1978 - Mercantile History - Pictures of Billings-Part I

Between 1909 and 1926, five schooners, the Enterprise, Mercantile, Progress, Billings Brothers, and Philosopher were built, in that order, near the town of Little Deer Isle on the Eggemoggin Reach shore by members of three generations of the Billings family.

The Mercantile is loaded with lumber to feed the fires of midcoast lime kilns. (Image courtesy of Robert Billings)

Pearl F. Billings, one of the builders and first owner and master of the Mercantile, describes the town and the island of the same name as having "fathoms of water all around and two good springs."

The family built the vessels during the winter months when other occupations were not available. The construction of one vessel took more than one winter, which allowed more time to dry the wood used in the vessels. The wood was probably cut by a wind-powered sawmill employed at the site.


Rhoda Ann Eaton Billings and John Jackson Billings. (Image courtesy of The Billings Family)

The Mercantile was launched in 1916, being built over three seasons by Pearl Billings, his father John Jackson Billings, and two brothers, Walter D. and Arthur. Walter, the youngest brother and most adept technically, modeled her. (The Progress was later built to the same model.)

Pearl Billings had been considering the name Mercantile; seeing the word lettered on a bank window convinced him of its suitability. Since Captain Billings considered an odd number of letters unlucky, the ten letters of the world Mercantile were an additional asset. Perhaps the ten letters would not guarantee good luck, but they would avoid bad luck. Phillip Billings, another brother, defied this superstition in naming the Philosopher, but the other four schooners were named with an even number of letters.

The Mercantile was a shoal draft schooner, and she often served her owners well by being able to take on and discharge cargo in small out-of-the way places inaccessible to deeper vessels. Her principal work consisted of carrying barrel staves and firewood from such places as Old Maid's Creek in Gouldsboro to the lime kilns in Rockport.



The Pearl & Flavilla Billings family in 1954. From left, front: Sheldon, Austin, and Ralph. Middle: Robert, Pearl (builder of the Mercantile), Flavilla, and Roy. Rear: Nettie, Sidney, Lloyd, Raymond, Thelma, and Joseph. A note on the back of the photo indicates that Robert, Sidney, and Lloyd sailed on the schooner. (Image courtesy of The Billings Family)