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BY ROBERT HELLMAN

Mystery Man: Identity Revealed The identity of a previously unidentified

Inquirer ad

Nantucket blacksmith is uncovered n my “Nantucket Whalecraft” article, which appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of Historic Nantucket, I discussed an account book kept in Nantucket by an unidentified blacksmith between mid-1821 and 6 April 1823. He then abruptly relocated to Providence, Rhode Island, resuming entries from that city on 1 May 1823, continuing to early September 1824, when the book is filled up and ends. While in Nantucket, this artisan made whaling tools for various vessels and individuals, did miscellaneous repair work, and shoed horses, as did most Nantucket blacksmiths. What I found most intriguing and fascinating was that he also sold many forms of what seemed to be strange and exotic ferrous metals to other whalecraft-making blacksmiths and to other tradespeople. Nowhere in the book could I find the keeper’s name. Serious attempts to identify this man in Nantucket, and contacts with librarians and historians in Providence, proved futile. I also gathered the names of the Providence blacksmiths in the 1824 Providence City Directory and tried, in vain, to find any with Nantucket connections. I dubbed my man “The Mystery Man.” In late February 2012, Mark Foster, of Somerville, Mass., spent several days on Nantucket doing research for the NHA at the Hadwen & Barney Oil & Candle Factory. He also visited our home and examined the account book. I gave him a printed summary of the Nantucket highlights, hoping that he would take a crack at solving this mystery. Mark is a most astute and resourceful Internet researcher. At 6 o’clock the next morning, he booted up his computer, opened a powerful genealogical Web site, and searched the word “iron” in the Nantucket Inquirer for the year 1822. Inquirer ad His search produced the ad at right, Sept 24, 1822. Now that he had a possible name, John Chase, Mark searched for other ads by that individual in the Inquirer and in that time frame. He came up with several ads now on file. John Chase certainly could have been the “Mystery Man,” but Mark was not absolutely sure until he found the clincher, submitted by Chase to the newspaper on April 1, 1823, five days

before the last Nantucket entry in the account book (not an April Fool’s Day prank). An early morning e-mail message I received from Mark bore the Subject line “Early Birthday Present.” Some of what was in that mailing is enclosed herein. John Chase was born on 29 July 1794, in Swansea, Mass. His surname was spelled Chace, which was the preferred spelling just about everywhere but on Nantucket. We don’t know when John moved to Nantucket, but in 1815 he married Deborah Pitts of this place. When his son, Elijah, was born in Nantucket in 1822, he was christened Elijah P. Chase, even though blacksmith John Chase apparently used that spelling only on Nantucket. When he appeared in the 1824 Providence City Directory he is listed as John Chace, which is probably why I couldn’t find a Nantucket connection for him. It is interesting that in the 31 January 1822 ad, Chase states that he has moved into blacksmith Nathaniel Atwood’s shop (one of his customers) “nearly opposite the Post Office.” Much of the Nantucket portion of the account book was most likely written at that location. Various early printed statements suggest that Chase’s shop was located on Main Street (then called State Street) and Candle Street. Nathaniel Atwood may have moved from that location to Old South Wharf, where we know his son, George, had a blacksmith shop in the 1840s. We don’t know whether Chase ever returned to Nantucket, but we think his account book did, as the first thirty-five or so pages are completely pasted over as a scrapbook, and most of the scraps appear to be ca. 1840s poetry clippings, probably from Nantucket newspapers. Although the poems were mostly, perhaps entirely, reprinted from many other newspapers, there are also marriage and death notices and ads from the 1830s and 40s that can definitely be tied to Nantucket. Some mention the Pitt family, John’s wife’s maiden name. Thank you, Mark, for an amazing piece of cyberspace detective work. ___________________________________________________________ Robert Hellman, a Nantucket resident and NHA museum interpreter, is a whaling historian and collector of antique whaling artifacts. He has catalogued the whaling tools in the NHA collection and written several articles for Historic Nantucket.

Spring 2012 | 21

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Historic Nantucket Spring 2012  

Historic Nantucket is a publication of the Nantucket Historical Association. Themes as diverse as whaling, genealogy, and folk art are explo...

Historic Nantucket Spring 2012  

Historic Nantucket is a publication of the Nantucket Historical Association. Themes as diverse as whaling, genealogy, and folk art are explo...