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James Parks Ship’s Pilot Of Early Days

Footnotes to Long Island History

James Parks Ships Pilot of Early Days

by

Thomas R. Bayles

 


             James Parks was born in Mystic Bridge, Conn., in 1844 and when a small boy showed a great interest in the water, and after a trip on his father's smack, decided he wanted to be a seaman.  When only ten years old he was hooked on his fathers vessel, and as he said, was old enough “to life the cook pot on to the galley stove.”  When only a boy of about 18, he secured a position as assistant on the Stratford Shoal lightship, where he remained for ten years.

            About 1873 the little steamer “Brookhaven,” with H. G. Davis as captain, began to run across the Sound to Bridgeport from Port Jefferson, and Mr. Parks became its pilot.  After several years running across the Sound in all kinds of weather, and always making port safely, a larger boat was required and the “Favorite” was put into service, until 1884 when the “nonowantuc” was build and operated on this route with Mr. Parks as pilot.  He could tell many thrilling tales of his experiences running across the Sound in all kinds of weather during the 19 years he was in charge of the steamers.  In all that time he lost but a half dozen trips, and during that time was icebound many times; aground in exposed places, and had all the experiences that make up the life of a sailor.  He estimated that he had crossed the Sound 13,000 times during his life, more trips probably than any other man.

            He said the roughest trip he ever made was one day in the fall of 1889.  On arrival at Bridgeport he found that the City of Richmond, of Hartford, had put into Bridgeport harbor for safety.  They did not meet any boat on their trip over from Port Jefferson, but the steamer Nonowantuc came through safely.

            He told about standing on the bow of the Brookhaven and harpooning porpoises, and in cold weather shooting ducks as they flew across the bow of the steamer and picking them up with a crab net as the steamer passed.  People in Port Jefferson recalled how the steamer Idlewild foundered off Shippen Point near Stratford, Conn. In a storm in February 1887, and a boat with nine men put off from the steamer.  All were drowned and Mr. Parks helped in recovering some of the bodies.  The same storm drove the schooner Oriole ashore off Wading River, and the Nonowantuc went to her assistance.  It was here that Mr. Parks received his first injury, and while working on the stranded schooner, a hatch fell on him and broke three of his ribs.  The same winter he assisted in getting the schooner Sea Bird off the shore near Baiting Hollow.

            The material in this article has been taken from one appearing in the Port Jefferson Times on Nov. 4, 1891, telling about Mr. Parks and his various experiences on the water.  

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