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Fishing Adventures at the Isles of Shoals

Richard_Henry_Dana_in_1842HISTORY MATTERS

Portsmouth is staking its claim once again as a literary capital. Bestselling authors are lining up to speak at the Music Hall and Riverrun Bookstore. Back in the 19th century top authors like Whittier, Hawthorne, Twain, Emerson and Thoreau visited New Hampshire’s only seaport. Most were en route to poet Celia Thaxter’s summer literary salon on Appledore Island. (Continued below)

But one literary lion has all but escaped notice. Richard Henry Dana slipped into town alone on August 23, 1843 aboard the steamer Telegraph bound from Salem, Massachusetts. After a refreshing night at the Rockingham Hotel the Boston author and lawyer hired a boat to take him to the Isles of Shoals for a week of fishing. His brief journal, published half a century later, is packed with details of island life that was soon to disappear.

Richard Henry Dana's Shoals Journal

READ ALSO: Hawthorn's complete Shoals journal

If you know Richard Henry Dana at all, it is likely from his one important book. Two Years Before the Mast (1840) is an American classic. Dana’s vivid memoir offers a rare view of life along the largely unexplored West Coast that would become California before the Gold Rush changed everything. Dana drew attention to the hardships of sailors at sea. A champion of the rights of common workers, Dana describes the fishing families of the Shoals with equal empathy and detail. Those families would be wiped out by the "gold rush" of island tourism that soon followed.

Richard Henry Dana’s adventure began the moment he passed Whaleback Light in Portsmouth Harbor. On learning that his paying customer was an experienced sailor, Captain Jackson, owner of the Temperance, handed the tiller over to Dana. The captain pointed out the mist-covered Isles of Shoals in the distance, and then went to sleep in the bottom of the boat. Dana narrowly missed colliding with a large wooden sloop that cut across his bow just off Duck Island.

CONTINUE Richard Henry Dana

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