Back in 1874, during what Arthur Railton coined A Remarkable Summer, history intersected interestingly and ironically surrounding who we celebrate during Black History month and on President’s Day this long weekend. When the New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamboat Company was organized in 1886, they started with four side-wheel steamers: the Island Home, the Martha’s Vineyard, the Monohansett and the River Queen. The Island Home and Martha’s Vineyard will no doubt outlast us all, their famed names history-resistant.
The Monohansett, named after the diminutive 12-acre Elizabeth Island off of Naushon, was a favorite of both Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln, and was used as a dispatch boat by Grant during the Civil War just months after it was built by the company, until the war ended.
The River Queen was also deployed by Grant as his private dispatch boat and was used for the infamous Hampton Roads Conference on Feb. 3, 1865, when Lincoln and William H. Seward met with three leaders of the confederate states in a peace conference to discuss terms for ending the Civil War. Discussed were the terms of surrender, the question of whether slavery might persist after the war, and if the south would be compensated for property lost through emancipation. Lincoln and Seward reportedly offered compromise on the issue of slavery, but the conference ended in failure and the war continued until that April. There is a famous painting called the Peacemakers by George Peter Alexander Haley that depicts President Lincoln, General Sherman, Admiral David Dixon Porter and General Grant aboard the River Queen.
On August 27, 1874, President Grant, his wife and entourage took a special train from Newport to Woods Hole, where the River Queen, back in service for the New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamboat Company — took them to Oak Bluffs’ Highland Wharf for his historic three-day visit. The visit to Oak Bluffs was interspersed with side trips to the Cape, Hyannis and Nantucket, all aboard the River Queen. That Saturday the steamer Martha’s Vineyard took the president and his party to Naushon, and the Monohansett returned them to the Vineyard as well as, on the last day of the visit, taking them homeward to New Bedford.
The Monohansett, built in 1862, was 182 feet long and weighed 489 tons, remarkably similar to the River Queen at 181 feet long and 426 tons. In an interesting side note, on July 17, 1874 before President Grant’s arrival, the River Queen was bested in a race with the Martha’s Vineyard — by more than a mile as reported by the Vineyard Gazette. I suppose the new Island Home (with more horsepower) could beat our Martha’s Vineyard in a race today, even with the freeboard that rocks it in rough weather.
An ad in the Gazette on August 17, 1883 announced the Monohansett was available for an excursion from New Bedford to view the scene of the fire in Vineyard Haven for one dollar. It was sold in 1901 and in June 1904 it was wrecked in a fog, incredibly enough on Little Misery Island in Salem Harbor on the way to Boston from Gloucester. The July 13 Vineyard Gazette reprinted a story from a Washington newspaper reporting that the River Queen had burned to the water’s edge following an explosion of a signal lantern and that, ironically, “For the past year or two the River Queen has been used as an excursion boat for Negroes.”
Uh-oh! The folks at the A-Maze-ing Oak Bluffs library have plans to get folks ages 3 and older lost in a giant maze tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Seriously. On Tuesday, Miki Wolfe continues her program teaching computing with the basics of buying and selling on eBay, the virtual yard sale of the future, at 6:30 p.m. And it’s free. Next Friday, Feb. 21, at 3 p.m. Damien Brennan hosts a presentation for those with plans to travel to Ireland.
Thanks to Karen Selsey from New York and Carolyn Correllus of Falmouth (formerly of Chilmark), we have confirmation that it was indeed Jimmy’s Chicken Shack on Circuit avenue — yes, the same owner as the famed one in Harlem.
I hope you have someone with whom to enjoy a happy Valentine’s Day — kisses and hugs if not.
Keep your foot on a rock.