Life of a Sailor Boy: Earliest Memories
Captain Francis Pratt
From Captain Francis Pratt, "Life of a Sailor Boy 1826 1842;"
reprinted in installments by David Wadsworth, Historical Highlights,
Cohasset Historical Society
My first recollections of life were at about three years of age My
mother jolting me in an old flag bottom chair without rockers on the
hearth in the dark and gloomy kitchen with but little fire of green
The family consisted of father, mother, three sisters, and four brothers,
one sister being younger than myself. We were poor and the house was
in a very dilapidated state. Panes of glass, many of them broken, and
old hats, shawls, and sometimes seaweed took their place. I recollect
at times there would be a foot of snow on the bed in which three of
us were sleeping. My mother worked hard to keep us from freezing and
starving. Spun and wove the cloth that covered us.
I shall never forget what pride she took in painting the dairy and
other parts of the house. The paint consisted of red ochre and skimmed
milk with a rag for a brush.
We lived upon hasty puddings, milk porridge, sweetened water with brown
bread crumbed in. I remember one time of falling backwards into a kettle
of milk porridge. It was not lost, they said. I recovered and did nicely.
Time wore away. One sister married and lived in Boston. One brother
went to trade in Boston. Trade, pump and block making. Soon another
brother commenced to follow the sea.
At about five years of age, the hero of these adventures might be seen
running on one foot with a stubbed toe, crown and rim of his hat carried
away. Heading for a molasses hogshead at the harbor, having spoken to
a boy bound home with it, but full of molasses sugar, his hair and clothes
besmeared with the same freight. When I got in the hogshead, I could
just peek out the bunghole. I improved the time, expecting soon to be
captured by the owner or driven out by some older boy. At last arrived
home looking more like a mop wound around a skunk than a human being.
My kind mother I was never afraid to approach; first seeing me she had
to smile and then would say, "Oh Frank, dear child, where have
you been getting sugar?" Plenty of it down to the Cove. Had my
hat full of it. As the crown was gone in catching bumblebees, I held
on with both hands to keep the valuables that were part molasses from
wasting, but it had run through my fingers, down my clothes, and over
my feet resembling a duck's feet in the mud.
Years passed away, still poor, all brought about by rum. No change
for the better. I never had a suit of clothes except those mother spun,
wove, and made. She always allowed plenty of room to grow in. At last
I found myself eight years of age. My father said to us all, we must
not be gnawing upon his ribs any longer.
I had concluded to follow the sea. As the Irishman said when he was
put in prison for life, when asked what business he would like to follow,
. . . if it did not make any difference to his honor, he would like
to follow the sea.