MASTERS OF THE SEAS –

A Virtual Exhibit with Audio Recordings

The men in these portraits, painted by Frederick Wight, son of Alice Stallknecht, are descendants of a long line of men from Chatham and Cape Cod who personified the best of New England’s men of any generation.

The Cape was considered “the greatest nursery of seamen in North America. Ship-owners and merchants sought Chatham sea captains for their superior seamanship, integrity, resourcefulness and dependability.” They were told, “I have not chartered your vessel but you.”

The Chatham sea captains, and those who preceded them,  “excelled as deep sea captains who fished the Grand Banks of Nova Scotia; as coastal or packet skippers who carried goods to Atlantic ports and as far as the West Indies; and as masters of the Seven Seas who went far afield – to Europe, Africa, South America, Asia and “Down Under.”

For the most part, the vessels these men traveled on were powered by sail. One of man’s earliest inventions, the sail, supplied the most important source of motion for navigation throughout maritime history and has found an enduring role in recreation.

The men in this gallery were at home on the sea. They knew the “sting of wind-driven rain and icy gales and hurricanes”. Their navigational tools were minimal – no GPS, no radar, but often starting out to sea by age 10 they learned how to become “Masters of the Seas”.

Adapted from “Chatham’s Sea Captains in the Age of Sail” by Joseph A. Nickerson, Jr. and Geraldine Nickerson

The following are stories from nine Chatham Sea Captains in their own words, interviewed by Alice Stallknecht, and told by the Chatham Historical Society.

A special thank you to Joe Nickerson Sr., Scott Hamilton, and Barbara Semple, the voices in the following recordings.

Captain Samuel Harding 1841-1937

“… there were no special routes for sailing ships in those days”

                                                                         Captain Harding

  • Went to sea as cabin boy at age 12

  • Quit the sea 20 years later

  • Sailed for 15 years on bark Western Sea, 5 as Mate and 10 as Captain

  • Made voyages to Africa, Spain, Sicily, and Cuba

  • Married Mary Clementine Clifford

 

Captain Heman Chase 1846-1932

“… while I was on that lightship, I once took a man off a wreck but he was dead”

                                                                         Captain Chase

• Went to sea at age 14

• Spent 15 years on a lightship

• Was Chatham Superintendent of Schools for 15 years

• Gave Frederick Wight, who painted this portrait, a diploma from Chatham High School in 1917

 

 

Captain Seymour Patterson 1854-1938

“… we’d lobster in the summer and go haddocking in winter”

                                                                          Captain Patterson

• Born on Nantucket

• Went to sea at 17

• Became First Mate at age 20

• Made voyages to Jamaica, Mexico

• Lived nearby on Bridge and Main Streets

• Never married

 

Captain James Freeman Clark 1846-1941

“… in all my long life following the sea,  I never had but the pleasantest experience”

                                                                              Captain Clark

• Went to sea at age 11 on a schooner

• Witnessed the Merrimac and Monitor  fight during the Civil War

• Sailed all over the world

• Lived on Mother Taylor’s Hill on  Old Harbor. The house later  moved to Doane Way

 

 

Captain Zebina Chase 1838-1933

“… father was always a great reader . . . he never has sworn or smoked” 

                                                                           As told by his daughters

• Went to sea at age 13

• Bought his own ship at age 21

• Captained a yacht for editor of the Boston Traveler

• Married Delilah Doane with whom he had five children

• Lived at 1425 Old Queen Anne Rd

 

 

Captain Warren A. Crosby 1843-1938

“… the men all got scurvy, their teeth fell out. But mine didn’t …”

                                                                   Captain Crosby

• Went to sea as a cook at age 12

• Sailed aboard the bark, Modina, at age 16, for four years voyaging from Boston to Melbourne to Calcutta, to France and back several times

• Master of several vessels, Daniel  Webster, Scud, Bounding Billow

• Married Annie Nickerson

 

 

Captain Oliver E. Eldredge 1840-1931

“…never had any trouble with   my crews. Never put a man in irons in my life”

                                                                                 Captain Eldredge

• Went to sea as ship’s cook at age 9

• Became Master (Captain) at age 21

• Fished the Grand Banks; traded in the West Indies

• Became Selectman and President of Cape Cod Five Savings Bank

• Married Mehitable Baker Eldredge

• Lived at 397 Stage Harbor Road

 

Captain Isaac White 1839-1935

“… there was no coasting aboard my ship. I gave orders and my orders were obeyed.”

                                                                         Captain White

• Went to sea at age 18 and became a captain 6 years later

• Made record run from New York to Shanghai in 120 days

• Had a red beard that hung to his waist

• Lived at 66 Water Street

 

 

Sailmaker Charles Howes 1850-1938

“…didn’t like the sea. About two months of it was enough for me.”

                                                                               Charles Howes

• Went fishing at age 14

• Father ran a weir at Monomoy Point

• Became a master sail-maker at age 20

• Was the last sail-maker on the Cape

• Predeceased by wives, Ella E. Nickerson and Ada Crosby

• Lived and died at 66 Cross Street