Jonathan Lowder Jr., A blue water Mainer lost at sea

By Charles H. Lagerbom | Oct 08, 2020
Courtesy of: Charles H. Lagerbom Veazie's Fairview Cemetery is the grave site of the Lowders, from left, Jonathan Sr., Jonathan Jr. and Mary (Polly) Joy Lowder, wife of Jonathan Jr.

Jonathan Lowder Jr. was born sometime around 1782 and grew up in post-war Castine. His father had been Massachusetts’ appointed Truckmaster to the Penobscot Indians during the Revolutionary War and operated a trading post (Truckhouse) on the Penobscot River. Captured by the British late in the war, he resurfaced as a citizen of Castine once the war was over. Later, in recognition of his war-time services, he received 100 acres on the Penobscot in present day Veazie. It became the Lowder homestead.

Jonathan Jr. quickly turned to the sea and apparently rose fast through the ranks. In September 1801, the brig Hope sailed from Boston to Salem with a Lowder as master, most likely Jonathan. He became a ‘blue’ water captain. Blue water men sailed trans-Atlantic ships and worked European ports and waters.

It is known that by 1805, Jonathan was master of a schooner named Charlotte and that he eventually co-owned the vessel with John Peters of Surry. Charlotte’s homeport was Trenton at Frenchman’s Bay, but she worked the European trade.

Records show in 1805, Charlotte was in England with Jonathan as master. She sailed from Liverpool for Boston in early March with a cargo of hardware and crates and reached port by mid-April, after 41 days. On April 1, she spoke to the ship Fair American at 46°N, 24°W as well as Eliza Haley of Philadelphia. At 33°N, 30°W, Charlotte spoke to Commerce from Hallowell.

Earlier that month, Commerce had been boarded by a French privateer. Due to their limited provisions, the French had put 11 English prisoners aboard Commerce. Jonathan offered to take eight of them aboard his ship. He also encountered heavy ice that crossing, so much so at 42°N, 50°W, that he had to steer south and west for quite a distance to get clear.

Charlotte made another Liverpool run after first stopping in New York. They departed Liverpool for Boston Aug. 20, 1805. On Sept. 23, she was spoke to at 64°10’N, 35°51’W, 29 days out. Charlotte arrived early October, first to New York and then to Port of Philadelphia after 43 days at sea. She brought a cargo of dry goods for William Davy and Son.

On Sept. 14 at 49°48’N, 23°W, Jonathan’s ship was boarded by the French privateer Saint Peter, 16 guns out of Bordeaux. Two English prisoners were put aboard Charlotte and the privateers took all but one of Jonathan’s newspapers.

The next day, they were boarded again, this time by a French privateer of 10 guns, also from Bordeaux. They proceeded to plunder Charlotte of all cabin stores and even took her spare rigging. It was reported they behaved in a rough manner. The rest of Charlotte’s voyage was uneventful.

Charlotte next loaded cargo in Philadelphia and cleared port Dec. 17, 1805, bound for Limerick, Ireland, although a New York newspaper reported she cleared Philadelphia for Senegal. While it is possible they spent some of 1806 in French Senegal on Africa’s coast, records are sketchy.

Charlotte next shows up in early 1807, when she cleared Philadelphia for Europe. Jonathan and ship were next reported in Altona, Hamburg, present-day Germany, on the Elbe River’s right bank across from Lower Saxony, eastward of the state border with Schleswig-Holstein.

In August 1807, Philadelphia newspapers reported Charlotte, of Trenton, with Jonathan as master, stranded outside Tonningen, near Amsterdam. Part of her cargo was damaged and the schooner had to be hauled off some rocks. Underwriters put it up for sale. This may have been when he and Peters became co-owners.

By September 1807, Charlotte was repaired and refloated. Jonathan sailed her to Gottenburg, Sweden and then to Plymouth, England with a cargo of Swedish goods. It was a risky enterprise due to Napoleon’s Berlin and Milan Decrees, which blocked trade between England and European continent, but at least it kept him out of American waters and the effects of Jefferson’s crippling 1807 Embargo Act.

On Jan. 23, 1808, Charlotte departed Plymouth once more for Gottenburg, this time with cargo of salt and nearly 2,300 gallons of wine owned by him. Charlotte was four days out in the English Channel when a French corsair La Revanche, commanded by Captain Fourmentier, seized her. They were taken into Ostend.

On Aug. 18, the Imperial Council of Prizes at Paris condemned Charlotte and appropriated her cargo, citing the Berlin and Milan Decrees. Jonathan had violated Napoleon’s Continental System, having departed Plymouth directly for Sweden. Charlotte was valued at $10,000 and her cargo, $5,000.

Jonathan’s estate was eventually awarded $10,611 under the July 4, 1831 treaty with France. While it took over 25 years to settle, the immediate financial impact was devastating. Jonathan returned home on Fair American, reaching Philadelphia July 3, 1809. He arrived in time to face full effects of Jefferson’s Embargo Act, which crippled American merchant shipping.

About this time, Jonathan married Mary (Polly) Joy, born in Ellsworth on Nov. 10, 1783. Their marriage was brief and produced no children. For the next three years, there is little record of Jonathan, although he is listed as head of household at the Lowder homestead in the 1810 U.S. Federal Census.

In October 1811, Jonathan mortgaged his 50-acre portion of the homestead for $400 to Samuel Joy, possible relation to his wife. The money was used to buy part ownership in a three-year old schooner named Rose.

Rose was a 130-ton single-deck schooner that drew 11 feet when fully loaded. Jonathan plied a regular route between Portugal and Ireland. On Jan. 3, 1812, Rose arrived at Waterford, Ireland from Lisbon. By February, they were seen 10 days out of St. Ubes, a port city 30 miles south of Lisbon bound for Boston. Then nothing. Jonathan and Rose simply vanished, lost at sea.

By 1815, Jonathan Lowder Jr. was officially declared dead. His grave marker states he died Feb. 23, 1815, age 34, but that appears to be the death date declaration three years after he went missing in February 1812. His wife Mary (Polly) Joy Lowder died Aug. 4, 1812, only 28 years old.

Mary was buried in an area set apart on ‘the plains,’ as it was called, above Mt. Hope, near Bangor. It was used by citizens of that neighborhood and is now within the limits of the town of Veazie. Jonathan Sr. was buried next to Mary in 1814 and Jonathan Jr.’s slate headstone added the following year, once he was declared officially dead. They were likely the first three burials in this ground, later named Fairview Cemetery of Veazie.

There is lots more maritime history of this interesting Maine family, the Lowders. More to come, including Jonathan’s younger brother William, an early Midcoast Maine shipbuilder.

Charles Lagerbom teaches AP US History at Belfast Area High School and lives in Northport. He can be contacted at clagerbom@rsu71.org. He is author of "Whaling in Maine" available through Historypress.com.

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