Captain Herbert Black and the Mattie
By Margret Jones
Since the Grace Bailey began her sailing days 137 years ago, she has crossed the paths of many owners, each with their own story.
Families, especially old New England families hold to their roots with stories of ancestors and episodes passed along from generation to generation. This summer the great granddaughter of Captain Herbert Black, (owner 1919 - 1937), came aboard to see the actual schooner she had known from her childhood through stories told by her grandmother and mother.
In December 1919 the Grace Bailey/Mattie, was purchased by Captain Black to replace his schooner "Oakwoods". He moved her from the New York area to Belfast Maine. During his 17 years of ownership "Mattie" earned her keep sailing as a bay coaster mostly in Maine waters, carrying general cargo, pulpwood to Bucksport and Brewer, and perhaps coal to Maine islands. She also went farther from home, carrying boxwood from Ellsworth to Lynn, Massachusetts, salt cod from Maine ports to Gloucester, and hardwood to Boston. It is likely that she carried granite from Crotch Island to New York City for the Post Office Building and for Grand Central Station.
The best known story surviving from the days of Black's ownership is the mystery of the missing check. According to legend, in November of 1919 Captain Black's schooner, "Oakwoods", was rammed and sunk by the American submarine R-3 in Buzzards Bay near the Cape Cod Canal. After years of petitioning he finally received payment from the United States Government for his loss. After his death it was discovered that the check had never been cashed. A search of "Mattie's" master cabin revealed it hidden over a beam. One has to wonder if he forgot where he tucked it or if it remained uncashed for a good reason.
As it turns out the legend is more fact than fiction. Below are the government records of Black's journey of over 15 years to recover his losses from the sinking of "Oakwoods". Perhaps that check was worth more as a symbol of his victory than the cash ever could have been.
Verification of this incident and Capt Black's struggle to recover his losses was found in three different government documents.
First in the USA Navy Department Bureau of Equipment we found a Notice Mariners for Massachusetts of a Wreck Light Buoy established November 25, 1919 on the site of "Oakwoods" sinking.
The next two verifications were found in the records of the United States Congress in 1932 and 1933.
It would appear after the initial investigation by the Navy that a claim for restitution had been denied to Black and the owner of the cargo. The Navy relied only on testimony of officers onboard the R-3 who put forth that the schooner was not lit and was therefore at blame. No personnel from the schooner were allowed to testify. In 1932 Congress considered a bill to revisit relief to Capt Black and the owner of the cargo. The Navy conceded that the investigation had been internal and sent its original report to congress with no recommendation. Capt. Blacks counsel brought to light that the Captain of the schooner, had he been allowed to testify, would have sworn that he himself had lit "Oakwoods" lanterns and they were new and in working order. He also would have sworn that the lights of the submarine R-3 were deficient and there was no bow watch present. The bill was ordered for a third reading and passed. In 1933 the Act was approved, paving the way for Capt Black and Clark Coal Co. to file suit and win compensation for their losses from 1919.
Transcript of the hearing and a copy of the Act are below. Many thanks to our ace internet sleuth, Stephanie, for her diligent research bringing these documents to light. The actual documents can be read by clicking on the links attached to each.