By Cipperly Good, the Richard Saltonstall Jr. Curator of Maritime History
The sea chantey is the moment’s hottest fad on TikTok, a social media platform dedicated to song and dance. The chantey is meant to be bellowed six feet apart and to bring disparate work crews from many different nationalities, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds into alignment to “pull together” towards a common purpose. In the nineteenth century, it got sailing, fishing, and railroad crews to act as a unified force of effort. Today, the chantey allows us to raucously sing together in call and response, albeit remotely, into the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a tense presidential transfer of power, a racial reckoning, and seasonal affective disorder.
Although sea chanteys are an oral tradition that allowed the chanteyman to adapt the words to include inside jokes only the crew understood and pointed references to the bully mate or captain in coded language, some intrepid collectors copied down their favorite versions. Luckily for us at Penobscot Marine Museum (PMM), our very own Joanna Carver Colcord (1882-1960), a Searsport Sea Captain’s daughter and founding member of PMM, was one such compiler. In her foreword to Roll and Go: Songs of American Sailormen, written in 1924, she writes:
The following examples of these work-songs of the sea are drawn in part from my own memories of years spent on blue water under sail from 1890 to 1899, mostly on voyages between New York and various ports in the China Sea. In part, they are songs learned from my father, who loved them and sang them well, and whose seagoing began about the year 1874. This makes my versions of the songs later than the “classical” period of shanty-singing, which extended from about 1840 to the time of the Civil War. I also owe grateful acknowledgement to many shanty-singers still alive…
Shanties naturally fall into three main divisions on a scale of occupational classification: short-drag shanties [i.e. hauling sail onto top of yard], halyard shanties [i.e. raising sail], and windlass or capstan shanties [i.e.hauling up anchor]. The form of the shanty for each of these three divisions is quite different, since it is fitted to an altogether different job aboard ship. I have used this natural classification in the following pages as a means of dividing the collection into readable lengths, and also as an aid to the general reader in forming a clear conception of what the shanty stood for and how it was used.
Of course, when setting out to be the expert on a topic, there is always push back. Colcord lays out two pages of debate on the spelling of shanty versus chantey in her foreword. In our collection, we have correspondence between Colcord and Gershom Bradford on whether the song “Shenandoah” could be a halyard or capstan shanty:
PMM 29-1062, Colcord Collection
October 30, 1936
My dear Miss Colcord,
In my copy of your Roll and Go, Shenandoah is classed as a capstan shanty. I would like to ask if you ever heard it used in hoisting topsails or do you think it was ever used in that operation?
The reason I ask this is that my uncle who sailed in the Ocean Pearl in the 50’s as a seaman (later a captain in the Coast Survey) once told me the grandest music he ever heard was Shenandoah sung in gale when reefing topsails. He, or I, may not have been correct in our memories.
Just what constitutes a Sou’ Spainer? South of Spain or a real deepwaterman from around the “Capes”?I enjoyed your article in Yachting some months back.
PMM 29-1062, Colcord Collection
November 13, 1936
My dear Mr. Bradford
I have no doubt that Shenandoah was sometimes used as a topsail halyard shanty—indeed, its form, like that of Sally Brown and Goodbye, Fare Ye Well, indicates that it probably started life in that fashion. Some chance would seem to have led these songs being more frequently used, in later years, as capstan shanties.
The term ”Sou’Spainer” was not used in American sea-jargon, at least in my day. I have run across it in Masefield, and believe it must have been a British expression. the Yankee expression for a Mediterranean voyage was ”up the Straits”; I knew of no term by which the vessel or the seaman habitually in that trade was described….
Gershom Bradford III (1879-1978), who wrote the letter of inquiry to Joanna Colcord, was no stranger to the sea. He trained at the forerunner of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy to be a merchant marine captain, served as a bridge officer for the East Coast steamers used by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, rose to the rank of lieutenant as a navigator in the Navy Hydrographic Office, and trained the next generation of navigators at the US Shipping Board School in Boston. Bradford was in charge of writing the Notice to Mariners, put out by the Naval Hydrographic Office to correct errors or changes on nautical charts. In his private time, Bradford published books and articles on sailing and navigation, and like Joanna, wrote about sea terms. His book was titled: The Mariner’s Dictionary: A Glossary of Sea Terms, whereas Joanna’s was Sea Language Comes Ashore. Both also published articles in The American Neptune.
His uncle, and namesake, Gershom Bradford II (1838-1918), as noted in the letter, served as a seaman on the OCEAN PEARL in the 1850s, and later as a nautical surveyor and captain in the US Coast Survey. The US Coast Survey, which was renamed the Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1878, and finally became part of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in 1970, surveyed and created maps for mariners. Bradford’s name shows up as the Hydrographic Inspector on nautical charts. At the time of his 1871 marriage in San Francisco to fellow Duxbury, Massachusetts native Minnie Winsor, Bradford was an assistant on the US Coast Survey schooner MARCY surveying the shoals and coastlines of the United States. Minnie joined him on the surveys aboard the MARCY and later the YUKON and PALINURUS. While government ships are not known for their sea chanteys, Bradford definitely used the work songs in his time in the merchant marine. The OCEAN PEARL mentioned in the letter could possibly be the ship built in Charlestown, Massachusetts by T. McGowan in 1853.
It’s November, and we’re in the later part of deer hunting season in Maine. Here’s a tip of the hat to those who hunt and fish. The sporting industry is vibrant in our state, and given the millions of acres of pristine ponds, lakes, and woods here, and the endless miles of rivers and streams, it was inevitable that people with expert knowledge of these environs would create an economic niche for themselves: the Maine Guides. While people have hired these services out for two hundred years or more, Maine didn’t formalize the practice until a piece of 1897 legislation began to require registration. The first registered Maine Guide was a woman: Cornilia Thurza Crosby, known colloquially as Fly Rod, was also an early popularizer of sporting in Maine. (Wikipedia, “Maine Guides”, n.d.)
When homegrown talent Kosti Ruohomaa, who exalted Maine folk life throughout his career as a photojournalist, visited Maine Guide Ed DeMar in 1958, DeMar was an elder statesman of the profession. A native of the Rangeley Lakes region, he was intimately familiar with the woods and waters there and a born steward of wild places. As expected, he knew where to find salmon and deer, was a wily storyteller, a friend to his fellow guides and clients but also to the wardens and state wildlife professionals who sustained the regulatory boundaries he operated within.
DeMar was a longtime officer in the Rangeley Lakes Guide Association, a sort of local workers’ union for old fashioned New England conservatives. The Association established pay ranges for guides and outlined standards for working conditions. At the time, they represented around 130 guides.
His propensity for the outdoors apparently dominated his character: in the off season, he sometimes signed on with logging companies and spent his winters at lumber camps in Maine’s north woods.
Guiding almost always selected for competence. Then as now, the job required not only expertise in the wilderness, but a strong moral backbone, a quick head, a radar for danger, confidence in one’s leadership, charisma, and an unflappable sense of humor.
Their excellence garnered benefits. Their clients, known in the trade as “sports”, customarily returned to the same guide year after year, cementing long and friendly connections. They often sent gifts to their guides from back at home. They tended to be successful professionals, who didn’t mind paying $150 a day to be shown to hunting and fishing grounds or to pay the equivalent of $180 per pound for fish they caught themselves.
To all who are hunting this season: keep safe, enjoy the woods, and have fun.
By David Ruberti
I have just finished another one of our small photo collections to add to our on-line database. Not only does this chronicle the photographer’s family but his home, the town of Searsport, where I work and many of you live, and its sea-going families. This is a collection of 400 images by amateur photographer Frederick Ross Sweetser who was born in Searsport, Maine on May 15, 1853, the son of Capt. Jeremiah and Susan (French) Sweetser. In his youth he accompanied his father on long sea voyages. His first music lessons were in Holland and very early in his life he showed a very decided talent for music and it became his life’s work. For 44 years he taught at Boxwood Manor, a school for young ladies in Old Lyme, Conn.
He accompanied innumerable church and concert singers. He numbered among his friends many of the high-ups in musical, literary and theatrical circles. He enjoyed a lifelong friendship with the famous opera star Anna Louise Cary.
He was exceedingly fond of his native town and when vacation time came, he never failed to come back to Searsport, where he spent many happy summers at the old homestead, a dignified old Colonial brick house set picturesquely on a hill back from Main Street.
When at home in the summer he took an active part in the musical life of the town and often put on operas and other musical entertainments for the benefit of various organizations. In 1918 he retired to spend the remainder of his life in Searsport. He organized a large piano class in Belfast, where he had a studio, usually returning to Searsport on the weekends.
His sister, Jane “Jennie” Sweetser married the noted merchant ship captain Lincoln Alden Colcord, who sailed from Searsport on numerous ships over his lifetime of going to sea. Capt. Colcord and his wife Jane embarked on a three-year voyage aboard the sailing vessel Charlotte A. Littlefield on their wedding night, June 4, 1881.
They were the parents of noted writer and journalist Lincoln Ross Colcord, and pioneering social worker and writer Joanna Carver Colcord, both of which were born at sea aboard the Charlotte Littlefield.
It is assumed that “Frank” Sweetser’s niece, Joanna acquired her love of photography from her uncle. The Joanna Colcord collection at the museum consists of 700 glass plate negatives, an annotated scrapbook of her own photos, and postcards of the places she visited in her travels.
Sweetser died on April 15, 1924 and his funeral was held at the First Congregational Church here in Searsport.
Gene Dalrymple would probably not be considered a native by some people’s reckoning, but his 97-year association with Marshall Point in Port Clyde, Maine, makes him a local by ours. Dalrymple grew up outside of Boston, but his maternal grandfather was the last keeper at Marshall Point Light during the US Lighthouse Service era; his tenure there (July 1874 to May 1919) was the longest in the history of the Service. Dalrymple’s mother was born in the lighthouse; his family were at home when the original mortared stone keeper’s house was struck by lightning in 1895 (there were no casualties but the building itself, which had to be replaced).
Gene himself was born in the cottage pictured above, which was built on land his grandfather bought on the Point. He travelled with his mother by steamer from Boston each summer to spend the warm months at Port Clyde. A historian by nature, Gene has an ear for stories and a keen interest in the people around him. Throughout his adulthood, as a dentist whose primary residence was in Camden, Dalrymple continued to return to this peninsula, a working port and a summer haunt for many, including luminaries such as the three generations of painterly Wyeths. Dave Lowell, a former Tenants Harbor resident and a friend of PMM’s, made Gene’s acquaintance over a period of years; he encouraged a meeting, knowing that our photography holdings included a generous lode of old Port Clyde images. Since many of our images are undescribed, we jumped at the chance to hear more about this richly-storied place. Starting in 2013, with Gene’s guidance and with the enthusiastic participation of several other local elders, we began to piece together a narrative.
The effort has brought us to the point of planning a Port Clyde photo book. The book will include wide views of the harbor with labels identifying historic homes and businesses, street scenes, photos of local buildings—homes, hotels, businesses which are local landmarks or are no longer standing—and waterfront views. Its captions will recall a thriving center of commerce and the characters who made the place lively and memorable. There’s still a lot of work to do, including further interviews with additional sources. As Gene exhorts us, “This thing has got to be 110% right”. We agree. The prospect of revealing this world before it succumbs to the blurring of time excites us. Stay tuned.
by Deborah Nowers
This is my pitch for the library. We received a request for information on Joseph Blanchard Ames who was the grandfather or great-grandfather of the requester’s grandmother Marie Donaldson Ames. He requested genealogy of Joseph Blanchard Ames in order to determine how the family got from Marshfield, MA to Maine.
Using the FindAGrave website, one of my colleagues found that Joseph Blanchard Ames was the father of Marie Donaldson Ames. Joseph was born in Searsport on January 30, 1846–that was the Maine connection—and died in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1915. His parents were Elisha Ames born in Marshfield, Massachusetts and Orilla B. (Parker) Ames born 12 August 1823 in Maine (town unknown). He speculated that the parents had lived in Maine at some time and then moved to Massachusetts. That was as far as he got before he ran out of time.
The research question became, “Why was Joseph born in Searsport?” Information on the internet provided no help. Because I knew there was an Ames family on Islesboro, I looked there. First searching the library’s copy of John Pendleton Farrow’s History of Islesborough., Maine. The Ames family came from Marshfield, Massachusetts, so probably relatives, but Elisha was not included. Since Joseph was reportedly born in Searsport, I next checked the published vital records in the reading room. It did not include a record of his birth. I had reached a dead end on Ames.
I then decided to search for his mother, since she was the one born in Maine. I hoped her uncommon first name—Orilla—would help. I went back to Searsport. There was no listing for Orilla B. Parker in the index, but Orilla B. Park was there. There was just one entry, in the Church Members in Searsport, “Orilla B. Park Dist [dismissed] to Mt. Vernon Chh Boston Aug. 25, 1844.” Because Searsport was incorporated after Orilla’s birth, I then searched in Prospect, Searsport’s mother town. And there she was in the published Vital Records, “Orilla B. daughter of Mr. Joseph & Mrs. Catherine Park born Augt. 17th 1824.” The transcription on FindAGrave had a different last name and birth date, but with no photograph of the stone it is unclear where the error lies. Joseph and Catherine’s marriage record in Prospect gives her maiden name Griffin.
From the records, we can make a narrative. Orilla B. Park was born in Prospect to Joseph and Catherine (Griffin) Park. The family likely lived on the west side of Prospect that became part of Searsport. Orilla was a member of the Church in Searsport when she was dismissed to the Mt. Vernon Church in Boston in 1844. The next year on April 3, 1845, she married Elisha Ames in Boston. It is likely that she was with or went home to her mother to have her baby Joseph Blanchard in January 1846.
Although many genealogical records have been transcribed and digitized for the internet, many have not. Small towns in Maine will be low priority for these efforts for some time. The record you need, may well exist only in a book, likely in a library. The Collection in the Phillips Library, had all I needed to answer this query.