1916 - Mercantile built by Billings in Little Deer Isle
The Billings family builds the Mercantile
[Researched and written by J.W. Sims in 1978] Between 1909 and 1926 five schooners, the Enterprise, Mercantile, Progress, Billings Brothers, and Philosopher were built, in that order, on the same site near the town of Little Deer Isle on the Eggemoggin Reach shore by members of three generations of the Billings family. 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. 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. From autumn, after the summer fishery, she carried salt fish, primarily hake, for Fred Morse and Frank Falkins at Swan's Island Village and for Harry Johnson at Minturn (Potato Island), Swan's Island, delivering the cargo to the Gorton-Pew Company in Gloucester and returning with salt. There were usually three such cargos of fish for Gloucester each fall. For awhile she also carried salt fish from Frenchboro to Gloucester. The schooner Mattie (before and after named Grace Bailey), now a cruise schooner with the Mercantile, also occasionally carried salt fish from Swan's Island, and the two vessels may have berthed together there. Other work for the Mercantile included carrying lumber from Bangor to Plymouth, a single trip carrying lime from Thomaston to Boston, carrying coal from Rockland to Northwest Harbor, Deer Isle, boxwood from the Jonesport area to Quoddy, and lumber from Richmond for the construction of a can factory near Quoddy. She made a few trips carrying bricks from Penobscot to Northeast Harbor, Bar Harbor, and Rockland, but this trade was soon taken by trucks. The Mercantile's hailing port was Little Deer Isle during the first nine years of her work under Pearl Billings. In 1925 Captain Billings moved his family and his vessel's hailing port to Rockland to allow his children to attend high school, since there was no such schooling available on Little Deer Isle. When he decided in 1938 to accept a job with the Stonington Yacht Basin on Moose Island, Deer Isle, he sold the Mercantile to his youngest brother, Walter, who still lived on Little Deer Isle, and who kept the vessel in the coasting trade. Sometime between 1938 and 1940, the Mercantile, loaded with pulpwood, collided with a steamer while they attempted to pass each other at night in the Bucksport Narrows of the Penobscot River. After the collision, the steamer towed the Mercantile to the piers at Bucksport, where the pulpwood was unloaded and sold. With considerable damage to her bowsprit and bow area, she was then towed to the shipyard at Stonington, where Walter made the repairs. In 1940 the vessel was sold to another brother, Arthur. Because there was little business left in the Maine coasting trade, Arthur sold the Mercantile to Captain Charles D. O'Connor of Warwick, Rhode Island, who enrolled the vessel in the coasting trade and the mackerel fishery. Her homeport became Providence, Rhode Island, and she was probably employed in the Narragansett Bay area. After two years, the Mercantile returned to Maine as a cruise schooner, sailing out of Camden under the ownership of Captain Frank Swift. She joined his other schooners Clinton, Mattie, Lois M. Candage, Lillian, Eva S. Cullison, and the Enterprise, the first of the five vessels built by the Billings family.