From an “Interesting Vineyarders” column:
Capt. Edward A. Perry of Oak Bluffs, a descendant of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, is one of the survivors of the era of wooden ships and iron men who has sailed every ocean and visited almost every country whose shores are washed by salt water. Capt. Perry was born in Pawtucket, the son of a blacksmith and forty-niner who had no love for the sea. But the captain inherited the instincts of the old commodore and when his family moved to Bourne, while he was a small boy, he promptly found his way to the river and was soon afloat with his playmates.
His school days were soon over, and the sea called to him. Two or three trips and experience on as many vessels convinced him that the sea was his home, but not the shallow sea along the shores where the water shows green. Blue water called. He was not seventeen when he landed in New York and shipped as a seaman aboard a “skys’l-yarder” around Cape Horn for Hong Kong, China. “I wasn’t much of a seaman,” he remarks with a chuckle, “but I could climb and got by. If a man couldn’t fight, he got licked, and that was all there was to that. But I thought I was made when I became one of the crew of such a ship.” More than 100 days after sailing, the ship entered Hong Kong and Perry got his first sight of China.
His voyaging in English ships took him into strange places among the English possessions. Indian, Australian and African ports were touched. It was through stopping at Port Elizabeth, South Africa, that Perry reached the diamond fields of Kimberly. There was difficulty in his securing the money that was due him and he decided to jump ship. This was easier planned than accomplished as the ship lay far from shore at anchor. When Perry had to stand his anchor watch he obtained two planks and constructed a small raft and launched himself over the side. Washed ashore more dead than alive, he crawled into the bushes where he put his bundle of clothes and boots under his head and went to sleep. When he awoke sometime later he found that a native had stolen his boots and bundle, leaving him barefooted in a strange country. But he started for town. The captain of the ship had not been able to return to the ship the night before, and the first person Perry met was the skipper. Enraged, the captain called a police officer and directed him to arrest Perry, but this the officer refused to do. He was from New York city and sympathized with a countryman in distress. “I can’t arrest him as a deserter unless you first get the necessary papers.” The captain started off to get the warrant, and the officer gave Perry a pound and directed him toward the city.
As night came on three bullock teams approached along the road. The teamsters stopped and made Perry an offer. They were bound for the diamond fields and because of the intense heat were obliged to travel nights. If he would agree, they would take him along to look after the cattle during the day when they slept. On his arrival at the diamond fields he found it to be the wildest and most lawless place he had ever encountered. There was very little earthly wickedness that was not running rampant there, but he had the good fortune to run into a former shipmate and a man from Bath, Maine, who had a claim together, and they took him into partnership with them. “It was a wild place all right,” he says, “but we made a good living and some to spare that we took with us when we went out to the coast. There we celebrated some, and when our money ran low we went to sea again, on a ship loaded with wool for England.”
At length he returned home and only went to sea winters, spending the summer months running a party boat around Oak Bluffs before the pond was opened for a harbor. The bluefishing was good and business was brisk and a seaman could ask for no better berth during the warm months. When fall came he would ship for a voyage to the south, going to some point from which he could return in time for the summer season again.
Fifteen years ago he married and came to Oak Bluffs to remain permanently. He was running his party boat, a catboat, at that time and when winter came he and his wife went south in it, taking a seven months cruise that carried them to the Florida coast. For a number of years he has sailed yachts of various kinds for summer visitors. Despite his seventy-seven years scarcely a gray hair can be seen on his head or in his mustache, while his face is ruddy and his eyes bight. A few winters ago he and a companion capsized in Lake Anthony when the thermometer was eight above zero, and although he was in the icy water for half an hour, he was out and about his work as soon as he had changed his garments.
Right now the captain is laid up for a few repairs at his home on Rock avenue, but he is on the “coming tack” and the warm days of spring will undoubtedly find him reeving off halyards and bending canvas just as he has done for over sixty years.
Compiled by Cynthia Meisner