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The Hidden Gold

Old Oaken Bucket

The best place to hide something is in the most obvious place. Local poet Clara Lynn tells an amazing story of an enslaved NH man who saves his owner's fortune using his wit and true grit. Adapted from an account in "Brewster's Rambles", the ballad writer taps into African American history in a New England seaport town.



About Clara Lynn

All we currently know about Portsmouth poet Clara Lynn comes from her obituary in the Portsmouth Herald. This poem comes from her book "Poems About Portsmouth" which was published after her death at age 78 in 1929. Her poems are a treasure chest of local legends, stories she must have learned growing up in Portsmouth in the 19th century. Three books of her writing appeared in her final decade and she was selected to write the city guide to accompany the 1923 "Pageant of Portsmouth".

ALSO by Clara Lynn: The Ranger Flag

The Hidden Gold
By Clara Lynn (1929)


'Twas in the year of eighteen twelve,
War waged with Mexico,
And sailing vessels took a risk
When going to and fro.
A ship that had the "Princess" name,
From Portsmouth sailed away,
The Haven brothers owned the ship
That went from port that day.

A flag all ocean ships must have,
False colors oft they'd show,
This ruse helped them to sail along
In days of long ago.
A privateer, the "Princess" met,
And it did not sail by,
Although it saw the stars and stripes
Above the vessel fly.

Command to stop was quickly given,
Men on the "Princess" came,
The papers failed to satisfy,
Or prove the Haven name.
The "Princess" officers were soon
Put on the privateer,
The crew left on the Portsmouth ship
For safety had great fear.

The crew was under new command,
Their treatment was severe,
The first mate of the privateer
Said, "I' am captain here."
A colored man on board the ship
He gave much work to do,
John Frances was the sailor's name,
He'd long served with the crew.

This fellow was a handy chap
The first mate soon found out,
Both day and night aboard the ship.
He sent the man about.
Not only did John Frances know
How sales should reef and fold,
But he knew on the captured ship
Was hid a bag of gold.

The captain of the Haven ship
The gold had hid away.
Beneath a pile of dirty sails
Concealed, the money lay.
John planned how he could manage it
To take the gold away,
Elude the first mate's watchful eyes,
So keen both night and day.

A tub of grease was on the deck,
'Twas used to slush the masts,
John chose this as the hiding place,
The bag of gold to cast.
The contents there did not invite
The first mate to inspect,
The men in charge one night drank wine,
And soundly they all slept.

That night, John had ship's watch alone,
The chance he then improved,
The hidden gold from 'neath the sails,
He hurriedly removed.
And in the slush tub on the deck,
No trace of it was seen,
John smiled and thought, "Though dirty now,
Someday it will be clean."

The captured ship its anchor cast
In port on one fair day,
And John on deck made fast the ropes,
Gave service every way.
And when the "Princess" reached the wharf,
The mate said, "You may go,"
With sober face John turned away,
His footsteps then were slow.

Then turning to the mate he said,
"Sir I would like to ask,
If you will give to me the grease,
That's on deck in that cask?
I have but little money, Sir,
And that grease I can sell,
The contents will bring me some change,
And every cent will tell."

The answer was, "Take it and go."
John thanked him with a smile,
Then took the cask upon his back,
And carried it a mile.
His back ached 'neath the heavy load,
His quick pace did not cease,
When people smiled, John only thought,
"There's gold hid in this grease."

His anxious fears and backache, gone,
His heart was light that day,
When safe within a savings bank,
The gold was put away.
John knew the tub had heavy been,
But was surprised when told
That fifteen thousand dollars bright,
Lay in that bag of gold.

The Haven brothers gave to John,
A house that stands today
On Union Street, it has his name,
His deed on annals stays.
This town has been the dwelling place,
Of many men forgot,
His deed gave to John Frances, fame,
That lives when he is not.


Source: " Poems About Portsmouth,"
By Clara Lynn (1929), Self published.

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