Gary D. Crawford - June 2012
Gary D. Crawford
Have you ever sailed across the Atlantic? If so, you know there’s a fairly good stretch of water out there, more than meets the eye when flying over it at 32,000 feet.
Even aboard an ocean liner with several hundred of your closest friends, one feels a bit alone, of a sudden, when the land drops out of sight. That first morning at sea one steps to the rail expectantly. There’s nothing to see, of course, yet we scan the horizon hopefully nonetheless. “Nope,” you are forced to conclude, “I guess they didn’t move Ireland any closer during the night.” (Or America, depending on which way you’re going.)
It’s all just, well – ocean, isn’t it? Lots and lots of ocean. Oh, yes, a bird or a fish may come into sight from time to time and, very rarely, another ship may heave into view. But it is little comfort because they, too, are the tiniest of travelers on the broad expanse of the sea. The land still lies away – a very far way away – over the horizon and beyond. The horizon seems strangely close, too, especially when you remember what it is, exactly: the point at which the earth’s surface curves out of sight.
No wonder the ancient mariners were terrified of that. The earth is truly vast, after all, a whopping 25,000 miles around. Still, that makes it a mere 8,000 miles through, and so, despite its immense size, its surface is obliged to curve around fairly sharply. In fact, standing on the deck of a small vessel (and they were all small in the old days), the horizon is just eleven miles away.
This means that when Fernão de Magalhães sailed around the world.... Yes, “Fernão.” It’s Portuguese. (You can get close to this by pinching your nose closed and saying “fair now.”) The Spanish who sponsored his expedition couldn’t pronounce it either and called him Ferdinand de Magallanes. That was easier, but we English speakers needed to fix his last name, too.
Is the Gentle Reader perhaps wondering whether this is one of the so-called funny names referred to in the title? Actually, no. “Fernão” isn’t funny. It’s neither weird nor ha-ha. Unless, of course, you say it while pinching your nose. But who would do that?
Anyway, when Magellan sailed the ocean blue, he went all the way down the Atlantic and through the straits that, oddly, were known by his own last name, English version. He then sailed off into the completely unknown and vastly underestimated ocean that he dubbed the “peaceful sea.”
Yet despite his epic voyage, Fernão really didn’t see very much of the world at all. Well he couldn’t, could he? All he could make out was a tiny little strip of water, just 22 miles wide – eleven miles to the horizon on either side, as you’ll recall – and even less at night. So when he finally arrived off Guam, still a thousand miles from Asia, his understanding of the Pacific looked something like his pictured track.
Happily, it’s different today. We know just where things are. We cross oceans on liners or cruise ships with precise maps, wireless, radar, GPS, and in most cases a vast engine powering us forward by day and by night. We simply cannot imagine what it was like to embark in a 17th century wooden sailing vessel bound, not along the coast, but out – out into the deep, and right over the edge.
Nevertheless, it came to pass one day in 1633 that a band of intrepid people did just that. Their expedition was organized by Cecil Calvert, who wanted settlers for the territory in the New World given to him by King Charles. There was some controversy over this gift, for the Calverts were Catholic, and at the time England was fervently Anglican. (Except the Scots, who were Protestants but, as usual, fervently Scottish.) Moreover, the Virginia Company, already well established in the Chesapeake area, strongly opposed the charter given to Lord Baltimore.
In June Calvert finally received assurances that the Privy Council would not raise objections to his plans, and he gave the word to his “gentlemen investors” to make ready for the expedition to America. The King was then in the eighth year of his reign, and things were not going well. The King was concerned about divided loyalties, especially after he married the 16-year-old French princess Henrietta Maria, a Catholic. Charles required all his subjects to take an oath of fidelity, acknowledging his supremacy, denying the Pope’s authority to depose him, pledging opposition to all who threatened him, etc., etc. His Catholic subjects were, of course, not keen about the oath and avoided it.
Two vessels had been procured for the adventure. One vessel, Dove, was described as a pinnace of 40 tons, just 76 feet long. By comparison, today’s Pride of Baltimore II is 100 feet long. Dove served as a tender or supply vessel and may have carried no passengers; she had a crew of just seven.
The primary vessel, The Ark, was much larger. At 400 tons burden, she would have been 25% larger than the Kalmar Nyckel, Delaware’s tall ship, whose replica graces our waters from time to time. Very little is known about The Ark except that she was a full-rigged ship, staunchly built of oak and pine, and she sailed well.
Oddly, no one knows exactly how many people were aboard. Not all were settlers, of course. Forty-seven were crew, three were priests, and Lord Baltimore’s brothers Leonard and George were aboard along with seventeen other gentlemen. But that doesn’t count the craftsmen, farmers, indentured servants, and various others in the company. One list has 122 names, but that cannot be complete because only three women are listed. There had to have been some wives, sisters, and daughters, as well as maids and female servants. (Not worth listing, perhaps, but they were mighty important if the colony was going to, well, thrive.) The best guess is about 140 people.
The two vessels left the Thames in mid-October, then stopped at the Isle of Wight. There others joined, presumably to avoid the Oath, including three priests and an unknown number of others. They finally left England on November 22. A huge storm threatened to throw them onto the coast of Ireland, and the vessels became separated. When the storm passed The Ark sailed on and made a speedy and uneventful passage to the island of Barbados.
Much to their mutual astonishment, Dove sailed in three weeks later, and together they made their way north to Virginia. After much vexation there, they managed to get where they wanted to go – the Potomac River – by March 3, 1634. They had arrived in Maryland.
We can only imagine what these folk were like, these very first Marylanders. It would be fun to meet them all, but time does not permit. But let’s introduce three of them, at least – Richard, John and James. (Yes, these are their real names.)
Richard was transported to the Maryland colony as a servant. Within three years, he had completed his term of indenture, making him a freeman entitled to 100 acres of land. Although illiterate, he must have been industrious and fairly successful, for in 1637 he attended the Assembly as a proxy. In those days, every freeman was invited (and expected) to attend the “assemblies,” where the Governor met with them all and new legislation was proposed and decided. To avoid interfering with farming, the assemblies were scheduled mostly during the winters, making them difficult to get to. Temporary housing was scarce and probably rather awful. Consequently, most freemen attended only a few assemblies and thereafter paid someone else to go for them. This proxy system actually worked better, because legislation could be considered more readily by a smaller group of regular attendees. In other words, the use of proxies led directly (and quickly) to the practice of having elected representatives.
The same year, 1637, Richard married Elizabeth Gardiner. She was 19 and had just arrived from England with her parents. Two years later, he was elected to represent Mattapanient Hundred in the Assembly. (Yes, they established “hundreds” right away. Our Bay Hundred came along some 25 years later.)
Richard, alas, died in 1642. Whether he and Elizabeth had any children, I do not know.
John, too, was no gentlemen, in the meaning of the term at that time. Being illiterate, he left no written records, but he proved to be quite a successful colonist. Like Richard, John was transported as a servant. However, he was indentured to Leonard Calvert himself, the governor of the colony. In addition to this connection, John brought something very valuable with him – a skill. John was an experienced brick-layer, which in those days meant he also knew how to make bricks. Such a man would be an important asset in the colony, especially with the gentry who wished to build substantial homes. His services would have been in demand and well rewarded. He served out his indenture and was granted a land holding. John made the best of his opportunity, eventually becoming a successful plantation owner, a member of the General Assembly, a husband, and a father.
James, sadly, didn’t quite make it to Maryland. Fortunately for us, one of his shipmates, Father Andrew White, wrote a splendid and detailed account of the voyage. With perhaps some pride in the careful management of the voyage, he noted that after some time at sea, no one had died or even taken ill. That fine record was shattered, curiously, on Christmas Day. It seems an excess of celebration occurred on Christmas Eve, with surprisingly tragic consequences. Father White put it this way: “…If you except sea-sickness, no one was attacked by any disease until the Festival of the Nativity of our Lord. That the day might be more joyfully celebrated, the wine flowed freely, and some who drank immoderately, about thirty in number, were seized the next day with the fever, and twelve of them not long after died…which caused great regret with us all.”
That must have been quite a party – or bad wine? Whatever caused these virulent hangovers, James was one of the “fever” victims.
And there you have it. The rest is history.
But wait – what’s so funny about these names? You say Richard, John, James could hardly be more ordinary? Well, yes, those are their first names, their given names. They aren’t unusual at all. No, it was their surnames that caught my eye and struck me as “funny.” See what you think.
The unfortunate James, who died at sea, was James Barefoote.
The brick-maker and mason was John Halfhead.
And lastly, poor Richard. You’ll never guess his last name. It was Lusthead. Oddly, I find not a single person named Lusthead living in Maryland today.
Gary Crawford and his wife, Susan, operate Crawfords Nautical Books, a unique bookstore on Tilghman’s Island.