bred country gentleman who owned the fine estate of Plimhimmon…”
American is, the governor releases ‘Frank’ and his men immediately, reequips his ship, and they bid him a fond farewell. Finis. Now, Gentle Reader, the question arises: Is any of this true? Was there ever a “Perdita” in Oxford Town at all? And who was she, really? Here’s what I think. When Catharine Sedgwick’s two-part short story appeared in the Easton Gazette (Dec. 16 and 23, 1826), there was a reaction. A letter to the editor later appeared, signed only “C.” The letter-writer took exception to the characterization of the captain on whose ship she came disguised as a cabin-boy. Sedgwick hadn’t named John Coward, but everyone in Oxford certainly knew who he was. The letter-writer objected to him being described as “a coarse illiterate man” and “despotic as a pasha.” We need to remember that her short story appeared in 1826, just 57 years after Perdita arrived. People were still alive who knew Capt. Coward or knew of him. “C” insisted that the captain in question was “not only an intelligent sea captain, but a well-
I consider that letter to be solid ev idence t hat Perd ita d id ex ist and that she was rescued by Dean, although other portions were made up. So did Oswald Tilghman in his History of Talbot Count y, 1914. But he was wrong in believing that Dean’s privateering in the Caribbean was fictitious; that did happen, minus Perdita. Sedgwick herself never named Dean. In the opening paragraph of her story, she declares that the “leading incidents” are true. Of her hero, she says that “there is no name better known than his from Cape May to the Head of Elk.” She explains that his real name must be suppressed and then adds, “we here honestly beg the possessor’s pardon for compelling him, for the first time in his life, to figure under false colours.” I take that as an apology to Captain Dean for using the real events of his adventures in the Caribbean to concoct a fictional reunion with Perdita. The final question, then, is this: What was Perdita’s real name? We will never know. If Dean knew it, he never divulged it, to Sedgwick or anyone. Gary Crawford and his wife, Susan, own and operate Crawfords Nautical Books, a unique bookstore on Tilghman’s Island.
March 2019 Tidewater Times