The Shipping Days of Old Boothbay




From the Revolution to the World War
by George Wharton Rice
Published in 1984

The seacoast of Maine is now a summer playground. Visitors wander idly over the grass-grown sites of former shipyards and carelessly view the rotting wharves, formerly alive with the activities of a bold, hardy and enterprising people. But to the rapidly increasing population of Maine’s early days life was stern and hard. There were usually two outlets-the farm and the sea. The farmer’s son resting on his hoe watched the ship whose launching he perhaps had attended disappearing into the unknown regions of his daydreams, and listened in eager wonderment to tales of returning kinsmen or townsfolk. Serious life began at an early age. Children of five weeded the garden; boys of nine to twelve made their first trip to the Grand Banks, often as cooks, developing in that rough-and-ready school of experience, courage, initiative and quick action in emergencies-lessons so essential to a sailor’s life.

Although neither sailor nor writer, I must have inherited a love for the sea. In the waters around Boothbay I learned to sail a boat, and my interest in shipping has never wavered. A number of deep-water voyages and familiarity with American seaports and Havana have given me a clearer picture of the part which numerous Maine brigs and topsail schooners played in the carrying trade during the clipper-ship era. At the Boston Marine Museum, during a brief association with the late Mr. Nathaniel F. Emmons, prominent yachtsman and an authority on old shipping, I learned the ropes of marine research, and determined to ascertain the activities of my maritime ancestors. The task proved successful, and long-buried facts relating to the early shipping of this region were brought to light. To data thus obtained has been added a large amount of information by Miss Elizabeth Freeman Reed, indefatigable student of the early history of the Boothbay region. Without her valuable assistance this book could not have been written.

Mr. Frederick C. Matthews of San Francisco, author of American Merchant Ships, suggested the desirability of a permanent record of Boothbay shipping-an undertaking previously encouraged by the Honorable William D. Patterson of the Maine Historical Society, whose untimely death has prevented a fuller account of Sheepscot River activities. Doubtless much remains to be told, but all available information has been utilized. Wherever possible, it seemed fitting that the actual participants tell the story; the historical evidence speaks for itself, with neither the evil minimized nor the good exaggerated. To my brother Emerson I am indebted for many valuable suggestions, and have profited by the interest and first-hand information of the late Captain Alfred Race.

A ship is a beautiful creation of several minds and many hands, guided in details of construction by a master-builder. In like manner this account has been built by the lives and words of generations of men long silent. Thousands of facts have been assembled and dovetailed to form a fairly complete account of local shipping. If the result merits approval by the descendents of those brave mariners who sailed the seven seas from the Boothbay region, I shall be content.

G. W. R.
October 9, 1937