When Captain Francis Goelet, a prominent New York merchant, visited Marblehead in 1750, the town was a busy up-and-coming seaport. Every spring and fall, Marblehead's fleet of sturdy heeltapper schooners, manned by some 700 men and boys, would set forth to comb the fishing banks of the North Atlantic. When the fleet returned, their catch of cod and haddock was washed clean of salt, and carted to the scores of fish-flakes that blanketed the hillsides and slopes bordering the harbor.
The sight of thousands upon thousands of split fish drying in the sun made quite an impression upon the New Yorker. But what most impressed the captain was not the flakes; instead, it was the smells emanating from the flakes and nearby wharves. Those smells-a rich and malodorous mix of salted fish, gurry, slime and tar-enveloped the entire town, penetrated living quarters and polluted the very air he breathed.
So offensive and overpowering were those smells that the captain noted in his personal journal that:
"The Greatest Distaste a Person has for this Place is the Stench of Fish, the whole Air seems Tainted with it. It may in Short be Said ... that Craggy and Crasey [Marblehead] is a Dirty Erregular Stincking Place."
Goelet's most lasting impression of Marblehead was not the thousands of fish he saw drying, nor the miasmatic reek that arose from scum dripping from the fish carts and barrows that transported the gutted cod and haddock from shore to the flakes. It was the fact that Marblehead was acrawl with children. Its weatherbeaten houses and cluttered yards were alive with squalling babies and ragged urchins, and its lanes and byways were jam-packed with boisterous youngsters and fledgling cuttails. Marblehead, he observed, " ... is noted for its Children and Nouresches the most of any Place for its Bigness in North America."
Captain Goelet, an inquisitive soul, given to jotting down any unusual event or activity that captured his interest, was intrigued by this discovery. And after some research, he learned (at least, to his satisfaction) why the Marbleheaders sired more children than their fellow colonists...
For one thing, they were clannish, hardheaded and frugal, so frugal that every Marbleheader always returned from the banks carrying back home the heads of the fish they had caught. These they used to feed their families morning, noon and night, month-in and month-out! And as they alone practiced this singular custom, Captain Goelet was convinced that "The Chief Cause [for Marblehead's many children can be] attributed to their feeding on Cods Heads ... which is their Principall Diett."
* * *
"How many children have you fathered?" the census taker queried.
After pondering the question a minute, the aged fisherman turned to his wife. "Sary," he asked, "can you recall how many trips to the Banks I've made since we got married?"
* * *
A Marblehead sea captain, on a trading voyage to the South Pacific, landed on an island inhabited by cannibals. While he dickered with their chieftain, he happened to spy a sinister-looking warrior skulking behind a nearby tree.
Thinking he would soon be the piece de resistance at a cannibal feast, the captain drew his pistol and prepared to defend himself.
But the cannibal chief, sensing the captain's alarm, burst into laughter.
"You no have to worry," he said between guffaws, "That man you see, him a no-good man-eater. Him an outcast. Him filled with bad, bad blood. Him once ate a sailor from Beverly!"
* * *
"I'm getting married next month," said Joe, shifting a chaw of navy plug from port to starboard cheek. "And I want to buy me a gold wedding ring for my future missus."
"Eighteen carats?" asked the jeweler.
"Not by a damn sight!" snarled Joe. "I'm chewing a cud of tobacco. But iff'n I was eating carrots," he growled, "what's it to you!"
* * *
An Old Salt, finding his favorite oar splintered in two, laid the blame on a young whippersnapper who had been fooling around some beached boats. To his utter amazement, the youngster admitted tearfully his guilt when confronted about the matter.
The fisherman, who had fully expected to listen to a barefaced whopper or a little white lie, was stricken speechless. But the moment he regained his composure, he grabbed the boy and gave him a paddling the boy never forgot!
"This'll teach you a lesson," the Old Salt thundered as he tanned the hide of the blubbering scamp. "Don't you ever tell the truth iff'n you can think up a lie. For thinkin' up lies," he added, "is the best way there is to lar'n how to sharpen your wits. And (WHACK ... WHACK ... WHACK) don't you ever forget it!"