‘Captain Joe’, Schooner Captain

Footnotes to Long Island History

‘Captain Joe’, Schooner Captain



Thomas R. Bayles


       One of the early settlers of East Patchogue was Captain Joseph Robinson, who was born there on December 4, 1790.

          At 12 years of age he began to follow the water, and during the War of 1812 was commander of the famous old schooner known as the “Glorian.”  This was a boat of about 40 tons burden, and for many years sailed in the cord wood trade between the Great South bay and New York city.  On one of his trips to New York he found 12 other boats lying in wait at Fire Island for an opportunity to cross the bar.  The boats were lying just outside the bar.  Believing the schooners could easily be captured, the British manned their barge with 12 men at the oars and a cannon at the bow, then proceeded across the bar with the idea of taking possession of the fleet and destroying it. 

          The captains of the schooners, of whom “Captain Joe,” as he was called, was one of the leaders, went ashore, and although defenseless, swung their hats, inviting the British to proceed with their boat.  The British gave answer by firing their cannon, and as soon as they saw the smoke from the cannon’s mouth, the captains dropped behind a hill on the ocean shore, thus escaping injury, although the balls struck the sand close by them.  The British thought this was some Yankee trick and that they might be caught and unawares and captured, so they abandoned their attempt and returned to their ship.  This act of courage and nerve by the captains of the schooners saved their fleet and preserved for themselves a history characteristic of men of their time. 

          A few days later while on a trip between Fire Island and New York, and when abreast of New Inlet, Captain Joe was again attacked by the same man-of-war and ordered to stop and surrender.  Seeing, however, that he might get over the Jones inlet bar before they could catch him, Capt. Joe headed the old “Glorian” for the shore, where the sails were immediately stripped and the valuables taken and placed in a small boat.  The crew then went ashore and watched proceedings.  The British boarded the schooner, set it afire at both ends, and then abandoned it.  As soon as they left her, however, Capt. Joe and his crew went aboard and by strenuous efforts put out the fire and saved the vessel.  Repairs were made, sails were bent and she proceeded to New York and made a successful voyage.  The other vessel which was in company with Capt. Joe surrendered to the British, who towed her alongside the man-of-war, stripped her of her sails, removed her masts, and then set her adrift, using her for target practice.

          The most exciting experience which Capt. Joe went through, however, was during the famous gale of September 3, 1820, which was one of the most severe ever to lash the Long Island coast.  On that occasion eight boats started out over Fire Island bar at 2:30 in the afternoon, and when about half way to New York were overtaken by the storms.  As the gales increased in fury, the boats, one by one, went down with all on board.  The “Glorian” was finally rolled over by a tremendous wave and the men were thrown into the water.  Capt. Joe rose to the surface and although four of five miles from shore, took a stick of cordwood under each arm, striking out for shore in the face of almost certain death.  The waves rolled so high that a 70-foot mast floating near him was ended over by them.  Yet Capt. Joe kept on top and some time later succeeded in reaching the shore near Rockaway.  He was the only man saved of the 21 men that made up the crews of the boats that started with them.

          Capt. Joe was widely known and highly respected by all who knew him, and died in 1874 at the age of 84.  It is said his funeral was followed by the longest procession of wagons ever known in Patchogue.

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