"The Champion of the Seas" : Samuel Clemmons Martin, Sr. (1817-after 1900)

 "The Champion of the Seas"

Samuel had been shipwrecked many times before, and had always been able to find aid, and often friendship, with the Islanders.  This group of natives, however, was clearly offended by the presence of Americans on their islands.  Samuel and his friends sprinted back to the small boats that had brought them to shore.  The natives were at their heels.  The Americans rigged the spirit sails as quickly as they could and set off.  There was a strong breeze blowing inland and the islanders, in their felucca-rigged crafts, were rapidly gaining on them.  Samuel turned to one of his companions and told him that he was going to try something that he had read in the Bible, and if that did not save them, nothing would.  Samuel lashed a six-gallon can of oil that the crew had on-board to the fore-rigging and then stuck a marlin spike in the bottom of the can. The oil began to slowly leak onto the sea.  The dories stiffened up and began to glide across the surface of the water, as though they were powered by steam, and the Americans made their escape.

For nearly five decades of the 19th Century, Samuel Clemmons Martin was either at sea or guiding ships into or out of Boston Harbor.  He was born in 1817 in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and was destined to carry on his family’s nearly 200-year-old New England maritime legacy.

Samuel’s father, Captain Ambrose Martin, was a famous sea captain who would later man the lighthouse at Baker’s Island for over twenty-five years.  Samuel was literally brought up on the sea, and could manage a boat before he was in his teens.  At 17-years-old he signed onto a ship bound for Fiji.  This first voyage was a memorable one.  The ship that he was on was wrecked and he and several of his companions were cast ashore.  They lived amongst the Polynesian islanders for several months before they were taken aboard an English ship that touched there.  It took him nearly four years to return to Massachusetts, by which time all of his family and friends had given him up for dead.

Samuel stayed in Boston for a few months before returning to the sea.  Over his career he visited all of the major ports, and many of the smaller ports, of the world.  He was shipwrecked several times, and would lead a Robinson Crusoe-like existence while he waited to be rescued.  In the Ascension Islands he served as counselor to a native chieftain, and became a favorite of the chief and his courtiers.  Through his influence, Samuel was able to save the lives of several of his American companions.  The chief gave Samuel and his companions clothes made of leaves and straw, and appropriated their clothes to be used as official robes of state, and wore them on all occasions.  The chief gave the Americans a special honor guard and supplied them with servants from his own household.  When an English ship lighted on this island’s shores, and agreed to give the Americans transport, Captain Martin and his compatriots had to steal away.  Captain Martin would often say that he regretted that he had ever left the island.  When he returned, several years later, the chief held a great celebration in Captain Martin’s honor, offering him many gifts, including a nicely browned cut of human thigh.

In the late 1840’s Samuel Martin settled in Salem, Massachusetts and became a pilot in Salem Harbor, the same harbor in which he had learned to sail decades before.  This was not the end of his adventures, however.  Shipbuilding and seafaring traffic in Massachusetts’s harbors were at their height during this era, and the pilot ships were still powered by sail.  There were no tow-boats and the dredging and the survey of the harbor were by no means complete.  Tides were irregular and sand bars would form without warning.  Despite these challenges, Captain Martin’s record as a pilot remained one the cleanest in the history of the harbor.

A story is told of one trip up the harbor that Captain Martin made in the ship “Champion of the Seas.”  She was regarded by many as the finest vessel afloat and was launched in East Boston. She plied on the East Indies trade and toward the end of her career carried lumber. One night she arrived in the outer harbor, water logged, and Captain Martin was put aboard to bring her in.  She was in a dangerous condition, and he had an all-night fight to bring her to her dock.  His comrade who put him on the vessel said of the occurrence:  “When Martin climbed over the rail I did not think he would ever get her in: she was leaking badly and her hold was filled with water. But with his dogged persistence he beat her up, and worked all night with her, but finally tied her up and saved the ship.”

Samuel Clemmons Martin, Sr. was my 3rd Great Grand Uncle
Adam Lowe Martin (son of) – Allen Lowe Martin – Allen Littlefield Martin – Frank L. Martin – Elbridge Gerry Martin, Jr. – Elbridge Gerry Martin, Sr. – Capt. Ambrose Martin (father of) – Samuel Clemmons Martin, Sr.