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Cohasset's Cosmopolitan Sea Captains

David Wadsworth

From David Wadsworth, "Cohasset Master Mariners of Foreign Birth;" Cohasset Mariner, December 26, 1986. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Early New England seafaring towns often were a blend of the rural and the cosmopolitan . . . , as worldwide travels aboard sailing vessels of the merchant fleet afforded local sailors a glimpse of diverse cultures and distant lands. Similarly, foreign sailors visited this nation and sometimes stayed to become adopted Americans. Cohasset was no exception. Almost from the beginning, a trickle of Europeans came to the town as transplanted seafarers. A number settled here and raised families.

Perhaps the earliest of record was . . . John Stephenson, born in England in April 1690. According to tradition, Stephenson and a shipmate arrived in Hingham as a ship's carpenter aboard His Majesty's warship Lucitanus. In July 1717 he married Rachel Tower, daughter of early Cohasset settlers Richard and Abigail Tower. (See Gilbert Tower's "Story of John Stephenson and Rachel Tower" in Treasury of Cohasset History, pp. 34?37.) Listed as a master mariner, Stephenson served [on a] committee that drew plans for and constructed the new parish and precinct meetinghouse on the Common in 1746?47. Captain Stephenson and Rachel had eleven children [including a son named Lucitanus]. The Stephensons resided [at 266] South Main Street in an early house that still exists . . .

From Spain came . . . Salvador Sabate y Morell, born in Villeseca, Taragona, in April 1790. He came to this country as a cabin boy with Cohasset's Captain Ephraim Snow. The young Spaniard settled [in Cohasset] and became a naturalized citizen, , .

taking the Anglicized name of Samuel Snow. In 1813 he married Betsey Pratt, daughter of Samuel and Betty (Lincoln) Pratt. Captain Samuel Snow resided first on Margin Street, then at [931 South Main Street. He commanded a number of ocean?going vessels, including the fishing schooner Independence, the schooners Good Intent and Six Brothers, the brig Mayflower, and in 1824 the schooner Joseph He was lost at sea on October 3, 1825. His son Samuel T. Snow. . . gave the land on which Cohasset's Paul Pratt Memorial Library [now the Historical Society's Pratt Building] was built, and became the first president of its board of trustees.

Referred to as "the most picturesque figure among Cohasset's deep?sea captains, Philip Fox was born in Lincolnshire, England, in 1795. He arrived in Cohasset by route unknown. In 1815 he married Anna Willcutt, daughter of diarist Joel Willcutt and Tamar (Sutton) Willcutt. [After serving as] first mate aboard the ship Milo in 1818, he commanded the 302?ton packet ship Herald, taking over the vessel when its captain was lost overboard during a voyage. [In December 1819 the twenty?four?year?old] Captain Fox took Herald on its regular route from Liverpool to Boston in a record?setting seventeen days, ["the quickest passage ever made from England to America"] . . .

Fox's wife, Anna, and their children often accompanied him on voyages to South American and Caribbean ports. In 1821 he purchased the house [at 156] North Main Street previously owned by John Pratt, near the head of Ripley Road.

By 1824 he was master of the packet vessel Emerald . . . Under his command Emerald broke Fox's own record for westward port-to?port crossing, [making the voyage] from Liverpool to Boston in sixteen days. That record stood until broken years later by the famous clipper Red jacket, a vessel of some four times the tonnage of Emerald. Captain Philip Fox died at sea in the Mediterranean in 1832. He had been known as a driver of ships and men" but had never lost a single spar or crewman.

Captain John Barker was born in Italy in July 1791. Before [he came] to Cohasset, his name is believed to have been Giovanni Batiste, and in later years his fellow Cohasseters often referred to him as "Teesta" Barker. In Cohasset he married Hannah Worrick, daughter of Laban and Sally (Lincoln) Worrick. They had ten children between the years 1813 and 1833. In 1830 he was listed as the master of Captain Nichols Tower's schooner Tower; then he sailed to the West Indies on the schooner Juno. to 1841 he was master of the barque Lents, and in 1845 of the Cohasset schooner Herculean. Captain Barker resided in a home . . . at the corner of Spring and South Main Streets, across from today's [Pratt Building]. His last command was the schooner Grey Eagle, owned by himself and the Whiton family of Hingham. On January 6, 1856, Grey Eagle capsized near Long Island, New York, with the loss of all hands, including its captain.

From Sweden came Captain David Wilson of Cohasset. In December 1837 he married Mary Ann Hayden. She died in 1848, and he married Mary L. Pratt, who passed away in 1850. His third wife was Mary Anna Tucker, widow of Captain Thomas Tucker. Captain Wilson was master and part owner of several vessels, notably the brigs Casket and Speedwell, the barques Julia and Kepler, and the ships Daylight and Herculean.

Another English sea captain . . . was Joseph H. Smith, born in Portsmouth, England, in 1817. In his youth he had been a sailor on the queen's yacht. In this country Captain Smith married Almatia Poore of Portland, Maine, and then resided in Cohasset. In 1841 he was master of the schooner Triton. [Four years later] Smith and Cohasset's Laban Souther joined in building the brig Almatia, which Captain Smith sailed to the port of Curacao thirty?seven times . . . In 1852 he owned the brig George Otis and soon was master and part owner of the Scituate?built brig Martha Allen. While at Turks Island in the Caribbean, Captain Smith purchased at a low price two vessels stranded ashore, salvaged both, and commanded one . . . Later he commanded the barque Eveline, which was the last vessel built on the North River by Sylvester and Barnabas Briggs.

Following the Civil War, Captain Smith became one of the few Cohasset sailing masters to make the transition to steam?powered vessels, commanding Nickerson Company's 671?ton steamer Aurora. On Aurora he made his last voyage, to Callao, Peru, before retiring from the sea to become an insurance underwriter's agent. He built a home on North Main Street, opposite the Common. Smith had seven children, of whom Almatia Josephine, born in 1846, was the mother of the late Cohasset historian Gilbert Sanders Tower. Captain Joseph Smith died in 1879.

From Ireland came Captain Thomas Doyle, born in 1817. In 1852 he married Mary Ann Lincoln of Cohasset. It is voted teat Captain Doyle came here "through the instrumentality of the elder Captain Ephraim Snow." He was a master mariner and captain of the schooners Antelope and Abigail, the brigs Eliza Burgess and Almatia, and the barque Maryland.

There were other Cohasset master mariners of foreign birth, notably those of the mid? and late nineteenth century from Portugal's Western Islands, now called the Azores. From Fayal came Captains Manuel Soito Enos, his brother Joseph Soito Enos, and Minot's Ledge Lighthouse keeper and master mariner Joseph Enos Frates. From the Island of Pico came mariner Joseph Jason and lighthouse keeper Frank Farier Martin, as a child, in about 1854. Master mariner Manuel Valine came to Cohasset from Calliete, Isle of St. George. Professional salvage diver Michael Neptune Brennock, [an Irishman], was born at sea near Newfoundland in 1824 and made Cohasset his home.

These and many others, too numerous to detail here, played their roles in Cohasset's history and must have given this small New England village a miniature international community, each member of which helped to make Cohasset a part of the original American "melting pot."