Memories of a Dorchester Traveller: Part Five

More than six months have passed since my promise to present another travel adventure of the Dorchester traveller, Alexander Black. At the end of his extended trip to Europe in 1884–85, he confided in his diary (one might guess, with a slight trace of guilt) that he had been away much too long — a total of 369 days.

For the next two years he was content to supervise his farm, give attention to business interests and keep an eye on the legal dramas that always seemed to be unfolding at the Dorchester Court House. In between these pursuits, Alexander Black did not overlook two of his main interests — the welfare of the local Methodist church and the fortunes of the Liberal party in Westmorland County.

There was a federal election on February 22, 1887. Blacks disappointment with the result, both locally and nationally, was conveyed in a cryptic note in the diary: Mar. 1, 1887 — Declaration Day for the Dominion election. Conservative Josiah Wood re-elected in Westmorland County. Predictably, by the autumn of 1887 the lure of travel was, once more, asserting itself; and Black began to contemplate another trip.

But before this was to take place, Alexander Black opted for a short voyage, from Wood Point to Philadelphia on the schooner Arabella. [Mark the name of this vessel, as it will appear later under tragic circumstances.] Although he did not state a reason for the trip, it was obviously a test run, for he was part owner.

Toward this objective, Black made arrangements to haul a cargo of stone from Wood Point to Philadelphia. On Sept. 30, 1887 the Arabella started on her voyage; however, the southward leg of the trip was plagued by bad weather. First, rain, and a nasty headwind forced the schooner to lay to at Grindstone Island. The next day, the reverse happened off Quaco Head, when they were becalmed. Once Grand Manan was cleared, the weather settled down and reasonable progress was made. A straight course was set for Cape Cod via Matinicus Light [located on an island off the Maine coast.] Right on target, the famed Cape Cod lighthouse was sighted, and on Oct. 10th, the Arabella reached Vineyard Haven, Marthas Vineyard, and safe anchorage.

The remainder of the voyage to Philadelphia was routine, as the Arabella skirted the coastline. Black, always interested in navigation, recorded major landmarks enroute: The clay coloured cliffs of Gays Head, Barnegat Lighthouse, and Cape May, at the entrance to Delaware Bay. The Arabellas dropped anchor at the mouth of the Schuylkill River, and on Oct. 15 was towed to Grays wharf in Philadelphia, where the unloading of the cargo began.

The next day was Sunday and Alexander Black decided to explore the city. As soon as the Arabellas cargo was unloaded and replaced by ballast, the schooner weighed anchor for home. The northward trip was much faster, thanks to good sailing weather. As a result, the diary entries become brief, mentioning only familiar landmarks along the coast. Very early in the morning of Oct. 26th, Saint John harbour was sighted, and by 4 oclock that afternoon, the Arabella was safely docked at Dorchester Island.

The ballast was discharged and the Arabella immediately crossed Cumberland Basin to Downings Cove on the Nova Scotia side. Over the next several days the schooner was loaded with a cargo of lumber. Following a quick trip to Dorchester Island to take on additional crew, the Arabella set sail for New York on Nov. 12th. On the way, two days were spent anchored in the lee of Mount Desert Island, due to stormy weather. Alexander Black, never one to miss an opportunity, went ashore to mail letters and to purchase an oil suit for $2.75.

By Nov. 18th the schooner was headed for Cape Ann on the coast of Massachusetts. At one point, contact was made with another Dorchester built schooner, the Ethel Emmerson. Black went on board, undoubtedly to exchange gossip, but also to send some letters back home. Nov. 22nd saw the Arabella passing Cape Ann and Cape Cod on the same day. The schooner was anchored in New York and discharging cargo by Nov. 25th. When in New York Alexander Black never missed the opportunity to visit an old friend, Captain Samuel Etter, a native of Westmorland Point. The two were to spend a pleasant weekend catching up on nautical news. Black also arranged a charter for the Arabella to convey to Halifax a cargo of coal, oil and lumber. On Dec. 12th the Arabella left New York bound for Halifax.

Unlike his usual custom of combining business with pleasure, Black was planning some personal travel over the next few months. He decided to forego a return trip back on the Arabella and opted to miss a Dorchester winter. Instead he made arrangements to visit relatives in Florida. In particular, it was his wish to spend time with his brother James P. Black, whom he had not seen in over forty years. The trip south from New York was partly by steamer and later by rail. If he had not decided on this pleasure trip the saga of Alexander Black might well have come to an abrupt end. On its way from New York to Halifax, the Arabella was (as Black later found out) lost at sea and never heard tell of again.

On Dec. 17th he set sail for Savannah, Georgia on board the steamer Nacoochee. The first night was destined to test the mettle of even a seasoned sailor such as Alexander Black. In his words: the Nacoochee rode through a fearful southeast gale with very high seas. Later on he was to reach the tragic conclusion that Probably the Arabella and her crew were lost in this same gale. A combination of steam and sail, plus good seamanship was sufficient to save the Nacoochee and Savannah was reached on Dec. 19th. Following a day spent exploring the streets and squares of this historic city, Alexander Black took the train for Defuniack Springs on the Florida Panhandle. After a change of trains, he continued on to his destination, the town of Holt, where his brother and family resided.

In retrospect, the next two months became one of the most pleasant interludes in Alexander Blacks many travel experiences. Not only was he able to spend Christmas and New Years with his brother and wife and their extended family, Black availed himself of every opportunity to see as much as possible of the Panhandle Country. His frequent references to the delightful climate… abundance of tropical fruit the flowers in bloom, with butterflies and bees flying about everyday… all contributed to a very pleasant winter.

Holt was situated close to what is today the Blackwater National Forest. Boasting the largest holding of long leaf pine trees in the world, Black spent considerable time exploring the forest, noting in addition to this rare species of pine, dogwood, holly, magnolia and cypress trees. His one major excursion outside the Panhandle area was a trip with his niece Tippie Black to Jacksonville where they visited the Sub-Tropical Exposition.

Unfortunately our diarist was sparse on details regarding one highlight of this visit. Alexander Black and his niece had invitations to attend a reception for American President Grover Cleveland and Mrs. Cleveland — who were visiting the Exposition at the same time. While in Jacksonville they also managed two out of town excursions to Palatka on the St. John River south of the city and Fernandina Beach on the Atlantic seaboard.

By the end of February 1888, the call of business affairs caught up with Alexander Black. He was forced to bid farewell to Florida and start the long trip back to Dorchester via New York and Boston. Enroute, he spent considerable time in the latter city looking after the brigantine Bessie May. Repairs were necessary to outfit the vessel for its next charter. Also, by this time the loss of the Arabella was confirmed and both time and energy were taken up by matters relating to the loss of this ship and cargo.

On Apr. 16, he left Boston on the steamer New Brunswick bound for Saint John. From Saint John to Dorchester he travelled by rail and arrived home on Apr. 20. 1888 after an absence of six months and twenty days. Even though the roads were very bad, and there was snow on the ground; one conclusion was clear. The Dorchester Traveller was glad to be home safe and sound.