A Letter to Uncle Skip about Adventures on Boston Harbor and Near Lake Ponchartrain: Capt. E.G. Martin, Jr. (1843-1902) / Capt. E.G. Martin, Sr. (1815-1873)

Hi Uncle Skip and Aunt Nancy-
As you may know I was in Marblehead a few years ago and I went to Old Burial Hill, where several of our ancestors are buried.  Its a beautiful graveyard overlooking Marblehead Harbor.  I was able to find the gravestones of a few relatives, but my family tree research was not nearly as extensive as it is today, and many of the gravestones are difficult to read.  Interestingly, the older gravemarkers, which were made of granite have held up well, but the stone-workers used very fine lettering so it's often hard to decipher.  The newer headstones are made of marble, and acid rain and other factors have taken a heavy toll.
I just found a picture of Elbridge Gerry, Sr.'s, your great great grandfather, gravestone online.  As you can see, it has been badly damaged by the elements.  I wanted to let you know where your namesake's gravestone was.  If you are ever near Marblehead Old Burial Hill is a beautiful place to explore.  Several of the gravestones have had restorative or protective work done on them, and maybe it could be arranged to have this marker preserved as well.

I hope you have a great Thanksgiving,  Adam

Hi Adam,
Thanks for the note and picture. Interesting research, but I am a bit confused. The man I am named after is my great grandfather, your great, great grandfather. You mention the man on the tomb stone to be Elbridge Gerry Martin Sr. Was my great grandfather Elbridge Gerry Martin Jr.? That would be right considering the dates (1815 -1873). I don't know my great grandfather's date of birth, but am pretty sure he died in 1902. Can you clarify? And if I am correct, was EG Sr. a pilot also?
A Happy Thanksgiving to you as well,

Uncle Skip-

Thanks for your email.  Your great grandfather, your namesake, Elbridge Gerry Martin, Jr., (he rarely went by Junior) is the son of harbor pilot Capt. Elbridge Gerry, Sr. (who never went by, Sr.) and Rebecca Homan (Dixey) Martin, who were married in Salem on October 10, 1838.  He was born in August of 1843 in East Boston and died of a stroke while on duty as a harbor pilot in Boston Harbor on April 5, 1902, at the age of 58.

Elbridge, Jr., had three sisters:  Henrietta (b. 1842), Jane L.  (b. 1846 – would become the only female lighthouse keeper of her time), Annie (b. 1849), and two brothers: Ambrose A. (b. 1852) and Gilman (b.  1855).  In his teenage years Elbridge was a sail-maker in Boston.

Elbridge, Jr., served at least two tours of duty during the Civil War.  In 1863 he was stationed with the 42nd Massachusetts Volunteers at Camp Parapet, near New Orleans.  The camp was threatened by secessionist saboteurs and thieves, who would steal ammunition and attempt, unsuccessfully, to break the levees that surrounded Lake Ponchartrain.  Companies C and H were brought in to guard the fortifications and to watch over the refugee camps that were full of recently freed slaves.  The men of the 42nd were very fortunate in that their camp was situated in a way so that they avoided many of the diseases suffered by the New York regiments that were stationed nearby.

Companies C and H contained a strange mix of men that often made them difficult to command.  No other companies in the regiment were like them in the make up of their personnel.  There were good men, with excellent reputations at home and from families of high standing.  There were many men whose reputations were known to be bad, taken from the rough element of cities and towns, whose faces and behavior were bad enough to mark them what they were.   There were also excellent fellows who did their duties manfully, though they did not come from the ordinary ranks of society.  The tough characters, even though they fought hard and often amongst themselves, if one of their comrades were threatened they would come to his aid and they would stand by each other until the last.

The duties performed by these companies were not arduous.  One of Private Elbridge Martin’s duties was, as part of a squad made up of himself and six other men, tour the plantations that were now behind Federal lines and escort the recently freed slaves back to the refugee camps.  The camps were divided into five different “colonies”.   Men were kept separate from the women and children.   Initially there were no restrictions on the refugees, and they were free to come and go as they pleased.  During the day the able-bodied men would work with the Army engineers who were shoring up Camp Parapet’s fortifications, and at night they would visit their wives and families in the other camps.   Sometimes they would go carousing or go to the religious meetings that occurred in the swamps.

The colonies enjoyed high morale until orders came down from General Sumner, of the Engineering Department, that any refugee leaving the camp without authorization be shot.  This order caused a great deal of dissatisfaction amongst both the refugees and the troops stationed at the camp.  The situation climaxed on the night of April 17, 1863, when one the refugees attempted to leave his colony.  A sentry from Company H called out “Who goes there?”  The refugee did not respond and was shot in the back.  He died the next day from his wound and Camp Parapet’s officers feared that they might be faced with a full-blown riot by the refugees and a revolt from their own enlisted men.  The tension escalated when the Company H sentry was arrested for his role in the shooting.  Eleven days later Private Elbridge Martin, who was the sentry on duty, sensed that trouble was brewing in the colonies and sounded the alarm.  Guard reliefs and other troops responded immediately, some armed and others not.  The freed slaves were building a large bonfire and singing.  The men of the 42nd either joined in building the fire and singing, or looked on approvingly.  From that point on, there was no more trouble in any of the colonies.

On July 14, 1864, Elbridge re-enlisted in Company C, of the Massachusetts 42nd Infantry Regiment, this time as a sergeant.  The 42nd  Regiment had been reorganized and mustered into service for 100 days.  It was used for guard and garrison duty during the late summer and fall, in order that the older and more experienced troops that had been performing this duty might be relieved and sent to the front.  The companies that were to constitute the 42nd Regiment began to assemble at Camp Meigs in Readville in early July, and on July 24 the command set out for Washington under Lieut. Col. Joseph Stedman.  About this time Col. Burrell was released from captivity, returned and rejoined his regiment at Alexandria, and resumed his command.  The regiment did guard and patrol duty, one detachment being sent to Great Falls, Maryland, while others were employed in guarding supply trains moving to and from the Shenandoah Valley.  Sgt. Martin mustered out, with the rest of his regiment, on November 11, 1864.

Your great grandmother was Maria (sometimes spelled Mariah) Theresa Marden.  (I remember that Grandpa and Grandma had a “Marden” family crest hanging just inside the front doorway.)  Their children were your grandfather Frank and his sister Bertha V., who were born in 1875 and 1878, respectively, and three other children who died in infancy.  Your great grandmother was from Mont Vernon, New Hampshire, and a history of that town described her husband as “. . .an efficient pilot . . .(and a) very worthy man”.

Grandpa and Grandma had the following newspaper clip.  I do not have the date, or even the name of the paper that the article is from:

Pilot Died at His Post:  Capt. Martin Stricken on His Craft Yesterday
Stricken at his post of duty, Captain Elbridge G. Martin passed away on the pilot boat Liberty No. 3, Saturday night.
As the result evidently of a sudden attack of apoplexy. He was found dead in the after-cabin of his craft by some of his comrades.
Along Massachusetts’ rock-bound coast no man was better known than Capt. Martin.   A thousand storms he has weathered and many thousand ships he has brought safely by treacherous rocks and shifting reefs. In snow and sleet, in raging surf or shimmering calm, Captain Martin was always at his post until his charge was safely moored within the inner harbor.
It was in 1863 that he received his license as a pilot, after serving an apprenticeship of five years.  It was just after the close of the War for the Union, in which Captain Martin served as a member of the First Massachusetts Regiment (Note (Adam):  My records show him as serving  in the 42nd Regiment.  It is more than possible that he served in the First on a different tour of duty.  Of course, 1863 was not the close of the Civil War.) He was a young man then – he was but 58 when he died – and the sea called him as it had done to his father before him.
(Note (Adam):  In the following paragraph the newspaper writer becomes confused about the identity of Elbridge, Jr.’s father.  The article actually says that Samuel Clemmons Martin, Elbridge, Sr.’s, brother is Elbridge, Jr.’s father.  All three men were well-respected pilots in Boston Harbor.  Elbridge, Sr., died in 1873, and Samuel Martin continued to act as a mentor and father figure to his nephew.)
For years father and son were comrades in the pilots’ shore home jutting over the harbor, and comrades in the danger of the black night cruises along the Cape Cod shore when the wild wind whistled down from the north and a hurricane buried the pilot boat beneath the falling billows.  It was at times like these that the other pilots came to know and appreciate the sterling courage of the younger Martin.
It mattered not how the severe the storm, he was ever ready to put off in his pilot’s cockle shell to aid, and oft times to save, the ship beating about on an unknown coast.
As the pilot boat Liberty put out from dock Saturday morning Martin seemed in the best of spirits, and with light-hearted chaff helped his fellows to while away the time until the lightship was reached.  The Liberty was to have remained at this, the middle station, for a week cruising about.
As night came on the sea grew rough, and the small craft tumbled about in the chasm between watery walls of foam. About 10 o’clock The Nordpol, a Norwegian coal steamer was sighted, and Pilot Nelson put off to her.
Captain Martin did not come on deck as Nelson went over the side, and no one missed him for awhile, so busy were they all in watching the bobbing boat of the pilot slowly making its way towards the black hull of the steamer.  When they went below Captain Martin, whom they had seen seemingly well a half hour before, was found lying upon the floor dead.
Towed by a government tug, the Liberty came to Boston.  Captain Martin’s body was taken to his late home at 212 Webster Street. He is survived by a widow, a daughter and one son, Frank Martin, clerk of the Leyland line.  Samuel Martin, the East Boston ship builder, is an uncle of the dead pilot. (Note (Adam):  I am reasonably certain that the Samuel Martin referred to in the previous sentence is Samuel Clemmons Martin, Jr., who is Elbridge’s cousin, and not his uncle.)
Captain Martin became especially well known to his fellows throughout the country from the fact that he was secretary and treasurer of both the National Pilots’ Association and of the Boston Pilots’ Relief Society.”
The Liberty #3, the boat on which Elbridge died was a schooner-rigged pilot boat that was built in 1896 in Gloucester.  In 1917 she was acquired by the U.S. Navy from the Boston Pilot’s Relief Society and commissioned as USS Liberty #3 (SP-1229).  For the duration of the war she patrolled the entrance to Boston Harbor.  She was decommissioned in 1919 and returned to the BPRS.  There was also a New York Times article, dated January 30, 1897, which said The Liberty #3 was feared lost in an unexpected blizzard that hit Boston Harbor.  The article does not mention Capt. Martin by name, but it is likely that he was acting as pilot aboard The Liberty #3 during this incident.

Capt. Elbridge Martin, Sr., who was also a famous harbor pilot, was the son of sea captain and then lighthouse keeper on Baker’s Island, Capt. Ambrose Bowen Martin and his wife Elizabeth (Clemmons) Martin.  (Note (Adam):  “Clemmons” is spelled in a wide variety of ways.)  As a boy, the elder Elbridge made the local papers at least twice.  In one incident, in 1833, the 18-year -old Elbridge and one of his brothers, probably Ambrose, Jr., investigated one of the numerous “giant sea serpent” sightings that had been claimed that season.  The young men reported that the “serpent” was actually an optical illusion caused by a pod of surfacing pilot whales.  The New Bedford Mercury hoped that this explanation would put its readers’ minds at rest.  Five years earlier Elbridge had also made local news when, as a 13 year old, he shot and successfully downed an eagle with a seven foot wing span on Baker’s Island.  The eagle was presented to the East India Museum in Salem.

The elder Elbridge was not only a harbor pilot, but a professional racing skipper as well.  Some of his greatest victories came aboard The Coquette, one of the most admired of the early American yachts.  She was low and graceful in the water, with a clipper bow much like the later famous racing yacht America.  In the 1840s yacht racing was in its infancy in the United States.  In 1844 the New York Yacht Club was formed by nine yacht-owners, and in 1846 the first official yacht race in America was sailed, twenty-five miles windward and back from the Sandy Hook lightship.  In this race The Coquette, skippered by Capt. Martin and owned by James H. Perkins, was matched against the centerboard sloop Maria.  The Maria was over twice as large and heavy as her competition, and heavily favored to win.   The Maria led The Coquette to the leeward mark, but coming up the beat the smaller ship found her stride.  The Coquette ended up beating her competition so badly that The Maria’s centerboard broke, and she was forced to limp home.  The Coquette’s victorious crew hoisted a broom to their ship’s masthead.  The Coquette would later beat both The Brenda and The Belle, and become an icon of early American yachting.

Perkins eventually sold The Coquette to Capt. Martin and fellow pilot Capt. Samuel Colby.  The pilots raised her bulwarks and made some adjustments to her deck plan, and she went onto serve as a pilot boat.  She gave over eighteen years of service in this capacity before being sold as a ‘Blackbirder’ on the African coast.

Shortly before the famous race between The Maria and The Coquette, Capt. Martin was the plaintiff/appellant in a case heard before the Supreme Court of Massachusetts.  The uncontested facts of the case were that as the brig Zephyr approached Boston Harbor, pilot E.G. Martin hailed the ship and requested permission to board.    The captain of the Zephyr replied that he would grant permission if the pilot would take the ship to Weymouth.  Martin countered that he would take the ship through Boston Harbor and then turn her over to a riverboat pilot.  The Zephyr’s captain offered to make a bargain, to which Capt. Martin replied “No.  I shall charge the Boston Harbor pilotage, whether you take me on board or not.”  The Zephyr’s captain said “We shall see about that.”

Capt. Martin sued for the fees that he had been denied.  The trial court found in favor of the defendant, reasoning that Boston Harbor pilots were only entitled to fees for ships bound for Boston.  On appeal, the Massachusetts Supreme Court rejected the trial court’s overly narrow interpretation of “Boston Harbor”.  The justices relied on over forty years of Boston Harbor custom.  They ruled that the statutes governing the harbor were written to increase safety.  It was impossible for a ship to get to Weymouth without passing through the harbor, and it was unsafe for a ship to pass through the harbor without a qualified pilot.  Capt. Martin was granted a new trial.

Elbridge G. Martin, Sr., died in September, 1873, at the age of 58 years old, the same age that his son, Elbridge G. Martin would die in 1902.  He is buried on The Old Burial Hill Cemetery in Marblehead, Massachusetts, which overlooks Marblehead Habor.

Thank you again for your email.  I hope that my response makes things a little clearer.  I think these stories are fascinating.  Have a great Thanksgiving and say “Hi” to everyone for me.

All the best, Adam