The sea is in the blood of most Maritimers. This could not be truer than for Captain George Anderson and his family. The great grandparents of Captain George were Yorkshire immigrants who came to our shores in 1772 and a direct descendent, Jesse Irwin Anderson, died in 1936. This article by Catherine MacLean, a fourth-generation descendent of Captain George, covers that span of the Anderson family in this area, a period of 164 years! Shipbuilding and seafaring were very much a family affair for the Andersons. Furthermore, I should inform you that present-day Sackville resident, George Anderson, is the grandson of Captain Thomas Reese Anderson who was very active in the town of Sackville following his retirement many years ago. Captain Tom was an alderman on Town Council and served as President of the Sackville Curling Club in 1900-1901. And to this day, the descendants of this active family continue to prosper (and curl!) in the Sackville Township.
In Atlantic Canada, trade remains important to our economy, but coastal and international trade by ship was the lifeblood of this region in the nineteenth century. The Andersons played a major role in that endeavor. Come sail with me and learn of the trials, tribulations and many successes of this seafaring family. It is a fascinating story, and, as always, I hope you will learn and enjoy.
Captain George Anderson
Tales of a Seafaring Family
by Catherine MacLean
Captain George Anderson (1830-1873), Sackville businessman, sea captain, ship owner and shipbuilder, is mainly remembered today for having built Sackville’s Anderson House. That octagonal structure, originally built in 1855 as a home for his family, has for more than 100 years served as a marker to a dim and distant past; a time nearly forgotten.
Now that its skillfully engineered craftsmanship has been restored by the Tantramar Heritage Trust,1 and is relocated to the grounds of the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre, we can begin to look back on Captain George Anderson’s life, one which paralleled, and was inspired by, our Atlantic Provinces’ Golden Age of Sail.
This tribute is written on top of the work by many before me for which I am very grateful. First, to the Anderson family for having had the foresight to collect, save and organize the family papers and letters, and then to the Mount Allison Archives2 for ensuring their preservation. I am especially grateful to the head archivist at the time of the donation, Margaret Fancy, who selected and transcribed nearly 200 of them. They are my major source of information used in the writing of this article. There are many more correspondences and I look forward to further readings with the continued help of current head archivist David Mawhinney.
The photographs included here are a selection from two photo albums also from the Mount Allison Archives3. With the help of the living George Anderson (Captain George’s grand-nephew) and Sackville historian Al Smith, I have been able to identify most of the subjects on the photographs. They are published here for the first time.
I am also indebted to Al Smith for his Notes on Vessels Associated with the Anderson Family4 and last, but not least, I thank the Trust’s newsletter editor Peter Hicklin for allowing me, a relative stranger to the Sackville heritage community, to undertake the writing of this article for The White Fence. Their work has enabled me, a fourth-generation direct descendent, to experience the exquisite delight of discovering how my ancestors lived, loved, sailed and stayed true to their mistress, the sea, in ships they designed, built and mastered.
George Anderson was the eldest of five sons born to Titus and Jane Oulton (Bulmer) Anderson. All but one followed the sea for their livelihood as had their father and uncles and as would be the case with their own sons. Arriving to our shores in 1772, the Andersons were one of the first English Yorkshire families to come to Nova Scotia during the Yorkshire immigration of 1772-1775. The Yorkshire families supplanted some of the New England Planters who were originally given the land grants by the British.
George’s great grandparents, Thomas and Mary Anderson, settled at Cole’s Island in Sackville Township and, for two generations, they and their children farmed the land doing the tough job of refurbishing and expanding the dykes that had been originally built by the Acadians in the 1700s. By the time of George’s birth in 1830, the family had expanded their livelihoods from farming to become master carpenters, stonemasons, sea captains and ship owners. The first Anderson-owned vessel, the 87-ton schooner Temperance was built by Christopher Boultenhouse in a cow pasture on Cole’s Island just months after George’s birth and launched on June 8, 18315. A second son, Ammi, the brother who chose not to follow the sea, was born one year later in 1832. Ammi was apprenticed to his uncle Edward Anderson as a stonemason and together they built many of Sackville’s finest homes and institutional buildings.
It would be a few years before Charles Marshall (1838), Thomas Reese (1840) and Gaius (1842) arrived and the four seafaring sons of Titus and Jane would each embark on their amazing adventures all well documented in their letters. It is important, however, to pause for a moment to acknowledge the closeness of George to Ammi, both in age and outlook. It was Ammi in the old family tradition of cooperation between fathers and sons, uncles and brothers, to work together in support of the innovations and single-minded modern thinking and pioneering spirit that was the genius of George Anderson. Without Ammi, there would not have been the Captain George Anderson we know and celebrate today.
By the time George undertook the addition of shipbuilding to the Anderson portfolio, a new tradition of employment on vessels, adventures in faraway lands and, if desired, free passage to a new home, had begun. George’s and Ammi’s three younger brothers Charles, Thomas and Gaius, were of that mind.
The Anderson local shipping trade ran between Sackville and Saint John and was known as “the Saint John Trade”. The cargoes were varied: farm produce was delivered to Saint John and staples, especially food, were brought back to Sackville, as well as timber, sail cloth, all manner of building materials. These schooners sailed with the Fundy tides carrying goods and passengers at all times of day.
The business of the local coastal trade was to “buy cheap and sell dear”6. The Saint John Trade was highly competitive. The family’s chief rivals were the Dixons. Like Titus and sons, the Dixons ran a schooner in the Saint John Trade. They also owned a shipyard that the Andersons leased for building their vessels. George, who was generally good-natured and positive even when things went wrong, was often infuriated by the Dixons whom he spoke of as being “damnable”.
Owning and building vessels were two separate businesses. All of the schooners that the Andersons owned and sailed in the local trade were built by two generations of the Boultenhouse family who had supplied the sailing vessels to this area since 1825 including the Temperance built in the Anderson pasture7. The Temperance was co-owned by Titus, Titus’s father Thomas and his brother James with Titus holding most of the shares.
In 1853, Titus, with sons George and Ammi, co-owned the schooner Jane (named for their wife and mother, respectively) with Ammi holding most of the shares. In 1859, the Bella (named after George’s wife Arabella), was co-owned by George and Ammi.
The ocean trade in the Maritimes was at first fueled by Britain’s need for lumber and local timber barons and shipbuilding families prospered. During George’s lifetime, that trade underwent a change that was marked by a spectacular event in the Bay of Fundy. The craft of shipbuilding in the Maritime Provinces had advanced markedly in the years leading up to The Golden Age of Sail. In April, 1851, James Smith’s Marco Polo was launched from Marsh Creek near Saint John. At 1,625 tons (each ton referring to a holding capacity of 100 cubic feet) and possessing a hull so large that it twice failed to launch, was the largest ship ever to sail out of the Bay of Fundy. It also broke the world record for speed when it sailed for Liverpool, England, in just 15 days8. The Marco Polo proved the skill of its builder, James Smith, and others like him on Canada’s east coast. Although Smith sold the Marco Polo in 1852, its fame soon spread around the globe as it was transformed into a passenger ship that would carry thousands of immigrants to Australia9.
Their vessels could be built for and used in the ocean trade for many types of trade to and from any port for months or years before being sold by the builders who owned them. During the Golden Age of Sail, the term “Bluenose,” used both for describing the expertly-built vessels and the men who sailed them, came into use with great respect and admiration in ports around the world.
The centre of the shipping industry in Canada was the Atlantic coast, accounting for 72% of all shipping tonnage registered in British North America. Its largest shipbuilding centre was by far Saint John, New Brunswick, where shipbuilders and ship owners and working people had created the first manufacturing industry in the region10.
George Anderson, 21 years old in 1851, would have been one of the thousands who cheered the Marco Polo out of the Saint John Harbour. Running a vessel in the ocean trade was complex and possibly not very different from having a schooner in the Saint John Trade. The momentous departure of the Marco Polo from the Bay of Fundy may have been the very moment that marked the beginning of Captain George Anderson’s shipbuilding career.
The building of the octagonal house, completed in 1855, would have served two purposes for George. It would be a home for himself and Arabella and their future family. It would also be an extraordinary feat of craftsmanship that would cement his reputation, not only as a master carpenter but also of a young man fully embracing the modern world.
At that time, octagonal houses were still unheard of in the Maritime Provinces and yet to reach their peak in popularity even in the United States. Though not as dramatic as the sensation caused by the Marco Polo, George’s achievement would have been news in the streets of Saint John. He was ready to search for investors in the Saint John business community.
Following the completion of the octagonal house, however, he was forced to put production on hold. Not long after the launching of the Marco Polo, a flurry of activity in the Sackville shipyards collided unfortunately with unforeseen changes in the ocean trade11. Wrought by the subtle interactions of a complex market, there was a sudden calm. Both Christopher Boultenhouse and Charles Dixon suffered bankruptcies and insolvencies over the period 1857-185912.
It was a quiet time that George and Arabella used to become settled in the “octagon house”. Their first child, Rupert Titus Anderson, was born December 27, 1858, and followed soon after by brothers Ernest Laurence (1861) and Jesse Edwin (1863). All three followed the sea. A daughter Carrie, the last child to survive, was born in 1870; there were three infant deaths in all.
Having a house, wife and three children before any of his brothers had married, contributed to George’s ascendancy as patriarch of the family. Titus continued to operate the Saint John Trade until July, 1870, when he tragically drowned in the wreck of the schooner Bella just when he was about to retire (see The White Fence No. 86, April, 2019, for a full account of that disaster).
The collected correspondences are something archivist Margaret Fancy had never seen the like of before and described them as not only very well-written but she was astounded that so many were saved and in such good order. Furthermore, each letter-writer displayed a distinct style of expression and penmanship allowing history to express itself in a very personal way via a group of distinctly individual personalities.
Public schools in New Brunswick in the mid-1800s existed but attendance was not enforced. Boys generally attended for longer periods than girls for whom an education was deemed not as important. George acquired a Teacher’s Certificate which would have meant he had completed the highest level of schooling available at that time, since a Teacher’s College was not yet established in the province. A Teacher’s Certificate would have allowed him to home-school his siblings, helpful when, from a very early age, the brothers gained their sea legs working alongside Titus and George.
George’s letters are written with an elegant compact script. Most, but not all, concern the business at hand and are brief and to the point. At least half of the letters in Margaret Fancy’s selection are between Ammi and George and many of those were written when George was in Saint John conducting business. His instructions to Ammi, whether they were outlining the plan for his next vessel or the price of oats, often included the words “don’t tell Dixon”.
In contrast to George’s , Ammi’s letters are long and include colourful descriptions of local events, gossip and his strong opinions on all matters, especially the scarcity of women he can trust. He shares these views equally to all and, in turn, the younger brothers confide to Ammi who is a sort of “den mother” to them. Ammi’s gruff demeanor did not work well in courting; in his search for a wife he took a lot of ribbing from his brothers. However, in 1870, he married Elizabeth Bulmer who had lived with the family as a servant.
Elizabeth chose to leave her position with the family when Jane, sensing that her sons would be deserting her in old age, formally adopted a daughter, Sarah Kinnear, who was the same age as Elizabeth. The brothers thought of Elizabeth as their sister and agreed that she had been ill-used by their mother. Ammi and Elizabeth had two daughters, Jane and Cassie, both of whom would die before the age of ten. Ironically, Sarah stayed with Jane for only a short time before marrying a friend of the family, Bedford Bulmer, and leaving with him for New Zealand along with the third Anderson brother, Charles Marshal and his family.
Charles seems to have always lived in Dorchester, perhaps with relatives, which was not uncommon. He was moody, suffered from depression and paranoia and, as a young man, drank heavily and frequently got into trouble, often resulting in him getting beaten up and landing in jail. News of his escapades circulated among the brothers along with warnings that “mother is not to know”.
Charles’ first wife, Mary Elizabeth Wry, died shortly after giving birth to their daughter, named after her mother. Young Mary was raised in the home of George and Arabella and also possibly in the home of Titus’s brother Edward, until Charles married again in 1872 to Bertha Dixon. Bertha and Charles had five more children: George, Reese, Calista, Bertha and Pearl.
Charles served as mate and captain on several vessels. In 1884, following in his younger brother Gaius’s footsteps, he left Dorchester with his family on the Dorchester-built brigantine Jka Vuka, named after a Fijian chieftain. The vessel’s owner, Philip J. Palmer, had contracted Captain Charles to take the Jka Vuka from Dorchester to Fiji. Charles left with his second wife and six children. Palmer sailed with them. At the last moment, Mary Elizabeth, the now 16-year-old eldest daughter of Charles, hid, delaying departure. She was eventually found and did join the family on the 121-day voyage to Fiji. Mary married a Fijian, Ephraim Hatheway, and they settled in New Zealand. Charles and the rest of his family also eventually relocated to New Zealand.13
When Charles lived in Dorchester, the fourth brother, Thomas Reese Anderson, grew up with two older brothers (George was 10 and Ammi 8 when he was born). Whether he showed an interest or had greater success in school or simply because his parents had a wish for him to, Thomas (or Tom as he was called) received more education than his brothers. Tom graduated from Mount Allison Academy in 1857 and lost no time in undertaking the six years of “servitude” necessary to obtain a Master’s Certificate in 1864.
In the ocean trade, the Master’s Certificate served as a standard measurement of skill and experience, necessary in securing employment as captain on merchant-owned vessels. To qualify for such certification, mariners were required to spend six years at sea and complete several months of study in the UK where they had to be approved by a board of examiners. Tom took this task seriously and seldom visited his home.
Tom’s letters were written in calligraphic script used by businessmen of the day and are long and descriptive. He became fluent in both French and Spanish, attributes that contributed to his long and outstanding career as Master Mariner.
Jane and Bella wrote to Tom reminding him of Ruth Cole whom the family expected him to marry. Ruth was said to be beautiful and described by Jane as being tall and having hair that “emanated light”. She was four years older than Tom. On October 22, 1863, the couple married and Ruth went to sea with her husband, taking a cow with them for good health. However, in November, 1864, a little over one year later, Ruth became sick and died at sea. Tom married again after he had retired.
Letters from the Anderson women are much fewer in number. Bella’s are written with apologies for any error in grammar and George related in a letter to Tom that she sometimes destroyed them before they could be sent. Jane’s letters were written like sermons. The two women did not get along. Jane always referred to Bella as “Mrs. George Anderson” and Bella would not let the boys visit their grandmother unless accompanied by either her or George.
Sickness and death, especially infant deaths, the deaths of women in childbirth and of men often swept without warning into the turbulent Fundy tides, created a constant atmosphere of uncertainty – just as young men leaving home and young married men being away from home played havoc with domestic life.
George’s mother Jane was a god-fearing woman who sometimes sounded as if she were speaking from a pulpit, a fact which could overshadow her very real concern for her children. This was especially true of Tom who was more and more away from home following what Jane referred to as “the pathless ocean” for a living. In a letter to Tom, she scolds him for having been in Dorchester and not visiting her in Sackville. George inserted a note to Tom before the envelope was sealed. In it he applauded Tom’s decision to put business before pleasure, telling him not to be lead away from his work as this was the time for his reputation to be made or lost.
Jane died in 1895, five years before Tom’s return to Sackville and, at 85, was the longest-lived member of the family. Tom, who always sought out doctors abroad when ill, outlived all the rest of the family. He returned to Sackville at age 60 bringing a new wife, Bessie Bickerton (1877-1948), with him. Bessie was from Dublin, Ireland, and 38 years his junior. The couple had two sons, Thomas and George. George was the father of the living George Anderson who remembers his grandmother well. In retirement, Thomas Reese Anderson was active in the Sackville community serving as a town councilor. He was an avid curler, an interest his grandson has inherited. Tom died in 1918 at age 78.
The letters of the youngest brother, Gaius, are witty and lyrical, even poetic. Instead of waiting for news about going on the schooner Bella as mate in the Saint John Trade, Gaius, dynamic and impatient, jumped on a vessel bound for Ireland. He was only 19 and there was great concern about what could happen to him.
Tom, George and Ammi exchanged information secretly not wanting to alarm their mother, underlying the dangerous nature of working from one vessel to another and losing sight of home [“He is as yet the same Gaius” – George to Ammi, 1861].
Gaius survived, returned and for a while involved himself in the Saint John Trade on a small schooner Express, which he co-owned with Charles Gray. He also worked for the railway. At Tom’s suggestion, Gaius at age 26 was the first of the brothers to leave Sackville permanently with his wife Emma (Keillor) and their three small children. He travelled to Fiji where he lived the rest of his life – but not before accompanying his brother George as second mate on the maiden voyage of the first of George’s four vessels, the Tantamar.
In a letter to Ammi on October 6, 1862, George discussed his plans for a first vessel. He was in favour of a double deck. He was 33 years old at the time and it had been eight years since the octagonal house was built. The Tantamar, a 387-ton brig, was launched in autumn 1863, with George as Master, making him one of the very few shipwrights who owned, and was also Master of, the vessels they built.
The name Tantamar was unusual for a Westmorland County vessel. Tantamar, or Tantramar as it is spelled today, refers to a natural terrain and not a politically-bordered territory. As an Acadian word it gives a nod to the emigrants who had preceded his ancestors, all things making him truly Canadian by today’s standards. Though George may not have been conscious of those things at the time, it did tell of his love for “the Great Marsh”. Also, the meaning of tantamar (tintamarre) … “big noise” (originally referring to the noise of large numbers of wild ducks and geese migrating to the Great Marsh at that time each year) is one that would not have been lost on the man who built the sensational octagonal house.
George, who did not have his Master’s Certificate but hoped “to dance that jig someday” hired McLaughlin, a Scot with a Master’s Certificate. McLaughlan was first mate, Gaius second mate and Al Black was signed on as carpenter. The approximately 20 men required to handle the rigging of a brig were hired locally. Forty deals (long thick planks of spruce) were loaded at the wharf. The Tantamar left Saint John on October 12, 1863, and arrived 22 days later at Liverpool, England, on November 3rd despite a gale during the last week, proving the brig for speed.
“A man going out to sea should be like a runaway dog with neither home nor master.” – George Anderson
George stayed with the Tantamar for its 18-month maiden voyage, crossing the Atlantic four times and stopping at ten ports: Liverpool (England), Havana and Cardenas (Cuba), Queenstown (Ireland), Greenock and Glasgow (Scotland), Genoa and Leghorn (Italy) and in the United States at Boston and New York. Though the Tantamar maintained top marks for speed throughout its maiden voyage, there were serious setbacks, mostly the result of low freight rates at all ports of call. George remarked to Ammi on the large numbers of vessels docked and cautioned that they should hold off building for a while.
There was a month-long wait at Liverpool before he could off-load the 40 deals and fill the vessel with 530 tons of coal bound for Cuba, freight he had prearranged at a promised price. Repairs, dock fees, wages and the cost of replacing tainted meat that had been bought in Sackville, swallowed up any profits as well as the captain’s own salary. George left Liverpool $200 in debt.
The 58-day voyage to Havana proved again the ability of the Tantamar to make good time despite the unfortunate fact that two men, one of them the cook, jumped ship at Havana. But, overall, George was pleased with his crew and the vessel’s performance. He hoped to make up in speed what he was losing on low freight rates. In Cuba, Gaius was employed briefly in the rescue of a Yankee schooner in distress and once Charles arrived in Havana, they missed Tom and his new wife Ruth who were there on the barque G. Palmer. George arranged for the crew to hold a fight in the forecastle every week “just for friendship”.
George was unable to send money to his family and he asked that Ammi “not let Bella starve”. Bella was not well (possibly the beginnings of the consumption that would eventually take her life) and the boys were all sick as well. At this time, Ammi gave up making payments on a house that he had hoped to purchase and considered going to work in Portland, Maine, where he had heard that the wages were better.
The American Civil war had begun and the British, who continued to trade with the Confederates, were often challenged by Yankee vessels. As a consequence, mail delivery was interrupted and though George’s letters arrived in Sackville, there were no replies waiting for him when he reached Havana, thus giving him the illusion that Ammi and Bella were annoyed with him. Despite all of this, George was happy with the Tantamar and wrote to Ammi that he had more hardship and discomfort in one trip to Saint John in the fall than he had on the entire journey to date.
It was still early days and Captain George had many challenges ahead. For example, his tour of the Mediterranean on the Tantamar was soured by the odor of the rotting remains of a sugar cargo with infestations of cockroaches, fleas and “steam bugs”. He received an excellent offer to sell the Tantamar in Leghorn, Italy, but was unable to make contact with the owners to settle on a price. Never one to complain, he joked about the infestations and commissioned an artist to paint a portrait of the Tantamar (see photo) which is now part of the collections of the New Brunswick Museum. Food continued to be a problem and on the last leg of the journey, there was so little of it that George and Gaius survived on coffee and bread for two weeks before entering Boston Harbour. On his return to Sackville, George was in bed for weeks recovering. He would have worse luck with the next vessel that he built, the barque Gussie Trueman.
“Sometimes I wish I never saw a ship.” – George Anderson
The Gussie Trueman
George’s second vessel, the three-masted 464-ton barque Gussie Trueman, was launched on August 25, 1866. Heavier by 77 tons and 23 feet longer than the Tantamar, Ammi referred to it as “a lump of a vessel”. Again, George served as Master on the first voyage of the Gussie Trueman with Tom, who was soon to receive his Masters Certificate, as First Mate. The Tantamar, under the command of Captain Brown, a colleague and good friend to the Anderson family, sailed on the same course as the Gussie Trueman. In Liverpool, Tom “passed the board” and was given his Master’s Certificate.
They were not far into their course when the two vessels suffered terrible damage and loss of one life during an Atlantic gale that lasted 40 days. This is the first time that we saw George really discouraged. Insurance was a large expense and George had more insurance on the Gussie Trueman than the Tantamar. Unfortunately, it was the Tantamar that suffered the most damage.
“I have been up to see the Tantamar today and she is a hard pile. Both masts, bowsprit, most of her yards, both top gallant masts, fore topmast, rail and stanchions from forrard to main rigging on port side, nearly all her sail … I am mad, sick, hungry, tired and almost discouraged so don’t ask me to write any more.” George to Ammi, November 7, 1866.
George confessed to Ammi that if it could have happened without loss of life that he would have preferred that the Tantamar had been a total loss. His wish may have been granted for in March, after expensive repairs had been made to both vessels, the Tantamar struck a reef, three days after leaving Jamaica and was a total wreck. Worse, only two of the shareholders had taken out insurance. The first voyage of the Gussie Trueman was the last Atlantic crossing that George would undertake. However, he would build two more vessels.
Once back home, Tom took over as Master of the Gussie Trueman, a position he held until 1871 when the vessel also struck a reef and was condemned as un-seaworthy14. Just before the wreck of the Gussie Trueman, George heard from the Taylor brothers of Taylor Village that Tom was to become Master of their new vessel, the 620-ton barque Algeria, built by Robert Chapman15. Perhaps because he had been critical of some of George’s methods or maybe he preferred to answer only to the owners of the vessels he commanded, Tom signed on as Master of the Algeria and would never sail on an Anderson-owned vessel again. The Algeria was launched in 1871, the same year as The Northern Star, George’s third vessel. From 1867 to the winter of 1871 when he began building The Northern Star, Captain George worked on the Bay Verte Canal Survey.
The Northern Star
The Northern Star, a 315-ton brigantine, launched on October 14, 1871, was George’s favourite of the four vessels he built and he retained the majority of the shares (52). Charles, who at this point had passed all his seamanship exams for his Masters Certificate (except for navigation), was the Captain. George sold the vessel to a buyer in Ireland that spring with Charles staying on as Captain and then as Mate once Captain Brown took command in 1873. The last record of The Northern Star was in Shields, England, where it was still sailing in 1903, in her 32nd year, an outstanding feat when the average vessel life at this time was 15 years16. There is no record of her demise.
George’s fourth and largest vessel, the 729-ton barque Assyria was purchased by the Saint John Taylor brothers for their fleet of merchant ships. Launched on August 20, 1872, it was the only Anderson-built vessel in which no shares were owned by the Anderson family. The Assyria sailed for 12 years before being wrecked at Port Ellen, Scotland, on March 20, 1884.
George’s Last Months
George continued to persuade Tom to get involved, offering to build whatever size ship he would prefer. George’s own preference was for another brigantine like The Northern Star. He informed Tom that its shares were each selling for $525. Ammi who by this time was married and had a child, had bowed out of the shipbuilding business and Christopher Boultenhouse was considering selling his yard. “Times are Dull” was the saying often used by Ammi to describe life in Sackville during this time.
In a letter to Tom written in December 1872, George described how in November a hurricane wreaked havoc in the Bay of Fundy tossing vessels up on shore and sinking ships with much loss of life. Bella, in the last stages of a difficult pregnancy, hemorrhaged which resulted in her baby needing to be prematurely delivered surgically. The baby, named George Ammi after his father and uncle, suffered broken limbs and Bella nearly died. Days later, George received a telegraph notifying him that while waiting to load coal onto The Northern Star at Cow Bay in Cape Breton, Charles suffered an attack of insanity and “left his vessel in the night and wandered afoot and alone to Glace Bay”.
It took George a week of travel to Glace Bay where he found Charles recovered. The two sailed to Saint John where George received the message that Bella had taken a turn for the worse. Back in Sackville, George learned that Charles had “taken wrong again”. Consequently, he made arrangements for Captain Brown to take command of The Northern Star.
In a letter to Tom, George reassured him that all was now well but did not tell him of his own chronic illness that was growing worse every day. He spoke again of his plans to establish a shipyard and build another vessel, any that his brother would like, hoping that Tom would sign on as Master.
George’s last letter in Margaret Fancy’s transcribed collection is another to Tom dated January 29, 1873: “Yours of the 21st is here and I am glad to hear of your good health and not what you say about the new vessel. I have done nothing yet for the various reasons that I have been sick the last three weeks. I was unwell when I wrote you last but did not expect you to be laid up but have not been out of the house for 15 days. I am under Dr. Wilson’s treatment for liver complaint and so far am not any better. I am scarcely able to walk from my bed to the sitting room and am swollen nearly as large as my friend Gay. However, I hope to get my mending tacks aboard soon. I intend to build soon, if the winter is not spent before I get out again, and I intend to build for your command and that is a large inducement for builders to invest.”
George Anderson died on March 8, 1873, at the age of 42.
His death came as a terrible blow to all of the family, especially to Ammi who had closed up shop for the previous three weeks so that he could nurse George. Ammi had three doctors look at George. All indicated that his brother had a congenital liver problem and dropsy but there was nothing they could do. Ammi wrote to his brothers that George died cheerfully and without pain with his family near him (the children were brought from school). Ammi wrote to Tom that the effort he had put into the building of the Assyria had cost George his life while the price to which he had mistakenly agreed to had left him with little to show. Although in recent times, Charles had voiced complaints and indicated to Tom that Ammi had also become critical, Ammi’s letters burst forth with the news “… until he died, I knew not what I had …” and Charles wrote about him as “our dear brother, the head of the family”.
Tom and Ammi arranged to sell George’s shares in The Northern Star to create a Trust for the five children who were between the ages of four months to thirteen years. The baby, George Ammi, died on December 6, 1874, at the age of 13 months. Arabella died eight years (almost to the day) after her husband, also at the age of 42. The Anderson seafaring traditions were carried on by George and Bella’s three remaining sons.
Captain Rupert Titus Anderson (1858-1922) received his Master Mariners certificate on Dec. 12, 1885, initially sailing vessels owned by the Taylor Brothers of Saint John and later for the Grace Line out of both New York and San Francisco. He served on numerous vessels for over 40 years and died February 19, 1922, in Charleston, South Carolina, presumably on his way home to New York.
At the age of 40, in Valparaiso, Chili, Rupert married Kate Murphy, daughter of Captain Patrick Murphy who also worked for the Grace Line. They had four children: Stanley Titus, Katie Belle, Gertrude and Geraldine. Stanley had a career in the American Merchant Navy sailing out of Florida. Katie Belle while on an extended visit to Sackville with her recently widowed mother, met and secretly married Gray Steadman. Katie and Gray owned and operated the old Steadman’s Grocery on Queen’s Road in Sackville. Gertrude and Geraldine lived in New York.
Captain Ernest Laurence Anderson (1861-1912) went to sea as a teenager, serving with his uncle Captain Thomas Reese Anderson. He had earned his Master’s Certificate by 1893 and was captain of the barque Armenia for more than ten years.
Captain Jesse Edwin Anderson (1863-1936) was the youngest son of George and Arabella Anderson. Upon finishing school, he asked his uncle, Captain Thomas, to give him a job on his sailing ship in 1881. Earning his Mate’s papers by 1887, he soon after became a Master Mariner. He sailed every ocean in the world finally settling in Ketchikan, Alaska, in 1902 where he captained several coastal steamers plying between Seattle and Alaska. Affectionately known as “Cappy” he was at sea until 1927.
George Anderson rode the crest of a wave that swept the coast at the heart of the Bay of Fundy. Backing him were a family that had lived with one foot ashore and one at sea for four generations. Had George lived long enough to pass onto his sons his passion for ships, his love for the Great Marsh and his ability to dream large, the outcomes for the ship-building industry in the Maritimes may have been different? Fortunately, the many letters of this seafaring Anderson family in the Mount Allison Archives have allowed us to travel through those times with them and wonder.
I hope that you have enjoyed this journey as much as I have.
1 Paul Bogaard, The Captain George Anderson Octagonal House – The Second Time Around (2013). The White Fence Newsletter #59 and An Octagonal Renovation (2013). The White Fence Newsletter #60.
2 Anderson Family Fonds, Mount Allison Archives, accession # 9610, donated in three parts by George Anderson (nephew of Capt. George Anderson) in 1977,1987 and 1997.
3 Thomas Reese Anderson Papers, Mount Allison Archives accession # 8610. 2/13/2 and 2/13/3 donated in 1987.
4 Al Smith, Notes on Voyages and Vessels Owned by, or Associated with, the Seafaring Anderson Family (2013). Unpublished Manuscript, Tantramar Heritage Trust, Sackville, N.B.
5 Al Smith, Temperance – the Schooner that Launched the Amazing Seafaring Adventures of the Local Anderson Family (2013). The White Fence Newsletter # 59.
6 Eric W. Sager and Lewis R. Fisher, Shipping and Ship Building in Atlantic Canada 1820-1914 (1987). Canadian Historical Association Historical Booklet No. 42.
7 Charles A. Armour and Allan D. Smith, Shipbuilding in Westmorland County, NB 1784-1910 (2008). Tantramar Heritage Trust, ISBN # 978-0-9784100-5-6.
8 Joseph Schull, The Salt Water Men: Canada’s Deep-Sea Sailors (1957). Toronto, MacMillan Press.
9 Esther Clark Wright, Saint John Ships and Their Builders (1976). Lingley Printing Company, Saint John, NB.
10 Eric W. Sager and Lewis R. Fisher, Shipping and Ship Building in Atlantic Canada 1820-1914 (1987). Canadian Historical Association Historical Booklet No. 42.
11 Esther Clark Wright, Saint John Ships and Their Builders (1976). Lingley Printing Company, Saint John, NB.
12 Charles A. Armour and Allan D. Smith, Shipbuilding in Westmorland County, NB 1784-1910 (2008). Tantramar Heritage Trust, ISBN # 978-0-9784100-5-6.
13 Al Smith, Notes on Voyages and Vessels Owned by, or Associated with, the Seafaring Anderson Family (2013). Unpublished Manuscript, Tantramar Heritage Trust, Sackville, N.B.
14 Charles A. Armour and Allan D. Smith, Shipbuilding in Westmorland County, NB 1784-1910 (2008). Tantramar Heritage Trust, ISBN # 978-0-9784100-5-6.