Since the death of James D. Morgan on Sept. 25 at age 94, I have enjoyed reading the tributes published in the Gazette. Not being on the Island, I missed the many remembrances surely delivered at the burial ceremony for him at the Abel’s Hill Cemetery and at the Chilmark Community Center following his interment.

Any attempt by me to summarize the man’s character would never do him justice, since defining inevitably limits. However, for me, Jim was the summation of a solid citizen: a diligent provider and devoted family man and a sage (in shoreside and sea-going matters) as well as good-humored.

Jim joins a long and enduring line of Chilmarkers who share those traits, including one of nobility. For beyond the obvious facetious quip that would account for Jim and a neighbor addressing each other as Squire at morning coffee at the Texaco station, there was a thread of historical truth in the greeting. (Some of today’s Islanders are in fact descendants of colonists entitled by the British Crown.)

One thing I shared with Jim was an appreciation of the harpoon swordfishery, where his experience in that line of work preceded and exceeded by far my own. In my ongoing endeavor to capture and preserve as much of the lore and history of the fishery as I could, Jim was one of my most helpful

interviewees. He even provided me with drawings in his own hand of how the vessel and her dories were rigged and how things were done offshore. It was probably a labor of love for Jim, as not only did he appreciate the mystique of the fishery and its agreeable way of life, but it had been a very remunerative line of work for him.

Jim had been a crew member on the swordfish highline vessel Christine and Dan, run by the Larsen brothers out of Menemsha, this happening after Jim’s World War II service in the U.S. Merchant Marine. During those post-war years, he told me that local fishermen could make $5,000 to $6,000 per year (about the cost of a comfortable Vineyard home at that time). Those who worked ashore, carpenters for instance, were making about $1,500 per year.

I cannot over state the monetary importance and cultural significance to the Vineyard community that the harpoon swordfishery had for many decades. Unfortunately, that once-glorious and wealth-producing fishery was mismanaged to economic insignificance for local fishermen, all of which was an ongoing source of disconsolation for Jim.

Although generally temperate and always a gentleman, Jim could express some strong opinions on politics, especially with those involving fishery management issues. One time a sportfishing advocate published an article in the newspaper decrying the setting of gill-nets by a local commercial fisherman off of the Chilmark north shore. Jim had an opportunity to convey his displeasure with the writer of the piece when he made an appearance at the dock in Menemsha.

From Jim’s standpoint, the young commercial fisherman involved was just trying to earn a living in a way that many Island sons had for generations in those same waters. The sportfishing proponent, uncomfortable with being openly engaged on the issue before the Bar of Squid Row quickly offered that Jim could express his objections to the piece by writing a letter to the editor. Jim’s response was, “Why would I write a letter to the editor when I have the author right here.”

As said earlier, Captain Morgan combined a sound personal foundation with good humor. A couple of years back, Jim, in reference to the fraught resource of the erstwhile swordfishery, said to a few of his confreres: “If they ever come back, you can come up to Abel’s Hill and pull me out.”

Otherwise, may James D. Morgan rest in peace.

Russell E. Cleary lives in Pepperell.