Chapter 21


When Captain John Smith, the "discoverer" of Pocahontas and "Admiral of New England," first sailed into Massachusetts waters, he came a-fishing, and had such good luck that he returned to England with a fare of forty thousand cod,—whereupon he told the usual "fish story," for he declared he had caught sixty thousand.

The fame of those fishing grounds spread so quickly that soon after, as Captain Smith himself records, "thirty or forty sail went yearly into those waters to trade and fish."

For generations the codfishery of the New England waters had been known to the hardy sea folk of western Europe. It was the codfishery of the Massachusetts bays and banks that drew the attention and determined the settlement of the Pilgrims of Plymouth; it was the fishermen of Cape Ann who saved those same Plymouth Pilgrims from starvation; and the monopoly of the codfishery of Massachusetts was the object of the English syndicate from which grew the Massachusetts Company and the settlement of Boston.

Within ten years after the beginnings of Boston her merchants were sending across the sea to England




annually three hundred thousand dried codfish; and so prominent a factor was the codfish in the growth and development of early Massachusetts that, in the year 1639, the General Court exempted from taxation "all estates" engaged in the fish business, and excused from militia duty all fishermen and shipbuilders.

The fishing fleets of Gloucester and Salem and Marblehead, of Boston and Barnstable and Falmouth, laid the basis for the money-making commerce of Massachusetts, while, at the beginning of the Revolution, Nantucket alone had a fishing fleet of one hundred and fifty sail, with twenty-five hundred seamen, and contributed each year to the wealth of Massachusetts eight hundred thousand dollars.

From all this it is easy to understand why the fisheries were called the "gold mines of Massachusetts.’ And as men will risk all for that which brings them their living and their profit, it was for their fishing rights and their fishing trade that the men of Massachusetts were ever ready to struggle in politics, or, if need be, to fight in war.

It was the fishing rights of Massachusetts that very nearly wrecked the treaty of peace with Great Britain; and only the stubborn persistence of Samuel Adams at home and the set determination of John Adams abroad saved the fisheries of Massachusetts from sacrifice by the other States in Congress, or from destruction by the treatymakers at Paris. In any battle for right Sam Adams and John, his cousin, could always be found in the van.

In those same revolutionary days there lived in Boston an enterprising merchant and shipowner whose name



was John Rowe. His memory lives in" Rowe’s Wharf," familiar to all eastern Massachusetts as one of Boston’s landmarks; but his memory deserves to live as that of one who proved himself, so we are assured, "as true a friend to his country as any whose names have reached a greater renown."

He was part owner in one of the objectionable ships upon which was brought to Boston the taxed tea that raised such a tempest. But in a fight for principle no thought of personal gain or loss moved John Rowe.

He made a speech in the Old South Meetinghouse, when all Boston went wild with excitement, one memorable December day in the year 1773. Seven thousand men were in and about that historic meetinghouse, clamoring against tea and taxes, while Sam Adams exhorted them to stand firm but be moderate.

And in his" Old South" speech John Rowe said significantly: "Who knows how tea will mix with salt water?"

There was great applause. Many of his hearers caught the hint; they knew what he meant, and at six o’clock in the evening of that sixteenth day of December, 1773 certain " Sons of Liberty," thinly disguised as Mohawks, rushed down to Griffin’s Wharf, and tossed overboard from the ships the hated tea, quickly answering John Rowe’s bold question, though at his own expense. But for this loss he cared not. The story has it that he himself was one of the " Indians," but this is not certain. At any rate, his loss was liberty’s gain. That tea, at least, was so well salted that its memory is preserved for all time.


How the fishermen of Massachusetts proved themselves on the battlefields of the Revolution you have read in the story of John Glover and his men. Their training for this test of courage was undisputed. Even in the Parliament of England, that great orator Edmund Burke, seeking to prevent war with the colonies, had pictured the hardihood and bravery of the fishermen of Massachusetts.

"No sea," he said, "but is vexed with their fisheries, no climate that is not witness to their toils. Neither the perseverance of Holland, nor the activity of France, nor the dexterous and firm sagacity of English enterprise ever carried this most perilous mode of hardy industry to the extent to which it has been pushed by



this recent people,—a people who are still, as it were, but in the gristle, and not yet hardened into the bone of manhood."

They were to "harden into the bone of manhood" by the sacrifice of revolution and the harsh shock of war. We know now how the fishermen and farmers of Massachusetts precipitated the Revolution on the fields of Middlesex and at the battle of Bunker Hill.

And when victory at last came, when the independence of America was won, and, in the year 1784, across the seas in Paris, brave John Adams, in the teeth of British opposition and French indifference, saved the fisheries of Massachusetts for the people of Massachusetts, to whom they meant so much,—then it was that John Rowe rose in his place in the Great and General Court, of which he was a member, and moved that" leave might be given to hang up the representation of a codfish in the room where the House sits, as a memorial of the importance of the codfishery to the welfare of the commonwealth;" and "leave" was unanimously given.

Then Captain John Welch, of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery, carved out of a solid block of wood a great codfish, four feet and eleven inches long,— big enough even to satisfy Captain John Smith’s fish stories. And when it was painted it was duly suspended in the representatives’ chamber in the Statehouse at the head of State Street, and John Rowe paid the bill.

So the codfish came to the Statehouse of Massachusetts, and in the Statehouse it has staid to this day, suspended either above or facing the Speaker’s chair.

When, in 1798, the Great and General Court removed from the old Statehouse on State Street to the new Statehouse on Beacon Hill, the codfish went too. And when, after ninety-seven years, the demand came for more room, and the representatives moved into a stately apartment in the enlarged and renovated Statehouse, the codfish, wrapped in the Stars and Stripes, was borne

to the new chamber, where it hangs in an honored place opposite the Speaker’s chair and between the emblazoned names of Massachusetts’s greatest historians,— Motley and Parkman.

Humble and homely though it may be, that simple, democratic codfish is an emblem of Massachusetts bravery, endurance, and skill. Nothing about the grand




Statehouse on the hill is more interesting, nothing is more suggestive.

"It tells," so said the grandson of that stout-hearted John Adams who won the victory of the codfish in the court of France, "of commerce, war, diplomacy,—of victories won by Massachusetts in all three fields. It symbolizes the sources of our original wealth, the nursery of those mariners who manned the gun decks of Our frigates, our issues and struggles with England."

Into the second of these struggles with England did the "followers of the codfish" sail to victory in the War of 1812.

To that leaderless war with Great Britain Massachusetts was determinedly opposed. It meant destruction of her commerce, stagnation of her industries, privation for her people. The fisheries were abandoned; the farmers and mechanics felt the tightening pressure of the cruel embargo that closed their ports and held their ships rotting at their wharfs. Massachusetts cried out bitterly, and some hot-heads would have turned protest into secession; but the wisdom of leaders and the common sense of the people prevailed, and Massachusetts remained loyal and patriotic, though stricken and defenseless.

But in that war Massachusetts, despite her disapproval, bore a noble part. Her sons were in many a land battle; her sailors were in every sea fight; her privateers wrought woe and destruction on the foe. The port of Salem alone sent out forty of these wasps of the ocean to sting and wound.

From the port of Boston sailed the glorious Consti



tution—" Old Ironsides "—to her victory over the Guerriere. From Boston, too, sailed the brave Lawrence in the Chesapeake, to an honorable defeat and a glorious death almost within sight of Boston; and though the harbor was blockaded by British cruisers, yet American vessels, manned by American blue-jackets, passed in and out, in open defiance of the foe. From Massachusetts ports frigates and sloops of war, brigs and privateers, went bowling out, to display that prowess on the seas which has ever been the chief glory of the otherwise disastrous War of 1812.



For these victories the knights of the cod line and the trawl have the highest honor; and as a reminder of their dauntless courage and glorious achievements, still in its place in the Statehouse on the hill swings the monster codfish, emblem of the bravery, patriotism, persistence, sacrifice, energy, and skill of the fishermen of Massachusetts.