Old Hampton Tales of Sea and Shore: The man and the lobster pot

By Thomas Leavitt

Part 1

The Exeter News-Letter

November 4, 1898

The Man and The Lobster Pot

EDITOR, EXETER NEWS-LETTER -- At your request I give you in writing the story I once told you of the man and the lobster pot, the incidents of which happened when I was a small boy living at Boar's Head.

It was way back in [eighteen] forty-three or four, in July, in the morning while all the people of the old Winnicumet house except one man were at breakfast or engaged in the house. It was a bright, calm morning and such a one, I do believe, as is never seen, felt and enjoyed anywhere in the wide world away from Boar's Head.

The great bluff, making out into the sea, the ocean motionless and glittering beneath the sun, the low beach stretching to the Merrimac [river], and fringed with a narrow rim of white surf, the sand hills, the green marshes bordered with woods, with the beautiful hills of Kensington, Hampton Falls and Amesbury forming the back ground, made a scene peaceful and lovely beyond description.

The shower house stood over against the side of the bluff a little farther up than the hotel, and "Sleepy David," the hosteler, stood on top of it working the brake of the great log pump used to pump sea water into the bathing tank. The scene had its effect upon David. He was ruminating while he pumped, there was one horse more to be groomed, one or two carriages to be washed, the day would bring lots of business and perquisites to him, and above all it was time he had a "nipper" and his breakfast, when there reached his ears, borne across the water, a sound of the import of which he well understood, as would any other who had heard that sound once. It was the agonized cry of a man in mortal peril and fear.

David did not waste time to see whence that cry came. He ran for the house, and into the hall, shouting at the top of his voice, "Man overboard!, Man overboard!" Then out over the bank, staggering over the rocks till he reached the only boat at the landing -- a little "float" -- and quickly pulled it down to the water, which was but a little way. The people in the house quickly tumbled out, and when they reached the bank they saw David holding the "float" in the water and a young fellow running and leaping over the rocks until he reached and jumped into the boat. A shove from David and he was off, pulling with all his might.

Then turning their gaze in the direction in which David was pointing, the people saw far off over the water against the "Point" a boat bottom up and a man's head. A pitiable sight and it stirred their hearts. The women wrung their hands and moaned, the men became greatly excited, ran up the side of the bluff, shouting to the poor fellow in the water to hold on, help was coming, and then to the man in the boat going to the rescue to hurry up to pull or he would be too late.

A last, a weary while it seemed, the rescuing boat reached the drowning man, and the excited people had the unspeakable joy of seeing him on board and safe. When he landed it was noticed that he had on but one shoe; on being inquired of about, he told this story to the wondering company.

He had gone out to draw a lobster trap, and catch a lobster (a lobster trap of those days was made of hard wood rods run through four ribs, was four feet long and two feet wide and deep, and was weighted with two heavy stones to keep it down.

He stood up in the stern of the boat to draw up the trap. When he had drawn it up to the top of the water he reached down with both hands, seized the edge of the bottom and attempted to slide the trap on to the top of the sides of the boat. His weight and the weight of the trap caused the stern to settle and the head of the boat to rise, thus shortening the bearings and making the boat "ticklish." In raising the trap he had to lean back and pull, and just at that time his feet slipped, and he fell on his back and side on to one side of the boat, pulling the trap after him, causing the boat to keel over and the trap to come right across his breast. He sank to the bottom with the trap on top of him. In his struggle to get from under it, he some how got his foot between the rods of the trap and was anchored. To get clear he pulled his foot out of his shoe, then rose to the top of the sea, and being, as it happened, within three or four feet of the overturned boat he made out (he didn't know how, for he could not swim) to get hold of it.

Then he looked for help, but the only person in sight was "Sleepy David" standing on the shower house pumping. He "hollaed," but David paid no attention and kept on pumping. He "hollaed" again, and again, and again, still David kept on pumping. He gave one last cry and David suddenly ran towards the hotel and out of sight. Then he was in despair, but only for a minute, for David reappeared, and he saw him haul the "float" down to the water, and then he knew he was discovered.

Someone expressed a doubt as to the accuracy of his statement about his entanglement with the trap at the bottom. He looked at the doubter, then calmly drew from his pocket a soaked wallet that looked as though it had been subjected to pressure, and said there was a five dollar bill in there, and that he would bet it with him or any other man in the company that they would find his shoe and a lobster, too, in the trap.

A man was sent and the trap was brought ashore, and sure enough there was found in it, to the discomfiture of the doubter, and the joy of all the others, his shoe and a lobster.