Heave Short! The Cotuit Novels of Charles Pendexter Durrell

Some of my favorite childhood literature memories were the bookcases filled with pulp novels from the first two decades of the 20th century.  These were the books my grandfather and father read in the years before television. Cheap hardcovers with coarse yellowing paper that smelled like a dusty basement.

The original Tom Swift series was a big favorite, the Thornton Burgess books, and closer to home, three novels written by a family member, Charles Pendexter Durrell, who lived across the street in the 1930s and was my cousin Peter’s great-grandfather. Those three novels were published as The Bluewater Series, by Milton Bradley, the Springfield, Massachusetts game publisher best known for The Game of Life. They featured Sam Hotchkiss, the son of a wealthy Boston businessman who is ordered to the peaceful southside village of Saquoit (a concoction of Santuit, Cotuit, and Waquoit)  by his physician to recover from overwork and bad health. Sam is irked to be exiled to the remote shores of Cape Cod and cops a sulky attitude upon arrival. He’s eventually introduced to Captain Seth Nickerson, an old salt who could be patterned on my Great-great grandfather, Thomas Chatfield, to whom the first book, The Skipper of the Cynthia B. is dedicated:

Captain Seth patiently takes the young boy under his wing and takes him sailing on his trusty catboat, the Cynthia B., named for his devoted wife, and tagged with a “B” because it is considered bad luck to have a boat’s name end with a vowel.

The book describes Sam and Captain Seth’s sailing and fishing adventures, and is interspersed with tales from the Captain’s whaling days in the Arctic and Pacific. There’s a some drama in the plot involving a catboat race, and the book has some wonderful illustrations by the Chatham, Massachusetts illustrator, Harold Brett.

Some of Brett’s painting of the book’s dust jacket covers hung in the house across the street when I was young.  They were beautiful things that are gone now, taken away by the inevitable generational divisions of property. But they were very impressive examples of the Brandywine School of illustration as Brett was a student of Howard Pyle.

The three books in the series are:

They were published in the 20s and 30s, and are, to my knowledge, the only novels set in Cotuit other than Clara Nickerson Boden’s The Cut of Her Jib (another distant relation of mine).

What I know about Charles Pendexter Durrell is that he was born in Maine in the 1880s, lived in Watertown, Massachusetts, and married Chatfield’s daughter Susan granddaughter, Mildred Chatfield Fisher. They had one child, Elizabeth Durrell, who married Fred F. Field and lived across the street and was my grandmother’s best friend. They collected shells together, made beach plum jelly, and carried on like two old Cotuit ladies with a lot of memories would carry on. Elizabeth, or “Betty” as we called her, took care of me one summer because of some family medical dramas, and fed me awesome hamburgers on Wonder bread with yellow mustard. Her grandson Peter Field is my youngest son’s godfather and in some convoluted fashion due to proximity, along with his brother Tom, like a first cousin even though he is probably twice removed or however that works.

Durrell died in the 1950s. His books live on, available used or online in Google Books at the links above.


Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

3 thoughts on “Heave Short! The Cotuit Novels of Charles Pendexter Durrell”

  1. Loved this reminiscence, especially the characterization of the Nell/Betty friendship….but I have to question the authenticity of your memory that she ever made you awesome hamburgers as her culinary skills are not what she was known for. I also have to correct you on a couple of small genealogical points. Betty’s mother was Mildred Chatfield Fisher and her mother was Daisy Chatfield. You and Pete are 3rd cousins once removed because you were the same generation as Betty. All of which proves that I have somehow turned into my grandmother. In which case, when are you going to fix that shed window?

  2. Dave, This is a great discovery for me. Thanks. I hope you can help me find the other novels written here.

    The popular author Frank Stockton wrote at the Morse’s, and produced the novel “The Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine” (Century 1886), with Cotuit references (I’ll lend you my copy if you can’t find it elsewhere).

    I’m not sure you’d call a detective story a novel, but Jacques Barzun published some under a pseudonym he won’t reveal. Maybe you can get him to tell you–he’s still living at 100+

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