Remarkable Record of Capt. Brown, Who Made 101 West India Voyages

This article was likely published around the year 1919. Although the author and newspaper are unknown at this time, it’s possible that it was published in the Bangor Commercial, the predecessor to the Bangor Daily News.

Remarkable Record of Capt. Brown, Who Made 101 West India Voyages

The death last week of Captain Joseph Atwood Brown of Orrington marks the passing of one of the last old time ship captains. He was born in North Orrington July 1, 1831, oldest of the five children of Cornelius and Eliza (Smith) Brown.

His father being a ship captain, he was early attracted to the sea and at the tender age of eleven went summers as cookee with his uncles Charles and Stillman Brown. At sixteen he began in earnest, making long voyages to foreign ports. He continued in this chosen calling for fifty-one years, making 101 round trips to the West Indies alone, besides visiting many European countries.

In 1854 he married Rebecca Bartlett, daughter of Samuel and Mary (Snow) Bartlett, who died nine years ago. He leaves two daughters, Mrs. Cara M. Conley of Brewer and Mrs. Leland B. Blake of South Orrington, and two grandchildren, Mrs. Charles Spinney of Brewer and Mrs. Fred Dionne of Dorchester, Mass.

In the early seventies he made a trading voyage up the west coast of Africa, sailing up and down that coast and trading at the different ports. He remained there eighteen months, the entire voyage taking about three years. While there he contracted the dread disease, yellow fever, the effects of which followed him through life.

Two other times he was stricken with this disease. Once in Pensacola, Fla., where the Masons saved his life by taking him into their private hospital and nursing him until he was able to join his ship. The third time was in Havana, Cuba. His vessel was due to sail and the American consul said he must leave her and go to a hospital, but he pleaded so hard that they put on board an old negress, who had relatives in New York and who understood handling the fever, and he sailed. The negress tended him so well that when the ship reached New York he was able to be on deck.

For many years he commanded the schooner Fred Smith, sailing for the old firm of Smith Brothers of New York. On many of these voyages he carried his family, visiting many South American and West Indian ports and remaining away from home months at a time.

Later, leaving the Fred Smith, he turned his attention to barging, at the time when that business was in its height. Among others, he commanded the barge Roman, remodeled from the old steamship of that name. On a voyage in her, heavily laden with 1,700 tons of coal, and having with him as mate his son-in-law, the late Capt. Samuel M. Conley, he was shipwrecked off the coast of Virginia. Thinking the barge was riding heavily, Mr. Conley lowered a lantern into the forward hold, when the rush of water swept it out of his hands. Hurriedly reporting the condition and signaling to the tug boat, he rushed to the captain’s cabin, seized a dunnage bag and filled it with what he could find, ordered the life boat to be lowered and then went to report to the captain, whom he found calmly steering.

“Come, captain,” said he, “the boat is ready.”

“My place is here; I shall not desert my ship,” was the reply.

Mr. Conley did not stop to bandy words. He called the men and they bore him kicking and struggling to the boat, where he collapsed in the stern. As they pushed off from the sinking ship it was discovered that a great hole had been made in the boat while lowering her. A sailor thrust his oil jacket into the aperature, Mr. Conley took charge; the sailors rowed with almost superhuman strength, and the boat made its way over the waves mountain high to the tug, Storm King, which, a few days later, landed them safely in New York. A humorous incident of the affair was that, although the dunnage bag contained quite a number of boots, no two were mates, and when the captain reported at the office in New York he had only the water-soaked garments in which he stood. All his nautical instruments, marine glasses, charts, etc., were lost, as well as his clothes.

In 1892, being a yellow fever immune, Capt. Brown was sent to Santos, Brazil, to recover the bark Archer, whose crew all had died with the fever. Orders were to take her to Turk’s Island, load with salt and proceed to New York. The bark had lain so long in that terrible heat of Brazil that her calking was poor, but, in spite of this, picking up a scrub crew in the fever-stricken port of Santos he set out to follow directions. All went well till the salt was loaded and they were started homeward, when the vessel began to leak like a sieve. The crew became mutinous; they said they would leave her, would not pump, etc., and when told by Capt. Brown that they must, said they would soon dispose of that little man and desert the doomed ship while land was near.

In the midst of this confusion, Capt. Brown appeared on deck, a small but formidable, figure, with a revolver in each hand.

“The first man who refuses to pump, dies,” he calmly announced. One look decided them. They turned to the pumps.

Before reaching New York, however, they were overtaken by a severe gale, dismasted, and finally driven into Bermuda, where the vessel was sold. This was Capt. Brown’s last voyage.

Later, he entered the employ of the late J. Weston Hopkins, working in the Hampden Creamery, when it was located in Hampden, following it to Bangor when it was moved and remained here till 1899, when he sustained a severe injury, being thrown violently from a high cream cart onto a concrete floor, breaking his collar bone and injuring his head.

After recovering somewhat from this injury, he moved onto his little farm in Orrington, making his home there till the death of his wife in 1913. During the last six years he has lived in the home of his daughter, Mrs. Leland Blake, gradually failing until the end found him in fancy once again the commander on the quarter deck, giving his orders, guiding, directing, until his Ship of Life floated out of the troubled waters and found anchor in the peaceful Haven of Rest.

Twilight and evening bell,

And one clear call for me,

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

When I put out to sea.

For if from out that bourne of time and place

The tide shall bear me far;

I hope to meet my pilot face to face,

When I shall cross the Bar.

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“Earl on the River” – S. Orrington shipwright models 19th century vessels

by Harry Gratwick

Originally Posted: March 1st, 2005 in The Working Waterfront.

This article has been republished with the permission of The Island Institute

He calls himself “Earl on the River” and when you hear his story, you’ll know why. Earl Morrill is a 58-year-old resident of South Orrington who specializes in building scale models of 19th-century Maine sailing vessels. I first met him in the summer of 2003 while I was doing research for an article on the history of the Penobscot River. I soon discovered, however, that in addition to being a superb builder of historic model ships, Morrill was a veritable storehouse of information about the Penobscot. But that’s another story.

The second of six children, Earl Morrill grew up in South Orrington, eight miles south of Bangor. He was born and raised in a house that was built by his great-great grandfather in 1867. From an early age, he remembers hanging around an old trapper named Joe Hurd who, according to Earl, “knew everyone and had lots of stories to tell about the days of sailing ships on the river.” Morrill credits Hurd with teaching him how to row and “get up and down the river no matter what the tide, by using the eddies.” He also remembers sailing on the river when he was 14 in a flat-bottomed rowboat. “She had a plank keel under her, one mast, a square yardarm, a tough sheet and a tiller on the stern.”

“I guess it was Old Joe,” says Morrill, “who was the beginning of my maritime studies and my desires to build models of Maine sailing vessels.”

Earl’s great-great-grandfather, Joseph H. Atwood, was another influence. Atwood was captain of a three-masted schooner, the CHARLES S. HAZZARD, built in Essex, Massachusetts. In the 1850s and 1860s, the HAZZARD hauled lumber from Bangor down the Penobscot to Boston and New York three times a year. On return voyages she would bring back a load of produce. Winters she was “iced into the cove” behind the house Atwood built on Mill Creek and where Morrill still lives. As recently as 1955, Earl remembers there were still a few hulks lying on the shore. “Even today,” he says, “there is an old two-master washing out of the cove by Ryders Point, just north of here. She has yielded two half-pennies and an 1836 dime. The ship was named the PLANTER and was used for hauling split wood up and down the river to feed the lime kilns in Rockport.”

“All this history, and my great-great gramp being part of it, just got me started researching,” Earl remembers. “The more I found out, the more I wanted to build an historic model from the keel up.” Earl was in his 20s when he began a model of Atwood’s ship, the HAZZARD. “I had done the research,” he recalls. “However, I soon realized that I was way over my head trying to build a model boat.” He stopped for three months and gave himself a crash course in shipbuilding, which included studying everything he could find on the subject in the Bangor library. When Earl finally finished the HAZZARD, he admits, “She was a little crude, but eventually I sold her to the owner of The Harris Co. in Portland.” The owner, Austin Harris, has since retired, but when I spoke with him recently he assured me the CHARLES S. HAZZARD is prominently displayed in his parlor in Yarmouth.

Morrill’s second model-building effort was the four-masted schooner JAMES E. COBURN. He remembers finding a picture of her while she was being built on Mill Creek in 1919. “Historic model building took a long time in those days,” he recalls. Mostly this was because of the time it took for research and the fact that everything came by regular mail. Even now, before he begins a project, Morrill does months of research on a ship. His model of the COBURN can be seen today in the Orrington Historical Society. He continued to improve his skills when he next built a model of the S.S. ROOSEVELT, the ship Admiral Robert E. Peary took to the North Pole in 1908. Earl’s great-great uncle, Maynard Wardwell, was Peary’s chief engineer on that expedition. The ROOSEVELT was built in 1905 on Verona Island just south of Bucksport. Appropriately, Earl’s model of the ship has been on display in the Buck Library in Bucksport for the last 10 years.

“By the third ship, you are hooked,” he says. “You know you can do a better job on the next vessel and you drive yourself to a higher level of accuracy.” Earl now waits for orders before starting to work on a ship.

Today he posts pictures of his models on his website, www.geocities.com/mainecoastersriggers. [This article was published in 2005, and this link is no longer valid.] He builds his ships to scale 1/4″=1′, plank on frame. “I can scratch-build a schooner from the keel up in about 7-9 months,” he says. Morrill works only on Maine sailing ships and insists they must be documentable and original (the first model to be built). A number of years ago, the owner of a local newspaper saw the S.S. ROOSEVELT on display in Bucksport and asked Morrill to build him a vessel. After some negotiating, he agreed to build a historic model of the brig TELOS, out of Bangor, for $9,000. In this case, his client even agreed to do the research.

Morrill is particularly proud of the model he made of the SPITFIRE, a fast clipper ship built in 1853. At one point, she held the record of 106 days for the fastest trip from New York to San Francisco. The SPITFIRE is currently on display in the Searsport Marine Museum. His research included examining 19th century maps of the Penobscot River area in an effort to locate a slipway large enough to accommodate a 200-foot vessel. His challenge was that in the 19th century, there were 40 towns on the Penobscot with slipways for constructing ships and he had to find a specific site. After careful study he found both the slipway and house of the builder, Isaac Dunham, in present-day Winterport. Earl finished the SPITFIRE in 2000 and it was sold at the Maritime Museum’s annual fund-raiser for $20,000.

Historic model shipbuilding has always been much more than just a hobby for Morrill, and yet he has had to earn a living. After graduating from Brewer High School (class of ’64) he joined the Navy and served for six years as a damage control man on a nuclear submarine off Vietnam. Following his discharge he lived in Portland, first as an engineer on a coastal tanker, the W.M. MCLOON. Later he worked at The Harris Co. making fishing gear. For the last 15 years Earl’s “day job” has been at U.S. Blades, a knife and saw shop in nearby Hampden. And yet wherever he is, Morrill admits he “always has a model ship building project going on.”

Morrill works up to 30 hours evenings and weekends on his “second” job, rarely taking a vacation. To date, he estimates, he has built almost 20 historic sailing ships from scratch. Included are eight or nine schooners, one barkentine, two brigs, three clippers, two frigates and a packet ship. In addition, he figures he has restored “close to” another 30 ships. Morrill plans to retire from his job at U.S. Blades in the not-too-distant future and yet, unlike many retirees, he has more than enough to keep himself busy for the rest of his life. Over the years he has developed a database of more than 4,000 vessels, including 2,800 built on the Penobscot River from 1780 to 1940. “I am self-taught on the computer,” he says. “I had to learn to be able to do quicker research on maritime history.” Morrill has always had a number of students to whom he sends lessons, compiled from his old model-building records, once a week. “We are all set up with the same graphic software so I can send drawings, pictures and ship plans,” he says. Most of his students live in the United States, though he says a student from Australia built a “really nice Maine schooner a couple of years ago — some guys get it and some give it up. You gotta love it or leave it alone.”

To view the original article, click here.

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Welcome!

Hello, everyone. At some point this summer, either in person or on Facebook, you’ve probably come across my name, but I’ll introduce myself again. I’m Polly Bickford-Duane, the intern at the Orrington Historical Society. I’m going into my senior year at Wheaton College in Massachusetts and double majoring in English literature and French. I grew up in South Orrington and Judith Gillis, president of the OHS, used to be my middle school English teacher. We connected last winter for the first time since then to discuss what I could do for the Historical Society, and realized that an internship would both give her the extra help she needed and allow me to add a great experience to my resume.

Over the summer, Judith and I have been busy (if you know her personally, you know she hardly takes the time to breathe). Among other projects, we’ve been interviewing residents of our community about what life was like when they were growing up. Here in Orrington we’re lucky to have a number of people who are willing to share their stories with us.

Judith and I have also been working on the digital repository at the Maine State Library. It’s essentially an online database for old books and personal records. Judith and I use the new cradle scanner at the library, which allows you to scan books without flattening the spine. The file of the book then goes into the Maine State Library database. Thanks to Adam Fisher, who works at the library and manages the digital repository, we’ve been able to integrate the Orrington collection with our new website. If you visit our Special Collections page you’ll find all the books Judith and I have scanned so far. We hope to scan even more in the future, so the page will be continuously updated.

Speaking of our website, my main project this summer was updating ours. It has been redone in a completely new format and I hope it’s both informative and easy to use. Working on the website has been a lot of fun for me – it’s an opportunity to exercise my creativity and improve my technology skills at the same time.

Clearly, this summer has given me a range of new skills to add to my resume, but it has become more than that. Working with the Orrington Historical Society has been an incredible experience and has taught me to appreciate history in a way that doesn’t always come across in a classroom. Interviewing people about their lives has made me realize how important it is to keep history alive in a format accessible to as many people as possible. With that in mind, I’ll be working as much as I can with the OHS even as I head back to school – I’ll be managing and updating the website from my dorm room two states away.

If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or historical or genealogical information to share, please contact us at info@orringtonhistoricalsociety.com or post on the Orrington Historical Society Facebook page. We look forward to hearing from you.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Polly

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