"I was born in Lower Economy, Nova Scotia seventy-five years ago. At the age of sixteen on July 21st 1878 I shipped on the brigantine “Busy Bee” with Capt. Robert Ellwood of Five Islands, Nova Scotia. We loaded lumber at Economy, N.S. and was bound for Newery, Ire. We arrived in thirty days. We discharged our cargo in Newery, Ireland; which took about a month, took in sand ballast and started back light. At thirty days out of Newery we were only half way across because of high winds and gales.
Around the 25th of Oct. we struck a gale and was love to for three days. The fourth morning at eight bells while the watch below was eating breakfast in the forward house the Captain saw a big sea coming and knew the ship could not ride on top. He called al hand aft. When the sea was about twenty feet away from the ship the top of the wave broke and smashed the forward house and life boats and heaved her right over on her broad side. The ballast shifted and took part of her bilsom with it. She stayed down on her side with the end of the end of the yards sticking in the water.
The captain gave orders to cut the spars out of her. We cut some of the riggings on the weather side and both masts broke flush with the deck. She then righted up and lay on her beam end. She started leaking badly and the pumps could not work because she was laying over too far. So we had to rig a barrel on a sling. Two men went forward on the life line and bailed water out of the hole. The two men were relieved every half hour. This continued or three days and three nights without food or water. The food and water were spoiled with salt water.
During the third night the Captain, thinking we had a slim chance of being saved, called all hands to-gether and wanted all to pray. We sat in a row and all prayed to be saved until was came to the second mate. He was a Norwegian, the captain asked why we would not pray. He answered that he would have to pray in Norwegian and it would be of no use because the Captain could not understand him. This did not seem funny at the time, but does as I recall it.
The fourth morning at day break, the Captain’s sister who was the cook’s wife, sighted a ship on the horizon. When the ship came nearer she sighted us and ran close by our stern.The rescue ship, with Capt. Joyce, was bound from Newfoundland to Italy, and was loaded with dry fish.
Capt. Joyce hailed us and asked how many in our crew we had. Our captain answered ten all told and that one was a woman. The sea was too rough to transfer us then, so Capt. Joyce said he would stand by for calmer seas. He stayed by all that day and that night, the next morning at sun rise he ran down close to the Busy Bee. We had to run and jump over-board as far from the ship as we could. The cook’s wife was afraid to jump so had to heave her overboard. The life boat from the ship standing by picked each one up as they jumped.
I was one of the last to leave the ship. Before we jumped overboard we had to set fire to the wrecked ship to sink it. Just as we two got aboard the rescue ship the Busy Bee exploded and sank.
Capt. Joyce kept in his course and landed at [illegible]. All hands lost everything except what we stood in. But the English counsel took care of us and sent us to Liverpool where we were able to ship for ourselves.
This was quite an experience for a sixteen-year-old boy, don’t you think.
I have lived in the United States for the last fifty years and am a naturalized citizen.
This is the first hand account of a ship wreck in 1878 in the Atlantic Ocean of which my great-great grandfather survived at the age of sixteen.He had sailed from the time he was 16 until he was 61 years old. My grandfather sent a photocopied letter of this account and I have written it just as Daniel did in 1939, 8 years before he passed away in Boston, Massachusetts.
Fair winds and following seas....
The wind woke me up during the loneliest hours of the early morning and I crept through the darkness to the picture window, hoping the moon’s light would illuminate the destruction I was sure was unfolding outdoors. There was no light and as my eyes adjusted to the night, I saw the tops of tree bending and dancing to the howling winds. I stood there for some time watching and listening, appreciating the comforts around me but at the same time wanting to feel the cold night nip at me.
I visualized myself down at the local beach, experiencing the night, the wind and the waves as all three muted my senses. By this time I was transported into my imagination to another time, another place. A day dreamer at my core, I never miss an opportunity let myself get lost, spinning a tale that I only I can see.
In this other world I left the house, my feet knew the path before me, I did not need to see, an unknown desire drew me down the gravel road toward the uninhabited beach. I reached the waters edge, I stood quiet and alone clearing my mind from the worries of life, leaving no room for anything except what was right in front of me.
Far out into the bay I could see the outline of a ship from a time I knew before, not of this earthly body but an ancestral one. The tide rushed at my feet, the methodical yet chaotic ebb rising to my ankles. The ship swayed on the waves and I could make out people. Listening as the water brought their voices to me, I could hear the chatter of preparation for a journey to be taken.
The wind quickened, pushing me further into the numbing sea water, tangling my hair and making me believe I could be swept away with no repercussions. The water sirens were there, humming at first, a slow, quite tone barely recognizable. Their song grew louder as the wind died down, knowing that it was their time. They followed the ship out of the bay and I was left alone on the beach once more, to watch the ship depart towards a destiny that at this time I only knew.
My wandering thoughts had taken me back to a letter my grandfather had written me about our shared ancestors. He wrote to me after I had moved to Canada to tell me that our relatives arrived to the area now known as Economy, NS in the early 1700’s.
The story goes that the man was given as much land as he could walk in a day and so he did just that, inviting his relatives to come settle after he was granted the land. We became ship builders and seaman and in my grandfathers words….Pirates.
I am enthralled with idea that I am descendant of a pirate. Not in the romantic, Hollywood version of “pirate”, or male center idea of a rebel. I like think I have a bit of she-pirate in me; bold, calculated and a natural leader, able incite a following of like minded individuals to achieve together what we could not alone.
But pirates was not the meat of this letter, it was to tell the tale of a voyage to Ireland that nearly cost a crew its life. And at the last possible moment, as the ship was certainly doomed and the men prayed together, they were saved. My great-great-grandfather, a young man of 16 at the time, living through an ordeal that no doubt shaped his entire life. And a story that I often think about when the weather turns this way.
Little Frank came upstairs to find me, pulling me back to the present day. Her nails clicked on the laminate as she made her way to join me at the window. In a way I wondered if she knew how I was feeling and that’s why she sought me out. She nudged at me and we made our way back to bed, to be lulled to sleep by the signing of the winds.
The next morning, we set out for a day of beaching combing, hoping that the high tides from the last full moon and the winds of the night before would bring in some interesting finds, or at least provide a mornings entertainment. It was chilly, my wool beanie and gloves kept me warm as we made our way down the familiar path leading to the little beach on the Minas Basin, the upper part of the Bay of Fundy.
The wind whipped at my face, pushing me toward the expansive beach. The sun was hidden behind a thick cloud bank and I was glad I was bundled up for this adventure. Frank shot ahead, running easily on the soft silty clay sand while I took my time scanning the rocks for sea glass or other treasures. Shells and rocks, rocks and shells but no sea glass.
As I walked, I remembered a ‘Happiness Rock’ I had seen last summer on the Dobson trail. A plain flat rock painted a bright color with an inspirational message. I enjoyed finding those little ‘gems’ and as I was not having luck finding sea glass, I switched my focus to flat rocks.
After hearing my plan, my beach partner yelled out “Only the interesting rocks”, just as I put my hand on wedge shaped rock that instantly struck me as wanting to be painted as a pizza slice. We continued this way, directionless and silent, listening to the waves creep closer as the sun started to emerge from the clouds. Not a piece of sea glass to be found but my pack was gaining weight with every interesting stone; a future butterfly and a stack of books were among my favorite finds.
We scanned the vastness in front of us for some shelter from the cold, biting winds, to make some tea and compare our treasures. A sun bleached heavy log that had accumulated a grouping of drift wood was the obvious choice, offering a block against the wind bringing in the Fundy tide.
My pack off and the kettle boiling I ran down the beach, Frankie chasing after me, stopping quickly to let the sun hit my face. The waves were increasing speed and I stood memorized by their random synchronicity. The sounds of the beach were growing louder, the narrative in my mind retreating. I stood in my power stance at the edge of the water, arms straight up and feet firmly planted. I breathed in and reached toward the sky, absorbing the March sun.
I was struck with the realization that I could possibly be sharing a view, a moment through time, with a relative from the past. As a girl who has very few kin in this current world, it is a comforting thought. Many of my lineage stood on the shores of this bay, gazing out into the bright day, wondering about what lays ahead for the people they love; their futures yet unwritten.
I was brought back to the moment last night, thinking about that ship on the eve of departure. About the story of those men untold and the connection to this area that is undiscovered. I set an intention to find the letter and properly share their story. A seagull called out over head and I was brought back to myself as Frankie pawed at me from below.
We meandered back to our small camp to enjoy the rest of the outing. As we eventually set out for home, turning from the sun, I left behind the red clay rocks for another day and quite possibly another time.