Saturday, May 21, 2016


Tradition had it that John was a sea captain as a young man. Now whether or not he was actually a captain we can state with proof that he was a "mariner."  There has to be a real story here as he started life on the farm of his father, struck out on his own and became a mariner for a few years, only to return to farming for the rest of his life.

  We know that John was at home in 1800 as a 17 year old.  Some time, probably shortly after that date he did leave home and went to work in the sea.  Our next glimpse of him is found in a deed dated 17 Dec 1804 in Portland where William Clough of Portland sold a house in Portland for $270 to Jonathan McKenney of said Portland Coach driver and John Carter of Scarborough in said county Mariner. 

Deed:  Cumberland Co., ME Deed Book 44, page 372

The deed was filed that same day in Portland, about 5 miles north of Scarborough.  We learn a couple of things from this.  John was living in Scarborough up until this time.  We also learn that he was involved in the sea trade in some way.  He was some 22 years of age so being a sea captain would be unlikely though not impossible.  But in any case he appears to be single and working on boats.  

There was a tradition in the family that John may have married an Anna Shute.  This has never been established and the forgoing deed appears to be for two single men to purchase the residence.  In any case no evidence of this early marriage has ever come to light so for now it will be dismissed.  This is just the first of many myths about John that needs to be addressed.  Leslie Carter and others have explored all the courthouses along the Maine seaboard looking for any evidence of this supposed early marriage of John Carter to anyone and nothing has ever been found.  Maybe with the growth of the digital era we will one day uncover this record, if it exists at all.

Portland, Maine in 1835 (couldn't find an earlier picture)

Portland, Maine was at the beginning of the 19th century a busy and rapidly growing port city.  Its population grew from 3,705 in 1799 to 7,169 in 1800.  Its principal industry was shipping.  In 1789 the tonnage of goods shipped through its port was 5,000 tons.  By 1807 this had risen to 30,000. Napoleon Bonaparte had thrown all Europe into war, and the American ships, as being declared neutrals, monopolized the carrying trade.  Portland ship-owners profited accordingly and fortunes were rapidly made.

“But the prosperity of the town received a sudden and disastrous check by the non-intercourse policy of 1806, and the embargo which followed in 1807.  Commerce was at once suspended, and almost total destruction of our shipping followed. Navigation fell off nine thousand tons in two years, all the various classes to whom it gave support were thrown out of employment; eleven commercial houses stopped payment in 1807, and many others the following year.  Great distress prevailed throughout the community, and the grass literally grew upon the wharves.  In the war of 1812, which followed, our sea-faring people manned the privateers fitted out here, some of which ran a successful career, and did great damage to the enemy, while others were soon captured by superior force, and their crews held as prisoners.” (Edward H. Elwell; Portland and Vicinity, (Portland, ME, 1876), Family History Library 974.191/P2Hze, p. 14-15.)

We can see that John entered the mariner profession at a most inopportune time.  We don’t know the details of what happened to John and his mariner profession but it is likely that he had to leave the sea trade due to the embargo on trade.  (I have often thought about the fact that from this point on, John was always able to purchase property wherever he went with cash.  He never seemed to want for money.  I am sure he was frugal but I also suspect that he accumulated a nice nest egg as a mariner, which accounted for his never seeming to need financial assistance.)   In many instances (as with the house purchased in Portland), records are found for his purchase but none has thus  far been found to show a sale of the property in question.

It should also be noted at this point how events in life often change the course of one's course in life. The War of 1812 actually change the course of John's life as he had to leave the sea and find work back on land.  Had this never happened our family might never have come into contact with the missionaries of the LDS Church, which led to the westward migration of the family.  It is very valuable to look at our ancestral story within the historical perspective.

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