Record of Local Shipwrecks Recovered at Auction

The logbook of George F. Cary, a public notary that served in Machias from 1891-1912, contains a dozen testimonials from shipmasters that lost their cargo. The book was found mixed in with others at an auction by Brian Smith of Baileyville. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

By Lura Jackson

 

In an area with as much history as Down East Maine, it isn’t uncommon to find remnants of past eras – though the quality of the contents wildly varies. Brian Smith of Baileyville recently found a piece of local history at auction that contains accounts of ill-fated voyages of vessels traveling through the area.

Smith’s find is a logbook by George F. Cary, a notary public that served in Machias from 1891-1912. The logbook contains hand-copied testimony from shipmasters that suffered the loss of their cargo while in transit and thus had to “protest the note” – meaning they were requesting release from the promissory note. It was found mixed in a box of books that Smith purchased at J.W.’s Auction in Old Town, mixed among school books, dictionaries and a collection of state and federal history-related books.

Along with the “sworn depositions of shipmasters of their last voyages,” Smith explained that the book contains details like wind speed, sea conditions and where the boats went aground. The actual signatures of the ship’s masters are included as well. “It’s like you’re on that ship that day and it’s reporting everything that’s there,” Smith said, adding that he read it four times consecutively in his excitement.

Among the twelve schooners listed are some out of Calais, such as the George E. Dale. Another is the schooner Everett, which ran aground in Devil’s Head, broke its mainsail, had to get a new crew in Eastport after the last one abandoned the master, and then once again ran aground.

Included in the notary’s log are mentions of various historic businesses from up and down the coastal area including Beckett and Co., Calais National Bank, Washington County Railroad and various Milbridge, Machias, Bangor and Eastport businesses. The formation of the Whiting Wagon Company is included along with mentions of the Holmes Confectionary company and the Columbia Phonograph Company in Machias.

“Every town had multiple notaries,” said Al Churchill, President of the St. Croix Historical Society. He said that this particular notary may have specialized in naval situations, and said the log is interesting because it specifically includes accounts of the less-than-successful situations in which ship masters found themselves. “We have information on all these ships in terms of when they were built, if they ran aground and sank, where they ran aground and how it happened. That’s just basic details. Accounts like this you won’t find in many other places.”

“It’s incredible history in detail,” Smith said. “One of the accounts from Eastport said the ship broke up and sank and [the ship master] grabbed on to a piece of the hull to keep him alive, but the crew of the ship all drowned.”

 

Smith plans to sell the logbook at auction in the near future.