SOSSEXI Blog week 5

SOSSEXI Blog 8/3/12 Scituate’s Heritage Days

Last weekend marked the arrival of Scituate Heritage Days, the annual three day waterfront festival of food, music, carnival rides and street vendors. Driving down Front Street to The Roman Table to pick up my fish share on Friday, I noticed just about every telephone pole was sporting a blue flag emblazoned with the white slogan “Don’t Give Up the Ship.

Scituate marked the 375th  Anniversary of its incorporation as a town last year and began flying these flags in honor of a significant battle that happened during the War of 1812 right off its shores. Captain James Lawrence was blockaded in Boston Harbor for weeks aboard his warship the USS Chesapeake, sister ship to the USS Constitution. In a challenge to the experienced British frigate the HMS Shannon, Captain Lawrence sailed the Chesapeake out of Boston Harbor and squared off against the Shannon close enough to Scituate’s First Cliff and the current-day jetty that residents of the town could see the battle and hear the firing of the many cannon.

Unfortunately, “Don’t give up the ship” were the last words uttered by Lawrence , who resoundingly lost the battle as well as his life. These words were immortalized in history three months later, though, when his good friend Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in his newly re-named warship the USS Lawrence and flying a flag that said “Don’t Give Up the Ship”, resoundingly returned the favor to the British by destroying several of their warships. This eventually contributed to the American victory of the War of 1812. Perry sent the flag to the US Naval Academy, where it is now enshrined in history.

These flags flying in Scituate reference the town’s ties to to the sea, whether in Naval battles, boat building, Irish mossing, or fishing. Samuel Elliot Morrison writes in his wonderful book “The Maritime History of Massachusetts” of the skilled workmen who built hundreds of ships in boatyards along the North River up until the 1920’s. Sailing out to sea to follow the China Trade or the right whale or the cod where certainly residents of Scituate, some as young as ten or twelve who signed on as cabin boys, not returning to their homes (or mothers!) for years.

Now imagine commercial fishing back in Colonial times. A mother ship would sail out to Stellwagen, the same grounds Frank, Kevin, Pete and Phil, our SOSSEXI fisherman head to today, and let off several dories with a single man in each. Exposed to the elements, these brave men would fish all day for cod, arguably the most important fish in the world at this time. Many of these fishermen came from Scituate.

As I walked through the municipal parking lot filled with carnival rides and fried food vendors heading to pick up my fish from our Community Supported Fishery, I couldn’t help but think that in our own small way we are helping to preserve Scituate’s Heritage. There are still fishermen who are descendants of the men written about in Morrison’s book. Many of them are teetering on the brink between continuing their fishing tradition or selling their boats and looking for other work.

A couple of years ago when I was researching an article on CSF’s for edible South Shore magazine, I interviewed a long-time commercial fisherman, public speaker and writer named Dave Densmore, who at the time was speaking at New Bedford’s Working Waterfront Festival. Although he was initially skeptical of the ability of any CSF to succeed with the debilitating mountains of regulations, he said CSF’s “may prove to be the saving grace for fishermen, at least the small boat, near-shore fleet.”

Frank, Kevin, Pete and Phil are these fishermen. They are also much the same as their Scituate predecessors of three hundred years ago. They steam out of the same harbor to the same fishing grounds and defy the same forces of nature, attempting to make a hard living providing us with the fish we love to eat.

When we picked up our fish last week on the kickoff of Scituate’s Heritage Days, we paid homage to this community’s rich tradition of fishing. Keep talking up SOSSEXI, and drumming up new members, and “Don’t Give Up the Ship.” Hopefully our CSF will weave its way into the Heritage of Scituate for many years to come.

SOSSEXI blog by-catch:

Our local ocean waters have definitely warmed up significantly. Fish that are not normally in our waters have made an appearance: scup, which normally don’t round the horn of Provincetown, are being caught by fishermen in Boston Harbor, and just last week a recreational fisherman caught a huge redfish, normally found much further south, in Nantucket Sound.

I saw something very unusual right along the docks where the Scituate Harbormaster is stationed. Smelt, usually not caught in Scituate waters until late September and October, were mixed in with juvenile ocean herring. The water was literally boiling with these baitfish last Saturday as I walked along the waterfront enjoying Heritage Days.

Most unusual, though, were the tufts of red seaweed, looking like the ends of red-leaf lettuce, attached to the dorsal fins of a number of the herring. One of the commercial fishermen made a call to Woods Hole to get an explanation as to this unusual phenomenon. I as well have put out some calls. Until an answer comes through, take a walk down and see if you can observe this odd bit of nature.

Submitted by Kathleen Wright

About eSS&SC

The South Shore and South Coast has been home to hunting, gathering, fishing, farming––and great eating––for over 10,000 years. We are committed to identifying, devouring, and sharing all that Southeastern Massachusetts has to offer today and preserving local options for future generations.
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