At the age of 20 Benjamin Small was small in stature as well as name. Even at that young age though, he exhibited a calm confidence that made people
willing to follow his lead. He had been well educated in the schools of Richmond and had a natural flair for mathematics and science. At his grandfather
Ephraim’s suggestion and with his father Ephraim’s blessing, Benjamin traveled to Salem, MA to pursue a career at sea.
Ben took up residence at Essex Street boarding house while he looked for a berth on a vessel. At the house dinner table he met a tall thin young man and
they got into a conversation.
“Hello,” Ben said. “I’m Ben Small from Richmond in Maine.”
“Hi. I’m William Dustin from Bath. We are practically neighbors.”
“So we are. Are you looking for a berth?”
“I was but I signed on with the ship “Martha Hudson” to go to China and some pacific cruises. She is still filling the crew. Are you interested in such a
The Martha Hudson
“I sure am! can you take me around to the place to sign up?”
So the next morning William led Ben down to Fleet Street where the shipping office was located. They made a strange pair. Ben stood five foot five, was a
hundred and fifteen pounds of solid muscle. William stood well over six feet an was so slim as to appear frail. At the shipping office they came up to the
desk manned by chubby bald man who stood at his full height and looked down at Ben and sat down tipping his head back to study William.
With a hearty laugh he said, “You two are the mismatchedest team I ever saw. I already signed you up didn’t I slim.”
“Yes sir you did and out of gratitude I have brought you Benjamin Small, another Maine man who wants to go to sea.”
“Benjamin Small indeed,” the man said and laughed again.
“Have you sailed before Small?” the official asked Ben.
“No sir. Been working on my father’s farm in Richmond since I was able to walk. Started grammar school at age five and graduated top of the class at age
sixteen. Taught at another school for three years after I graduated. I’m not afraid of work and learn fast.”
“Well you can ship as ordinary seaman and we will see how you do on the China run. If we like you can stay. If not you will have to walk home from China.”
The man laughed again.
So Ben signed the ordinary seaman shipping papers and joined William on the Martha Hudson. William had some sailing experience and education in navigation
and ship handling so he was signed up as third master’s mate.
The ship got underway and sailed around the horn and to Valparaiso, Chile where they offloaded the part of their cargo, bales of canvas, destined for
Valparaiso. They took on bales of fleece to replace the canvas also fresh food and water. The Salem to Valparaiso trip took seventy-five days in nearly
Ben had made quite a name for himself among the crew for his acrobatic skill in climbing rigging and handling the heavy sails. The sailing master said, “I
like a man that pulls his weight, but Smalley pulls easily twice his weight.”
Eight days out of Valparaiso bound for Hong Kong the Martha Hudson sailed into the path of powerful storm. The seas towered above the rails and rolled down
along the deck threatening to unship anyone who was caught unawares. Ben was in the rigging taking yet another reef in his sail when he saw William knocked
down by a wall of water and loose his grip on the stay he had been clinging to.
Ben simply let go of his hold on the spar and dropped twenty feet to the pitching deck, and bounced to his feet just in time to disappear under another
wall of water. When the wave rolled on by Ben reappeared with one arm around William’s waist and the other around a belaying pin stuck in its hole on the
rail. Between waves he dragged William up into the lee of the forecastle.
All that action was clearly visible to everyone on the quarterdeck. “Mr. Biddle,” the captain said to the sailing master, “Did I just see what I thought I
“I thought Mr. Dustin was a dead man. Then I saw that fellow, Small, land on the deck as though from the sky Then he vanished under that wave and the next
thing I know he’s got Dustin anchored to the rail. And the topper is that that reef he was tying is done up just right.
“I’d like to see Small in my quarters when we get this weather thing under control,” the captain said.
So when things had calmed down Ben was delivered to the Captain’s quarters.
“Small,” the captain said. “I want to know what you were thinking when you saw Mr. Dustin in peril.”
“I thought he would be swept over the side and be drowned. The wave that knocked him down had just gone by so I knew there was a chance to save him if I
jumped down. I had tied off the reef so the sail was all right, so I jumped and let the next wave carry me down to William and I grabbed his belt with my
inboard hand and the caught the belaying pin with my outboard hand as we were carried along and hung on till that wave went by. Then I hauled him up by the
forecastle to keep him out of the way of the next wave. If you please sir.”
“I am mightily pleased by a man who can take that all in and decide on a course of action and carry it out. How did you know you would survive the fall
from the spar?”
“Oh I didn’t fall, I jumped with my feet under me, same as I used to do from the hayloft back on the farm.”
“Well Mr. Biddle and I want you to move your gear amidships and begin training to be third mate. Mr. Dustin has been advanced to second to replace the man
who had to leave us in Valparaiso.”
Both William and Ben came to be respected leaders by the time they returned to Salem in 1833. At Salem, Benjamin and William parted company. William
returned to Bath to work with his father in building the vessel that William would eventually command. Benjamin traveled to Boston to sail on a ship
hauling ice to the tropics.
On each voyage Benjamin held positions of increasing responsibility until in 1834 he became captain of the Pegasus making the Boston to Havana run hauling
ice south and sugar north. During each turnaround at Boston he traveled back to Richmond to spend time with the family.
In 1815 in the town of Llanhenoch, Wales there lived a farmer named John Knight with his wife Mary, son John aged 10 and daughter Mary aged 4. For years
John had been scraping together passage money to emigrate to America.
In order to have some money left to get started in a new life he looked for the least expensive passage he could find. That strategy led him to take a
ferry from Pembroke, Wales across St. George’s channel to Rosslare, Ireland. From there they traveled by stagecoach to Cork where they boarded a Canadian
timber ship returning light to Halifax.
The ship was packed with destitute Irish, desperately seeking to escape the poverty induced by the Irish population explosion and the economic depression
that followed the Napoleonic wars. In mid-Atlantic smallpox broke out and at arrival in Canada about half the passengers and crew had either died or were
deathly sick. The Canadian authorities quarantined the healthy passengers and burned the ship. When it was all over John and his daughter Mary survived.
His son had died at sea and his wife in Halifax harbor.
As soon as it could be arranged, John booked passage to Bath, Maine to begin his search for a new life. He walked upriver and inland with his four year old
daughter until he found a place where land was cheap enough that he could afford a farm he judged would be self sustaining. That brought him in May of 1816
to Pine Tree road in Litchfield.
John’s luck continued to run bad because 1816 was the year in which there was no summer. Volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East
Indies cut so much sunlight that there was a heavy frost in Maine in every month of 1816. The resulting crop failure would have ruined the Knights if not
for the help of the Libby family, their new neighbors, who were already well enough established to have some reserves of food and cash.
Eventually John was able not only to live off the farm but to sell some produce. In his experience this was unparalleled prosperity. Mary grew to be an
attractive and independent young woman and in 1832 began a business raising flowers at the Pine Tree Road farm.
She was helped in this venture by a young woman from the neighboring town of Richmond, Deborah Small, Benjamin’s sister. So it happened that on a visit
home in 1833, Benjamin met Mary.
There was a mutual attraction but Mary was horrified to learn that Benjamin sailed on ships. In her experience ships were just floating disasters. Benjamin
made sure he always saw Mary on returning from a voyage and in the fall of 1834 he asked her to marry.
Mary said she loved Benjamin dearly but would not wed and live in fear that Benjamin would not return. It was not uncommon for a sea captain to have his
wife accompany him on a voyage, so Benjamin suggested that she go with him once so that she might see first hand what it was like.
Mary had grown up with only her father for guidance and she wanted a woman’s advice on this matter so she went to Benjamin’s mother Anna. Anna counseled
her to follow her heart, as she herself had done in eloping with Benjamin’s father so many happy years before. She also advised Mary that she must marry
first and voyage second.
Mary was terrified of the prospect of a sea voyage but she knew that her imagination, in the absence of knowledge, would conjure up all the worst
possibilities. She loved and trusted Benjamin so she agreed to marry and go with him on the next voyage after the wedding. They were married in June of
1835. In July they sailed from Boston to Havana, returning in August.
It was the smoothest and most uneventful voyage in Benjamin’s experience. Mary returned happy that Benjamin’s ship was clean and sturdy and his crew
reliable. She was content to never go to sea again. They purchased a fine farm in Litchfield not far from Mary’s father’s place. The road past the farm
became known as Small Road.
Mary settled down to tend the farm and raise flowers and their children on the farm while Benjamin continued to sail the world over.
They had four children:
Mary Ann Small, 6/18/1836, Litchfield, ME
Benjamin Franklin Small 8/24/1839, Litchfield, ME
John T. Small 8/25/1842, Litchfield, ME died young 7/4/1843
Abial Libby Small 12/23/1847, Litchfield, ME
They took in a foster child, a girl, Clara who was born in 1853. Clara was frail and died in 1871.
Benjamin’s last ice run was to Calcutta in 1868, after which he retired to the farm with Mary. One stormy Thanksgiving when the wind was howling and rain
beat against the windows of the cozy kitchen where Benjamin and Mary sat with their grown children and grandchildren Benjamin remarked that there was a
great advantage in having a roof over ones head in this sort of weather. It was a remark prompted by his years at sea and was passed down from generation
to generation over the years.
Benjamin R Small and Mary (Knight) Small
When John Knight died in 1869 he left the Pine Tree Road property to Mary. Mary and Benjamin had pretty much retired from active farming. Their son
Benjamin F. Small had no interest in farming so the younger son Abial was managing the Small Road farm. They let the Pine Tree Road property go wild.
Benjamin died in 1882 and Mary in 1887.