Part 6 – Reminiscences of Capt. Thomas Chatfield

“For God’s sake, Captain, do shorten that sail, you’ll tear the masts out.”

This is salty stuff. The Captain is crusing the “Artic”, dodging bergs, floes, and growlers, learns why Captain Cook got snuffed, returns to San Francisco, and has a close call with a lee shore.

I’m having a blast with this. Almost half-way and realizing I never truly read these memoirs before. Cousin Pete lent me his copy of the Captain’s war letters, which will be the night-time lonely guy project in Raleigh after this transcription. Then to the annotation with maps (I’m think of footnoting directly to Google Earth) but that may require a trip to the Kendall Whaling Museum in Sharon, Mass. which has Chatfield’s original ship’s logs with the latitude and longitude.

(I majored in American Maritime History at Yale, so this stuff is a dream come true. In another dimension I’d have become a college professor of maritime history.)

[update: added another five pages to part 6 — amazing description of nursing a wounded mate back to health after he gets whacked by a whale off of California: “…then with four men to help, and another with his elbow bare for a model, I got the elbow joint in place.”]

And yet more Captain Chatfield

In this episode, things really get going, in a Moby Dick kind of way, and the Captain gets stove in by a whale. Arr matey. And goes home to win his first command at the age of 25. Sheesh, at 25 I was covering car wrecks at a daily newspaper and making $113 a week, not trying to outswim angry whales.

Part 4 – The Reminiscences of Captain Thomas Chatfield

Just posted more of the Captain’s memoirs. He completes his second voyage as second mate under Seth Nickerson, returns to Cotuit, is married, then heads back out to the Pacific for his third voyage. And hasn’t turned 25 years old yet …

Part 3 – The Reminscences of Captain Thomas Chatfield posted

In this installment the doughty Captain whales in the “Artic”, survives a couple close calls, and returns to Maui with a scurvy crew.

This marks up through page 37 of the 162-page typescript. The first voyage is over, the Captain is 20-years old, and ready to get married.

Cousin Pete Field suggests breaking out the scanner and getting some illustrations in here, so that will come. Recommendations on a good, high quality flat-bed scanner would be appreciated.

Currier & Ives

5 more pages of Chatfield

130 pages to or so to go. Maybe a month or more at this pace. The man punctuates very randomly which makes transcription a true example of ancestor worship. Anyway, the intrepid skipper is killing some whales and playing amateur anthropologist in the Marianas.

It’s maddening to try to Google the island names — “Stranger Island” “Pleasant Island” — names out of The Hardy Boys.  But its killing time and beats the heck of setting interactive marketing strategies through the blunt axe of Powerpoint every the evening.

The Thomas Chatfield Project

“Children: You have asked me to jot down the principal incidents of my somewhat varied life, and something in the nature of a history of my ancestors. I am afraid it will be anything but satisfactory, either to you or myself. Most of it must be from memory – some, even, tradition – and with my limited school education, both spelling and grammatical construction faulty.”

To while away my idle evenings in Raleigh I’m going to tackle a project that has been nagging me for a few years and post it here on Churbuck.com in html, .doc, and pdf formats.
My great-great-grandfather, Thomas Chatfield, ran away from his Hudson Valley home in the 1830s to seek his fortunes on the seas. He became captain of the Nantucket whaler, Massachusetts at the age of 20, participated in the California Gold Rush, whaled in the Arctic, New Zealand, and Sea of Okhtosk, and was an officer in the Union Navy’s Gulf Squadron, maurading the Gulf coast of Florida from Key West to Tampa. He retired to Cotuit, captained a coastal schooner, operated a sail loft (now my bedroom closet), founded the Cotuit Masonic lodge (in my bedroom closet/sail loft), and was, by all accounts a decent and exemplary man.

A novel based loosely on his life, The Cut of Her Jib, was written by my distant relative Clara Nickerson Boden and published in 1954. A series of boy’s novels, The Skipper of the Cynthia B, were written by my distant relative Charles Pendexter Durrell and published in the 1920s. Again, the main character, Captain Seth Nickerson, was loosely based on Captain Chatfield. He had a big impact on all who knew him, and continues to cast a big shadow through the family tree on my cousins and myself. My home is essentially a museum of his life.
His friend, A. Lawrence Lowell, the president of Harvard, lived next door in Cotuit, and urged the captain to pen his reminiscences. The result was a 200 page typescript that has been handed around the Chatfield clan. My father had a dozen copies xeroxed and bound, but I think it’s time to get the manuscript into a digital format for easier sharing throughout the family. This was written for his four daughters, and thus not as salty as one would expect the true story would be. Another chronicle of his life are his letters to his wife, Susannah Nye, written during the Civil War and compiled by the Cotuit minister in the 1970s.
So, not wanting to slice up my one copy of the Reminiscences so I can run it through an OCR scanner, I thought I’d rekey it and post it here, seeking out supporting material such as navigational charts, illustrations, and his original ship’s logs which are now held by the Kendall Whaling Museum in Sharon, Massachusetts. I’ll post the first few pages now and keep updating as I go along. Comments are appreciated.

Eventually I may scan the pages so I can get an accurate picture of the manuscript which has some hand drawings of anchorages, battles, and other marginalia, but for now I’ll transcribe a few pages every night and post them in a sub-page here. I will try to scan some photos of the Captain and try to enrich the text. I am not going to clean up the manuscripts misspellings or punctuation errors, nor will I flag those with sics and footnotes.
Interestingly enough, these Reminscences have an ASIN number (B0008CRZNU) and the title is already listed at Amazon! Having never been published, I suppose the copy on the shelves of the Cotuit Library which has its catalogue on the Cape’s interlibrary load system led to its being catalogued. Anyway, Amazon lists it, but you can’t buy it.