Howard Blackburn, a Gloucester (Massachusetts) fisherman who became famous in his day when he survived being lost at sea while Halibut fishing on the Burgeo Bank (between Cape Breton Nova Scotia and Newfoundland). Blackburn and his dory mate (Tom Welch) were caught too far from their schooner when a storm came up in January 1883.

Blackburn and Welch were fishing among a fleet of other dories working from the schooner Grace L. Fears. When a sudden snowstorm accompanied by wind and fog separated them from the ship they were forced to spend the next day and a half keeping the dory afloat, bailing, rowing, and chipping ice from the planks. Welch froze to death after the second night, while Blackburn managed to hold on, through the storm and then rowing to Newfoundland with his frost-bitten hands.

Having clasped his frozen hands to the oars letting them freeze in place Blackburn continued to row for the next two days. After landing and spending a night in a deserted fishing shack, he rowed along the coast until he came to Little River, a small village where he was taken in and nursed back to health for remainder of the winter.

Blackburn was in tolerable health by early spring when he was able to get to Burgeo NF and thence to return to Goucester by ship. He had lost all of his fingers and most of his toes. Upon his return he recieved further charity in his home town. He started a tobacco shop and eventually became an innkeeper - the Blackburn Tavern is still in business in Gloucester.

Blackburn was quite grateful to both those whose charity helped him to find a new livelihood and the people of the impoverished fishing village who had saved his live. It is recorded that he paid back the charity as donations to the widows and orphans of local fishermen an annually sent generous supplies to the Lishman family and others in Little River.

In 1899 he took his sloop Great Western across the Atlantic to England, an amazing feat in that day (or any) for a man with no fingers. On returning he focused on his business which was threatened by prohibition and did a certain amount of bootlegging. He eventually faced federal charges and became the focus of many proponents of prohibition who would revile him for having been a seller of strong drink.

In his later years Blackburn spent much of his time sailing and became one of only 8 individuals (one of whom was famed boatbuilder Nathaniel G. Herreshoff) to be awarded honorary life membership in the prestigious Cruising Club of America. Blackburn, as down to earth a working man as there ever existed, thence came to spend some of his latter years being honored and entertained in the CCA club in Boston.

Lone Voyager, Joseph Garland

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