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Experience of a Port Jefferson Skipper

According to the Long Island Genealogy.com web site: “.... From 1797 to 1902, some 44 individuals and firms const

ructed 354 vessels: 68 sloops, 233 schooners, 20 brigs, 10 barks, 2 ships (full-rigged), 17 steamers, 3 yawls, and 1 gunboat,” at Long Island shipyards. Among the ship builders were members of the Bayles family (Baylis, Bailes), of Port Jefferson (NY)! The Bayles were involved in approximately, “…126 vessels as separate builders or in combination with other shipyards”. The first in the line of family involvement in the ship builders industry was Elisha Bayles (1780-1851). He was a caulker, a skilled craftsman that sealed the hull and deck of vessels at shipyards on both sides of the Long Island Sound. . Elisha, and his wife Dorothy Edwards (1784-1852) had five (5) sons and one (1) daughter, Maria Bayles (1806-1886). The couple’s oldest child was Alfred Edwards Bayles (1804-1892). Their other sons were: Charles Lloyd Bayles (1808-1810), who died at the age of 2, Charles Lloyd (1811-1903), named after his deceased brother, James Madison Bayles (1815-1889), and Joseph William Bayles (1819-1904). Originally, the couple lived in Mt. Sinai (NY) where their eldest son was born, then settled in Drown Meadow (now Port Jefferson), where Elisha was listed as a merchant. Here all the other children were born, and the Bayles family entered the shipbuilding industry and stayed for generations. On September 22, 1900, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper published an article entitled Experience of a Port Jefferson Skipper in the Good Ship Rosa Eppinger, Built by His Brother, illustrating Captain Joseph William Baylis’ pride in the family shipbuilding business. As the youngest child, he did not enter the shipbuilding business, but decided to sail the vessels his family built. In the interview, Joseph related one of his experiences as a Captain to the Eagle reporter. Captain Bayles told a tale of how he lost his son at sea, and “wrecked the finest ship that ever sailed from this port.” At the time of the article, Joseph was 80-years old, and had sailed as Captain for 65-years. The Captain began his tale, “There were seventy-five sloops owned in Port Jefferson when I first began going to sea in 1835,” He had sailed as a cook on a sloop at the age of 15, then became a master at 20. As Captain, he first sailed the Ann Eliz, a sloop, however he believed that no craft equaled the Rosa Eppinger, the 500 ton schooner built by his brother James M. Bayles. Captain Bayles had sailed this schooner for 7-years, mostly on the same route to Florida until he encountered the worst storm ever during his life at sea. It had been hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin with tropical cyclones forming. It is believed, the 1880 Atlantic season consisted of two (2) tropical storms, seven (7) hurricanes, and two (2) category 3 to 4 major hurricanes. Just a year before, Captain Bayles was mentioned in the New York Herald newspaper. It had been reported in the November 14, 1879 issue, the Rosa Eppinger schooner with Bayles, as skipper sailed from Cedar Keys on November 8. At the time Cedar Keys was home to the mills of the Faber and Eagle pencil companies, Suwannee Lumber Company, Fenimore Steam, and the Standard Manufacturing Company. Most of these companies were shipping pine to New York City. The following year in July 1880, the Captain again sailed around to Cedar Keys, a Gulf port in Florida west of Gainesville for a cargo of yellow pine. The Captain told how, “Deck load and all, we had 248,000 feet on board, worth $27,000. We sailed for New York August 10. By Thursday, the 15th, the Captain, crew and passengers were well through Florida Straits, between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as between the Florida Keys and Cuba. Heading north up the Florida coast, the Captain mentioned the wind was blowing north by east. “I didn’t like the looks of things that night and I the morning at 4, weather looked so bad I tacked and stood off eight hours, then resumed our course,” the Captain stated. As an experienced Captain, he knew he had to change the course of the schooner by bringing the head into the wind, then causing it to fall off on the other side. The Captain continued, “Wind breezing up all the while north by east, sky overcast, of a dull, smoky color, and little rain showers. All day the wind piped up and we kept shortening sail. By night we had nothing spread but the mainsail, and that double reefed, the forestaysail and a trysail on the mizzen mast. Saturday morning it was blowing big guns and no mistake. I never saw anything like it in my sixty-five years at sea.” The Captain spoke in nautical terms, “About 8 A. M., there was a report like a cannon and the forestaysail went floating off to leeward, a cloud of dust. A rope had parted letting the wind get at her, and off she went. I at once gave orders to wear ship (or turn the ship against the wind). We got her head off shore, and lay to all day, my pet behaving beautifully and riding the tremendous rollers like a gull.” The Captain’s personal tragedy happened Saturday night, “huge sea came aboard and swept my eldest son, and another man (reported to be a man of color), into the boiling waters.” The death of Joseph D. Bayles was witnessed by his father, who probably believed his role was to fix things. The Captain could not save his son from being washed overboard, and his resulting death. He seemed to have blamed himself, and had a deep feeling of tremendous guilt and failure. The Captain continued, “The man, as he went over, caught the top mast backstay and held on till we rescued him, but my poor boy was never seen again.” “Sunday morning at 7”, the Captain stated, “We threw the lead and found ten fathoms. An hour later there came a towering sea that swept our decks, pounced on our double reefed mainsail, broke the gaff in three pieces (that had been put in new six weeks before), and carried everything away. That, was our last sail and left us with bare poles. Of course, it was only a question of time when we would go ashore.” The Captain praised the workmanship of his family, “I knew our craft was built in Bayles’ shipyard, here at home and would hold together, whatever came, and I told Uncle Charlie, the mate, to get all hands into the cabin, and stay there.” The crew consisted of eight (8), and two (2) passengers, a young man from Norfolk, Connecticut, and a man from New Jersey. The Captain, mate, crew, cook, and the two (2) passengers stayed in the cabin, as they were “tossed about with timbers creaking and groaning, like live things, over their coming fate, until 10:30”. The Captain stated, “…with a tremendous thump, the Rosa came down on the outer bar, the shock taking off her mizzen mast head, but not a timber nor a plank started. The next sea took her over, and she went broadside on bumping over the bars, until 4 o’clock in the afternoon, when she brought up on the inner bar, close to the beach. This was so near you could have tossed a biscuit ashore, but there was pretty wild water between us and it.” Tom, the crew’s best seaman volunteered to swim ashore “with a lead line and then haul a hawser (a large rope used for mooring or towing) after him, by which we might get to land.” He was lowered to leeward or in the direction that the wind was blowing, but as soon as he got near “the bows, the combers swept him under and he had to let go of the line. We watched him, now under the breakers, now riding their crest until he was flung on the beach a mass of bruises, and slowly drew himself up above their reach.” The plan did not work! Ernest Raynor (1867), the young cook, then volunteered to try to get to the beach. He was lowered over the side, but his fate was similar to Toms. As the surf came ashore, Tom pulled the bruised and cut Ernest out of the surf. The Captain remembered saying to Uncle Charlie, the 1st mate, “The forecastle jack ought to be out of water. Run in between the rollers and if it is hold up your hands.” Uncle Charlie followed the Captains instruction, and held up his hand. The entire crew ran to the cabin, and found what they believed to be safe dry quarters! Here they stayed all night as tons of water fell hard on the deck, however by morning the water was up to the crew’s waist. The Captain, crew, and passengers left the schooner, and waded ashore near Cape Canaveral without a house in sight. The castaways split into two groups going into different directions to explore their surroundings. The crew had not eaten in two (2) days, so Uncle Charlie went back to the schooner to retrieve a piece of salt pork, there was nothing else eatable. The lost provisions probably consisted of salted beef, pickled fish, coffee, potatoes, beans, flour, molasses, and dried sea biscuits. The next morning, the hurricane was over, and with the help of people of color, and their boats, the Captain, 1st mate, crew, cook, and passengers sailed up the lagoon or intercostal waterway to Titusville, on the Indian River. Around 1880, Titusville had a population of approximately 300, a few stores, a post office, two hotels and a newspaper. The Captain asked, a Titusville storekeeper for provisions, and to take a message to John Clark in Jacksonville. It was probably John C. Clark (1826) born in New Hampshire, a wholesale grocer, and his son John E. Clark, a grocer. Captain Bayles had sailed approximately forty-seven (47) voyages to Florida, and everyone connected to the shipping industry new him. The Captain, 1st mate, crew, cook, and passengers were assisted in getting to Jacksonville, and from there to New York. The Rosa Eppinger schooner might have experienced the 4th tropical storm of the season that formed over the Atlantic about August 24. It was reported to have reached hurricane strength on the 26th. The next day, at its peak, the winds are said to have reached 100 mph. The storm would retain that intensity until its landfall near St. Augustine, Florida on August 29. The schooner Rosa Eppinger was a casualty, lost in the storm off the Florida coast! After the Captain arrived back on Long Island, he “got another schooner and sailed many years after that without an accident.” The Bayles family would build the Captain another schooner. The “Bay being so solidly frozen that material cannot be delivered,” reported the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 25, 1881 giving the status of the Port Jefferson shipyards. The newspaper continued, “When the Spring Season opens, however there will be unusual activity. The Messrs. Bayles have a contract for a three masted double decked schooner for Captain Joseph Bayles, commander of the wrecked Rosa Eppinger. She will be employed, as the Eppinger was, in bringing cedar from Florida for a New York lead pencil manufactory.” Another new contract for the Bayles builders was for a 600 ton brig for Captain Herman Skinner Aldrich (1853-1933), to be employed in the East India trade. Aldrich was married to a Martha Marie Bayles (1854-1936), the daughter of Thomas D. Bayles, Jr. (1823-1911), and Harriet M. Davis (1823-1902). Thomas was a relative of Elisha Bayles, the Port Jefferson Caulker. The third contract was for John R. Mather (1814-1899), to build a three masted schooner. The work had been delayed, since the bay was a mass of ice, no vessels were arriving or departing for more than a month. John was the grandson of Captain Alexander Mather, and on his mother’s side John Willse, a ship carpenter. John’s step-father W. L. Jones had started a shipyard in 1830, and built the famous schooner Pearl in 1834. It is believed, the schooner was the vessel mentioned in the Pearl Slave Incident in 1848 (Washington DC). It is said, John Mather had received permission to build a wharf in Port Jefferson. This was later used by James M. Bayles. Captain Joseph William Bayles died April 24, 1904 at Sailor Snug Harbor, a retirement facility established by the will of Captain Richard Randall. The facility was built on 130-acres on Staten Island in 1833, as a retirement home for merchant seaman. Part 2 will take a look at the Bayles family shipbuilding business, and the vessels they built. It will highlight the four (4) most known: Elisha Bayles, his sons James Madison Bayles and Charles Lloyd Bayles, as well as grandson James Elbert Bayles, who joined the family business in 1863 in Port Jefferson, NY. Sandi Brewster-walker is an independent historian, genealogist, freelance writer and business owner. She is the chair of the Board of Trustees and acting executive director of the Indigenous People Museum & Research Institute. She has served in President Bill Clinton’s Administration as deputy director of the Office of Communications at the United States Department of Agriculture. Readers can reach her in c/o the LI.Indiginous.people.museum@gmail.com.


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