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 pinewood.
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.