Ink by the Barrel

From the Gazette editions of December, 1908:

Apropos of the value of advertising, we will casually remark that the Edgartown citizen who used the Gazette column last week to the extent of 1/2 inch seeking to recover his horse blanket, had the article returned to him the very next night after the paper was issued, together with a contrite note from the pilferer. Of more power than a porous plaster, printer’s ink it is seen will even draw a horse-blanket out of the hands of the unwise “lifter” and restore it speedily to its rightful owner.

Living quietly in Edgartown, free from the cares of an active life, is a man who in his younger days faced the many perils of whaling. Capt. George G. Fisher knows what it is to be knocked about by wind and wave on that great endless expanse of water which seems without beginning and which has no end. An Edgartown man by birth, introduced to this world of toil and strife in 1830, at 17 years of age he was shipped as a boat-steerer by Capt. Edward Mayhew, then in command of the brig Vesta. His second voyage, in a similar capacity, was on the brig Harbinger, also of Edgartown, under Captain Francis Silva. In 1852, on his third voyage, as fourth mate of ship Omega, of Fairhaven, Capt. Jared Fisher, Edgartown, he was an eyewitness of one of the most terrible marine disasters in American history — the loss of the steamer Independence, with nearly half of her passengers.

“We were cruising near Marguerita Island where we had seen sperm whales. My crew was attracted by the sight of a number of men on a sand flat waving their hands and gesticulating like maniacs. It was from them that we learned of the disaster, and getting word to other whalers in the vicinity, we all participated in the rescue, taking off of that rocky island 257 passengers out of a total of 476.

“Mishap is a charitable way to speak of the occurrence,” he added, “but no one at the time considered it a mistake in navigation, for the Independence went to pieces just after daylight on a clear day. One of the passengers told me that the attention of the captain was called to a rock ahead but he paid no attention. It was said at the time that the company owning the Independence had contracted for a new steamer, and you could not make anyone who was acquainted with the wreck believe that it was an accident.”

It is seldom that Capt. Fisher talks of that experience, and even now gray with age, the old gentleman, when one mentions the occurrence, breaks out in a use of italics which does one’s heart good, and if there is any virtue in blessings or curses after one is dead, the officers of that steamer have come in for their share from Capt. Fisher. The captain continued whaling after that episode, rising to the rank of master, his first vessel being the brig Altamaha. His last cruise in a whaleship was in 1872.

Dr. George W. Field, chairman of the Massachusetts fish and game commission, announced today that 600 acres of land had been purchased on Martha’s Vineyard, which is proposed to devote to the propogation of the pinnated grouse, or heath hen. The bird was once very common from Cape Ann to Virginia, but a few years ago it had become almost extinct. Apparently its last stand was on the Vineyard, where in the winter of 1906-07 only 77 birds were accounted for. This number, however, has been increased by a favorable summer, and it is believed now that the colony numbers nearly 150 birds.

Thursday last was a great day with the cod and haddock fleet of seven or eight boats out, all making good catches, mostly haddock. The Mildred, Capt. Robt. Jackson, was reported “high hook” with 1,100. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, sch. Olive May, Capt. A.K. Silvia, made a catch of 1,900.

The Edgartown jail in the old days was something of a by-word and a good deal of a joke as the following will show. It is said that some up-Island man who did not relish the thought of working through the cold of the year, stole some article in order that he might spend the winter months within the hospitable shelter of the jail and that the authorities fell into the scheme with unsuspicious alacrity. But when the cold began to strengthen, his habitation did not prove all that the fancy of the prisoner had painted it. The wind came in around the windows as though it thought they were open and there were many seams from which the caulking had started, while the heating arrangements were as inadequate as the refrigerating was complete.

Finally our captive told the jailer plainly that he would not stay another day unless the place was made more comfortable, and as the prisoner could easily make his threat good, his keeper was forced to make the desired improvements. All this is, of course, no reflection on present facilities, for now can the winter of our discontent be made glorious by the Edgartown jail.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner