Howard Blackburn, a Gloucester
) fisherman who became famous
in his day
when he survived being lost
at sea while Halibut
the Burgeo Bank (between Cape Breton Nova Scotia
Blackburn and his dory
mate (Tom Welch) were caught too far from their
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.
, Joseph Garland