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  • Boston Sea Captains From Maine

    Philip S. Thayer

    Published Date : April 1987

     The records of the Boston Marine Society represent the source of much data on shipping and ship captains in the port of Boston.  Places of residence of captains were recorded starting about 1830, and compilation of these data for the period 1830-1877 (about the end of the major age of sail), shows a great preponderance of Massachusetts residents, with one-third of all captains coming from Cape Cod (Table 1).  There were only seven from Maine in this period.  This proportion changed sharply thereafter, there being 202 captains from Maine in the years from 1877 to the publication of the society’s history in 1968.  They constituted 15 percent of the men joining the society, in contrast to 2 percent in the earlier period.

    To put the Maine contribution in perspective, one can examine the type of ships commanded by these men.  This information is shown in Table 2, compared with the distribution for all Boston captains in the earlier period.  There is a marked shift away from the full-rigged ships and barks to a preponderance of schooners (presumably in coastal trade) and steamships.  The whole membership of the society has not been analyzed for the later period, but it is possible that there was a higher percentage of schooner captains from Maine than from other areas.

    The Maine captains were from all the coastal counties of Maine (Table 3).  Towns (and cities) represented by five or more captains were Portland (22), Searsport (14), Deer Isle (13), Bath (12), Thomaston (8), Calais (7), Machiasport (7), Bangor (5), and Waldoboro (5), for 93 of the total. The other 112, more than half, came from 71 other towns, with one to four captains from each.

    Table 1 Table 2 Table 3 Table 4
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    The stories of 202 men are too much for detailed study, but the story of the seven “pioneer” captains from Maine who came into the Boston sphere of activity by 1877 might be more manageable. They are listed in Table 4, with date of entry into the Marine Society, town of residence, and ship commanded at the time of joining.  Five of the seven commanded full-rigged ships.  A search has been made for their genealogy in all available sources at NEHGS, with success only for Seth C. Arey.  The other names are all recognizable as belonging to major Maine families, but the parentage of these specific men has not been found.

    Seth C. Arey was a member of a large maritime family which originated on Martha’s Vineyard in the 17th century, and spread from there to Cape Cod.  Three of the fifth generation Areys (Jesse, Isaac, and James) moved to Maine between 1770 and 1795.  A fourth, Josiah of the seventh generation, arrived about 1830.  A very recent genealogy has a comprehensive coverage of these men, and features a list of no less than 46 master mariners (Arey, 1982).  Four of these were Massachusetts men, and another four are “unconnected,” i.e., their lineage was not determined. To the remaining 38 traceable Maine captains may be added three omitted from the list of 46. One, Stowers6 Arey, was clearly described in the text as a master mariner, and two others, Benjamin F.7 and Jesse5, had been known as “captain” during their lifetimes.

    The relationships between these 41 men are shown in three simplified descent charts (Figures 1-3). Several features may be noted.  There are many families in which a father and son (or sons) were master mariners.  Two families had five brothers who were captains: the sons of James6, and his grandsons, the sons of Joseph7.  His father, Captain James5, had 25 descendants who were captains: three sons, seven grandsons, 12 great-grandsons and three great-great-grandsons.  There were only 20 brothers (who lived to reasonable maturity) of these captains who were not captains.  The unbroken chain of captaincy from James5 to Charles L.9 may be a record.


    Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3
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    The Arey family thus represents a highly concentrated example of a maritime family, with an even more remarkable incidence of master mariners than was seen in the Crowell family of Cape Cod or the closely related captains of Duxbury, Massachusetts, discussed in two previous articles. Geneticists tell us it is unlikely that any combination of traits predisposing to a given occupation could be inherited in the male line, i.e., by a group such as the Areys with one surname.  It is more likely that the predilection for an Arey to go to sea was the result of a combination of social and cultural factors reinforced by family tradition.

    Major Sources

    Arey, Donald W. Arey Genealogy. Hopedale, Mass., 1982.

    Baker, William A. A History of the Boston Marine Society, 1742-1967. Boston, 1968.

    This article, the third in a series of three NEXUS articles on maritime family history, is based on a paper presented by the author at the Decennial Conference of the Maine Genealogical Society in Augusta, October 10-11, 1986.

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