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Fishernen Reminisce


November 2, 1894

Two Veteran Fishermen
Lanesville Oldest Male Citizens Talk
Interesting Stories of Old-Time Fishing Methods

A representative, on a recent visit to Lanesville, made under the escort of the local correspondent two very pleasant calls upon the two oldest beat fishermen of that section, both of whom, however, retired years ago from active pursuit of the fisheries.

The first one visited was Mr. Henry Saunders, a veteran of 87 years, who made his first trip at the age of 12 years, continuing to follow the sea until some 15 years age, and the other Mr. Eli Morgan, who it tow years older than Mr. Saunders, and will reach his 89th birthday November 14, commenced to follow the sea when a boy of 8 or 9 years, going on mackerelling trips with his father, but retired from fishing some 40 years age, though always being connected with the curing or buying of fish.

Mr. Saunders' Story

Mr. Saunders was found at his home near Folly Cove, he having been in poor health for a few months past, though not seriously ill, and he gave an interesting talk of the methods of old-time fishing.

His first trip was made in the pinkey Fox , first going to Boston, where a partial baiting of alewives was secured, to which was added a supply of herring caught on Middle Bank, the destination of the vessel. The schooner was manned by three men and a boy, the crew consisting of John Woodbury, the captain, Gorham Woodbury, Edward Parsons, and young Saunders, and was gone five or six days, returning with about 40 quintals of cod. The fish were brought in "round," being split and cured after the vessel came to port, as was the custom of the time, and after being dried were sold at $2.50 per quintal.

He continued in the vessel the entire season, the entire catch of the vessel being about 500 quintals -- "and in them days a quintal was a full 112 pounds," he interjected parenthetically in telling the story -- and as fast as the fish were cured in sufficient quantities, they ware carried to market to Boston in the schooner.

A few years after he commenced fishing, the custom started of sending the cured fish to Boston by packet, for which a freight of 10 cents per quintal and two cents for wharfage was charged; the freighters making three trips in the spring, midsummer and fall, and returning with provisions.'The vessels at that time were what were known as "red stem boats," the bottoms and bulwarks being painted a bright red. They were two-masted, small affairs, compared with the clipper schooners of the present day, with no bowsprit except a pole nailed to the deck and extending forward on which was hoisted a "santo jib."

There were three other boats in the fleet that year from Lane's Cove, as it was then called, the Corporal Trim, owned by Caleb Marchant, the Romp, owned by Nathaniel Woodbury and the Patriot, owned by John Foster Poland.

Mr. Saunders was part owner and master of a boat before he was 20 years of age, his first venture being in the Sea Flower , a small vessel of about 36 toms, Essex built, which he bought in Lynn, he afterwards buying the Vienna, 52 tons, built in Essex, and later the Watchman, a square-stern vessel built at East Gloucester.

He began winter dory-fishing in 1834 or 1835, bringing in his fish to Lane's Cove, where they were sold to peddlers who came from Vermont and Canada, in exchange for beef, mutton, butter and such stores. The teams sometimes found a supply of fish awaiting them having been previously frozen but more often had to wait sometimes two or three weeks before a load was obtained. The price paid was from 25 to 50 cents per 100 lbs., the fishermen considering that they were doing well when they received the latter price.

For the last 12 years previous to his retirement, Mr. Saunders engaged in lobster fishing.

The method of securing the craft on their return from a trip was equally as primitive, a stone with a round hole in it being sunk with a white oak tree through it, the upper end of which was above the surface of the water, to which was attached a piece of cable with en eye in the end, which slipped over the vessel's bow. In case of threatening storm, the boats were run into 'Squam.

At that time the men fished in single dories 12 feet long, which were built at Newburyport by a Mr. Coffin and a Mr. French. Mr. Saunders has the reputation of being among the most persistent of the dory fishermen, often going out when his companions did not care to, but when asked if he calculated not to let the others get ahead of him, naively replied, "I don't know what I calculated, but they did not do it."

As may be imagined his pluck sometimes led him into pretty rough times, although he had few times when he really considered himself in danger. At one time, after the use of trawls had begun, as he was picking his trawl, a snow storm set in, the wind being northeast, and after getting his trip he started to row ashore. he was guided by the wind, but the latter kept veering to the north, so that he was way up beyond 'Squam lighthouse before he could locate his position. He turned about and finally reached his usual landing place, having been gone seven or eight hours, when the trip usually took only three or four.

At one time when fishing off either Folly Ledge or French Ledge, a shark followed a fish he was pulling in so close that he thought it would put its teeth into the side of the dory, but Mr. Saunders struck at him with an oar and drive him off. His dory was quite heavily loaded at the time, the middle part being full, and Mr. Saunders deemed it best not to be too familiar with such company and pulled up his killick and rowed for home, but saw nothing further of his sharkship.

At one time of Fuller ledge, a sea struck his dory and nearly capsized it, and when it righted he found one of his oars missing, but he sculled down to it the best he could and finally secured it again.

There were no wharves at the cove, the dories being brought close up to the ricks and the fish taken ashore in baskets, and this was at times somewhat perilous. Mr. Saunders could not recall a single fatal accident.

The fish were cured differently then than now, being slack salted and hard dried for the Surinam market.

Mr. Saunders said that when he was a boy the fishermen could fill a dory with cod or haddock in three or four hours. The larger boats would to to Jeffries and catch herring enough to fish with and in a short time get a trip of cod. Pollock were also plenty in shore, though the great pollock schools which are a matter of history came before his day.

Hake were very plenty, especially one year, when everybody was full of them, so that it was thought to be impossible to sell them. Mr. Saunders cured 100 quintals that year, and took them to Newburyport, where he accepted the first offer of $1.25 per quintal, and thought himself lucky to get so much.

Porgies in their season were especially plenty. He had seen the cove so full of them that he could hardly row through them, and they would lift the oars out of the row-locks, and at least 500 barrels were seined ashore at Sandy Bay (now Rockport) and left to rot on the Beach.

When the use of trawls began, they did not have more than 400 hooks, but their size kept increasing until now they have 3000 to 4000 each.

The first dories used by him were only about one-third as large as the dories now in use, which will carry a ton or more, and without centreboards. He and Abner Bates used the first centreboard dory on the north side of the cape, and the first 16-foot dories were used by William Sargent and George Morgan.

Among the old time fishermen recalled by Mr. Saunders were Epes Lane and his son Caleb, Gorham Marchant, Nathaniel Woodbury, Moses Parsons, Levi Robinson and his brother James, John E. Woodbury, Jonathan Lane, Epes Woodbury and others.

Among the earliest who freighted the fish to market was Epes Lane, Senior, grandfather of Albert Lane who sailed in the sch. Enterprise, a boat of 23 tons, which was built at Lanesville (then Lane's Cove) on the premises now owned by M. H. Duley near the Congregational meeting house. The builder was Mr. Michael Walen, grandfather of Alfred and the late Michael Walen.

Mr. Lane afterwards sailed in the sch. Harvest and at one time bought fish for Mr. West of Salem, who supplied the Cuban market, and afterwards for a Mr. Churchill.

His son, Epes Lane, Jr. who died in 1886, was also a veteran fisherman, and was called by Mr. Saunders one of the bravest, frequently going out in his boat when most of the others stayed ashore.

One day he went out just after a storm and just outside of Plum Cove ledge caught his dory full of large codfish and bringing them in and throwing them out in large tubs, took more bait and went out again and brought in another dory load. The next day he did not go out, yet many others went out and returned with but few fish.

Hake sounds were bought by David Babson of Pigeon Cove, and also by Deacon Gott and Howard Giles, of Rockport, who paid five cents per lb. and the fishermen carried them through the woods to that town. Epes Young was a buyer in later years, when the price had advanced to 10 cents. The highest price Mr. Saunders was ever paid was $1.25 per pound.

When Mr. Saunders was a boy, there were no stores on the north side of the cape, it being necessary to go to Cape Ann harbor for a barrel of flour or a firkin of sugar. The first store was kept by Samuel Lane, who was followed by Epes Young, the usual stock in trade being an assortment of West Indian goods, New England rum, pipes and tobacco. After Squire Young and _______ Sargent, good and ________ men as they were said to be, kept liquor for sale, but its use was so common that he never knew of any disturbances

Mr. Saunders closed his talk with good reminiscences of several wrecks of coastal vessels which occurred in the vicinity, among them the sch. Mary of Cornwallis, the Equity, and the brig Swan.

Mr. Morgan's Narrative

Mr. Eli Morgan was found in n the residence of his son Albert, with whom he shares his home. Though 89 years of age, he had a sprightliness lacking in many men of youth or years.

His first trip was after mackerel when 8 or 9 years old with his father in the rear-stemmed Mary built at Annisquam by Epes Davis the father of Judge Davis with his father, Nathan F., who owned the boat, and his brother William. They fished on the "shore ground" most of the season, marketing their catch at Newburyport and Portsmouth, where they sold fresh at 6 1/4 cents or for pence-ha'pens per lb.

At that time there were 13 or 14 "red-stem" boats fishing from Lane's Cove.

At the age of 14 he went spring fishing on Jeffries, the boat generally making two trips each week starting on Monday light and expecting to get home from the second trip Friday night or Saturday. Fish at that time were more that plenty, and it was their custom to first catch their herring for bait, ice being an unknown thing in summer. The entrails of the fish were removed on the Banks and they were brought in fresh and dressed ashore. The herring struck in the last of March and furnished plenty of bait all summer. A good season's catch for a boat was 100 quintals.

The fish were slack salted, so that good table fish could be taken from the pile anywhere, the fish as now cured loaded with salt weighing at least a third more in proportion to their size.

Mr. Morgan commenced winter fishing at the age of 20, his experience being similar to that of Mr. Morgan. At the time, there was quite a fleet of vessels belonging at Annisquam, Stephen Chard having 3, Epes Davis 5, George Davis 3 or 4, and later on came Epes Griffin and Gideon Lane.

Hake in their season were plenty a short distance off the cove, Ipswich Bay being full of them, which were sold to peddlers at 25 cts. per hundred pounds, the latter selling meats and produce, a favorite trade being "flat" mutton at a cent a pound. Prices on both sided were cheap at the time, but relatively about the same as in later years.

Mr. Morgan abandoned fishing about forty years ago, being afterwards for many years employed in curing fish for Joseph L. Andrews, and stoutly avers his ability to do a good day's work on anything he is accustomed to, and he certainly looks like it.

Both men told an amusing story of the experiences of Jonathan Phipps, one of their companions, who while engaged in winter fishing caught a large fish on his line. Being unable to pull it in, he imagined it to be a shark, and at once took his oars and rowed for the shore, with the line dragging behind his dory, shouting hastily, "Barnabas, barnabas, I've caught a barnabas!" His cries attracted the attention of the other fishermen who came down on the rocks to meet him, prepared to dispatch the monster, but when the line was pulled in no shark but a handsome halibut was found on the other end.

The only case of drowning in the early shore or boat fishery which Mr. Morgan could recall was that of Paul Morgan, a young man of 19 years of age, who was drowned off Folly Ledge by the capsizing of his dory, and who was one of the most expert swimmers of his time.

Mr. Morgan told several interesting reminiscences of his boyhood, and the condition of the people in the vicinity at the time.

He remembered distinctly the chasing of the boat belonging to Nathaniel Parsons and commanded by Joseph Bailey by the English frigate LaHoag, the captain of which sent a boat ashore with a flag of truce, but was denied the privilege of searching the boat for alleged British seamen by Gen. Appleton and Capt. Harris who were in command of the militia. A lively engagement had previously occurred between the militia and the frigate, in which a shot from the latter knocked down the chimney on Edward Parson's house.

At that time there was not a horse at Lane's Cove, but Capt. David Lane had a two-wheeled chaise, the wheels of which were so high that they could be seen almost before the top of the vehicle was visible.

Capt. Lane also had the only gate in the neighborhood, while Mr. Morgan could remember the building of every house at the cove except thirteen. The people still clung to the English style of money, and many a quintal of fish was sold for 9 shillings ($1.50) and if "ten-and-six" was received, it was doing well

Salt pork sold at 25 cts. per lb., and the favorite brand of flour marked "Howard street, Baltimore," sold for $12 per barrel.

Mr. Morgan went to school to Parson Leonard, who added teaching to preaching, but says that the teacher never dared to ship him, not because of his muscular ability, but the parson came to school on horseback keeping the animal in Mr. Morgan's father's barn, the boy having the care of him, and knew well that if the boy was punished, the horse would be minus his usual supply of oats.

Though the time for schooling was limited, most of the boys of the time were able to "figure and write," though not possessing the advantages of the present days.

Among the old-time citizens he remembered were Abram Robinson, Major Kimbal and James Norwood, the latter being the only objectors when parson Leonard carried his entire society over to Universalism, John Langsford, Gates Herring, Robert Stevens and John Edward Woodbury, who on ceasing to plough the sea, turned his attention to ploughing the land, and this year raised more potatoes according to the size of his land than any other man in Lanesville.

Speaking of Mr. Saunders, he recalled the fact of a quartette of old residents of the same age, Simon Saunders, who was 81 August 10, Henry Saunders, 86 the last day of July, Mrs. Sally Merchant, who was 81 September 12, and John W. Woodbury, who reached the same age some time the present month.

Mr. Morgan himself comes form a family noted for its longevity, of which himself and one brother are now living, Andrew, residing at Pigeon Cove, in his 76th year, his brother Nathan dying at the age of 88, William at 85 and Paul at 70, there being five brothers and four sisters in the family.


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