The captains Amesbury, who sailed the Seven Seas
Amesbury is a very familiar name in Rockport (once part of Camden) and four of that family were captains who chose Mountain View Cemetery as their final resting place. The captains were all once employed by Carleton, Norwood Co., as masters of ships owned by that company. Beginning with Capt. Jabez Alexander Amesbury, who was born in January 1800 on North Fox Island (now called North Haven) and he followed the sea until 1840. He was master of several sailing vessels hailing from Camden, Rockland and other Penobscot Bay ports.
He married Mary Thomas and they had the following children: Thomas, Oliver, Winthrop, Helen, Horatio, Edwin, Sarah, Jabez Jr. and Augusta. Some of their sons were the most prominent and successful sea captains, who also commanded the finest and largest American ships.
Jabez bought a farm in Goose River (now Rockport), where he lived until his death in 1845. He was a prominent Mason, who received the 33 degrees of the Scottish Rite. At the time of his death he was collecting pensions for widows of the Revolutionary War soldiers.
Capt. Stanley Amesbury was Jabez’s grandson, and the son of Jabez Jr. Capt. Stanley was born in Rockport on Aug. 12, 1868, and married Frances Brastow. In 1894, and for a number of years, he served as chief officer with his father. Then he became master of the bark Adolph Obrig, built in 1881 in Rockport by Carleton, Norwood Co. It was 208.2 feet long by 38.6 feet wide by 23 feet deep. It was owned by Carleton, Norwood Co., and its call letters were JVNC and 106021. It had a billet head and square stern. Everett Staples was the first master in 1882, and Capt. Stanley Amesbury took the helm in 1901.
Capt. Stanley made many voyages to the Far East very successfully until 1904. He then went on as master of a large steel ship of Standard Oil Company, called the ACME. He had just taken on the job a short while before his death on Jan. 22, 1905.
What I found most interesting were several newspaper reports about the Adolph Obrig.
The first one was in the New York Times, dated March 16, 1885, when Capt. Stanley Amesbury was the master. The headlines were “Four Deaths from a Mysterious Disease on the bark OBRIG.” Then it states the bark had arrived from Calcutta and lost four crew members, when a few days out, from the mysterious disease. Symptoms resembled those of cholera, but Capt. Amesbury did not think it could be, as only four of the crew got sick and died during that trip. When they first arrived in Calcutta six months before, the crew was nearly all in debt to the captain due to heavy advances they had received; then they deserted the ship. After cargo from this port had been loaded, they were held up until the captain could find a new crew. In Calcutta seamen were scarce, but he did find 14 and most were called “coolies.” They were paid advance wages and signed articles before they went aboard. A seaman named John McQuinn jumped overboard and swam a mile to shore. The captain had him arrested, but he claimed he never signed any papers and they could not waste any more time, so let him go. About four days after leaving port a sailor, John Williams, had cramps and stayed in the forecastle. Four hours later, he was dead, so they threw him overboard. Two others became ill. The crew became alarmed, so the captain gave them some medicine, but those two grew worse and died. Their bodies were thrown overboard. Captain Amesbury was now getting very concerned because his wife and children were aboard. After Spencer and Owen died, another seaman, James McCarthy, had fatal cramps in his stomach and he was placed in his bunk and died. (You can stop reading now, but it does get better.) They fumigated the forecastle and no one else got sick or died. Nothing else was thrown overboard except the sick men’s clothing. They were so short-handed that they had no afternoon watch below. Capt. Amesbury said that after he lost the northeast trade winds, in Latitude 21 degrees, the wind went completely around the compass eight times. That was not a pleasant trip.
Another story was in the Philadelphia Record Nov. 27, 1901. Newspapers always had “Ship News” then as there were no telephones, radios or television. Passing ships would “pass on” sightings of various vessels. This one stated that there were fears for the safety of the bark Adolph Obrig, now 177 days out of Hong Kong to Baltimore with a cargo of matting. She was last reported as passing Anjer on Aug. 21.
However, there was an article in the Baltimore American dated Dec. 14, 1901, and I quote: “Ship in Port after 198 Days at Sea. A beautiful square rigged sailing ship with yacht-like hull of graceful curves, looking spic and span with red, white and black paint tipped with gold, spotless decks and taunt rigging, the American bark, Adolph Obrig, arrived in port yesterday from Hong Kong, China .While she had often made the run from Hong Kong to New York in 109 to 116 days, she was out there an exceptionally long time this voyage of 198 days.”
The ship left Hong Kong the spring before and it was May 29 when she started down the China Sea, and before she had sailed the 2,000 miles to the foot of Chinese waters, she was out 87 days. (The usual time was 15 to 20 days.) The Adolph Obrig continuously met head winds and head currents. Many times when she made 30 miles per day to windward, calm would set in and she would be carried 60 miles back on her course by currents. The bark was 40 days from Cape Henry, but for three weeks Capt. Amesbury never removed his clothes because he couldn’t get in due to weather.
There were always pets aboard ship and included on the Adolph Obrig was a monkey that the Chinese cook took all over the world.
Capt. Stanley Amesbury had command of a ship when he was 21 years of age. He had been on this vessel nine years, and was mate with his father Jabez Jr., seven years on the larges American sailing ship, Roanoke.
According to Robinson’s History of Camden and Rockport, Capt. Stanley Amesbury died at age 36 years and five months in Shang-hai, China. Being a master of large sailing vessels was a great job, but sometimes they had harrowing experiences.
Barbara Dyer is the official town historian of Camden.