Captain Clayton Morrissey
The owners of the Captain’s House are descended from Captain Clayton Morrissey, Gloucester’s most famous fisherman. Clayton Morrissey was born in Lower East Pubnico, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia in 1874 to a fishing family. "Clayt" sought a place on his father's boat and was accepted as a deck boy at age 13. He learned the salt fishing industry, how to handle men at sea, how to win their friendship and trust and how to get the most work out of them. Throughout his life, Capt.
Morrissey retained the enviable reputation of being one of the squarest, fairest skippers that ever sailed out of a North Atlantic fishing port. Capt. Morrissey took his first command in 1893 when he was only 19. He was on the Effie M. Morrissey, named after his sister, when his father was taken sick. He made good from the start and before many years passed, ascended to the pinnacle of the salt fishing fleet of the North Atlantic. His record trip weighted out in the vicinity of 450,000 pounds of fish in 1910 and he clipped days off the usual time taken for salt fishing. Where even the rugged old-timers made two trips a season, he would always make three. The Effie M. Morrissey still sails today as the Ernestina.
During his career he owned and skippered many vessels, but he always regarded the Arethusa, named after one of his daughters, as his finest. While he was skipper of the Arethusa, Capt. Morrissey first demonstrated his love of racing; the ship was on a salt fish trip and had run out of bait. He sent men ashore in Newfoundland in dories to get whatever bait they could buy, but while they were out, the Canadian fast-cutter Curley steamed toward him at full speed. Capt. Morrissey up-anchored and, though having no auxiliary engine power, out-sped the fast cutter with sail. The next he saw of his men was at St. Pierre in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where he took them aboard, acquired new dories, and nonchalantly resumed fishing. In 1916 while he was skippering the schooner Corona off Green Island near Clark’s Harbor in dense fog and heavy wind, the 119-ton Essex-built vessel crashed on the rocks at 2am. The crew of 18 men took to the dories, but had to stand off until morning because of the heavy breakers that would have killed them had they tried to land. Morrissey and his men were fortunate to escape with their lives. Capt. Morrissey took command of the 140ft schooner Henry Ford in 1922 and sailed her "out o' Gloucester" for six years until she met her doom off the west coast of Newfoundland in June of 1926. The Henry Ford had a reputation though for speed under sail and she was chosen as the fitting rival to the schooner Bluenose for the international races (against Canada) in October. Amongst some controversy the Ford eventually lost to the Bluenose and the trophy went to back Canada. A fishermen's race in honor of the tercentenary celebration of Gloucester was held in August 1923, when the Ford again commanded by Capt. Morrissey took the honors from her local contenders. Captain Morrisey skippered again in the international races again in 1923 and 1926, but never succeeded in beating the Canadian contender.
In 1923 Clayton Morrissey posed for sculptor Leonard Craske's monumental fisherman statue which stands on Gloucester's Western Avenue.
Capt. Morrissey's final command in the line of large schooners was the Flora Oliver in which he went halibuting until 1931 when, aged 57, he finally stayed ashore. However, he had hardly taken a year's vacation when he decided he wanted a small boat in which to go trawling offshore and had the Nimbus built by his son-in-law, Ralph Nelson, at the latter's boat yard on Bearskin Neck, Rockport.
He spent his last summer in 1935 as commander of the old pilot boat Liberty in pursuit of Spanish treasure thought to be on an old British frigate the Braak which had sunk off Lewes, Delaware. That summer they succeeded in bringing actual pieces of eight. On the eve of his departure for his second summer seeking the treasure, he died "with his boots on" of a heart attack at Hyannisport aboard the Nimbus. He was 62 years old.
The Effie M Morrisey still sails today as the Ernestina, an official vessel of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She continues to make history as a cultural resource rich in tradition and diversity, often serving as a memorable setting for civic, social and corporate events. For more information please visit www.ernestina.org.
In 2009, the fisherman statue was selected to feature on a new Massachusetts quarter created by the U.S. Mint. As part of America’s Beautiful National Parks Quarter Dollar Coin Act, the new quarters will be issued at the rate of five new designs per year beginning in 2010, and will be issued in the order in which the selected sites were established as national sites.
Pictures copyright of www.ernestina.org.