of Bath

Ship RAPPAHANNOCK of Bath

Captain Wiley Rogers Dickinson, master of the ship RAPPAHANNOCK

Captain Wiley Rogers Dickinson, master of the ship RAPPAHANNOCK

The ship RAPPAHANNOCK of Bath, under the command of Captain Wiley Rogers Dickinson, carrying a cargo of soft charcoal spontaneously combusted while traveling from Liverpool to San Francisco around Cape Horn on November 2, 1891. The ship was just two years old. Capt. Dickinson had his wife and two daughters Grace and Bessie on board the vessel.

Watercolor of the wreck of the ship RAPPAHANNOCK

Watercolor of the wreck of the ship RAPPAHANNOCK

Cumberland Bay on Robinson Crusoe Island, Juan Ferdinand Islands, Chile

Cumberland Bay on Robinson Crusoe Island, Juan Ferdinand Islands, Chile

The vessel made it to Cumberland Bay, on the northern end of the South Pacific Island of Juan Fernandez about 400 miles off the Chilean mainland, where she was completely destroyed. The crew of three mates, 26 men, the Captain and his wife and two daughters took refuge on Robinson Crusoe Island, and were eventually rescued by the Chilean Government steamer HUEMIAL, which took them to Valparaiso, Chile.

Chilean Flag

Chilean Flag given to Bessie Dickinson

Bessie Dickinson was given a Chilian Flag by Manuel Carera, on November 25, 1891, the morning she and the others of the left the island. As they were about to get into the boats, Manuel came running to the water’s edge where Bessie was standing. “Missy’, he said, ‘so many people ask Manuel for this flag’, clasping it to his breast,” so many offer Manuel money, but I do not give it to any of them.’ He pushed the flag into Bessie’s hands ‘I give it to the little Missy, so that someday when she is far away she will look at this flag and think of Manuel way down in these South Pacific Oceans. Maybe you will come back, maybe we will never see you, but you think of Manuel’. He brushed the tears from his eyes, as Bessie caught his two hands, her own eyes bright with tears at the unexpected gift, ‘Some day Manuel I hope we see you again, you’ve been so good to us. I don’t know what we would have done without you to help. I’ll always keep your flag.’ She ran down to the boat while Manuel stood there, a typical Robinson Crusoe, rugged as the hills that rose high in air back of him.”