Captain Henshaw's Snedrick Saves His Scoots

Now pull your highchairs closer, kiddies, and Grampie will tell you something good to know. The morning lesson is about scoots, and nobody knows what a scoot was, do he? Just as I thought.

Back in the days of sail, when the United States was no more than a happy thought, the scoot was big business, and scoots from Maine were good as gold in any seaport around the world. Scoots were random, run-of-the-mill lumber in jumbled dimensions. Now, Bangor, Maine, with its ice-free Winterport, was then the lumber center of the galaxy, and on every tide, vessels laden with Maine pine sailed down the Penobscot River to the open ocean and faraway markets. The lumber was the basis of Maine fortunes, and it was stacked meticulously below decks for long voyages.

Maybe nobody recalls that the first naval engagement of our American Revolution was fought over Maine lumber. True. Machias (pronounced "M'shigh-'s") had sawmills a-plenty, and when the Redcoats wanted to occupy little ol' Boston, they sent a vessel to Machias to get lumber to build barracks. The folks in Machias were not in agreeable accord and held up a big sign that said, "Nothing Doing!" The scuffle that followed caused the British to look elsewhere, and you can't blame Machias for anything in Boston.

Now, when a ship loaded lumber in Maine, the captain was privileged to take a deckload of scoots as his gratuity. The scoots were lashed topside so a storm wouldn't wash them away, and were not included in the vessel's manifest. They belonged to the captain as personal property and were not subject to customs scrutiny. Scoots were, to be sure, of lesser market value than prime pine and spruce, but since they traveled with no tariff and didn't pay port fees, the captain might well sell them at a better profit than his owners would get for lumber in the hold.

In any event, the captain's scoots were worth good money, and Maine scoots were known to be a bargain commodity if you could get some.

So, one fine day Capt. Jedediah Henshaw of the Brig Bertha Savage was in the Caribbean ("carry-BEE-yan") with a cargo of lumber and a deck of scoots. He was intercepted by a naval vessel in the employ of the Great Toussaint L'Ouverture of Santo Domingo. You can look him up. He thought he was another Napoleon and play-acted as a dictator in high style. He had beautiful uniforms and a gaudy court of fawning attendants, and I guess can be rated either as a Freedom revolutionary or a nut.

But he was the big wheel in Santo Domingo, or Haiti, and he exacted tribute as occasion provided. The Bertha Savage was brought into port as a prize, and from his hammock in the shade of the trees, being swung gently by a grand vizier, L'Ouverture was about to hold admiralty court and decide what to do. Captain Henshaw was present, but in chains as a prisoner of war. Things were sticky, but Henshaw was a student of the snedrick. (A snedrick is a snide trick.)

The time was the turn of the century, when 1700 became 1800. Our fledgling republic, now a nation, had all manner of ships at sea, but they had just lately become the United States Merchant Marine. And President George Washington had issued a kind of introductory letter, to whom it may concern, saying that this ship is United States registered and international courtesy is requested to assure her safety under all flags and in the common privileges of the open ocean. Every US vessel had a copy of this letter, signed by George Washington, most of them framed. Captain Henshaw had one.

So now Captain Henshaw asked to be permitted to address His Majesty in confidential manner, as a moment of extreme protocol had arrived. Captain Henshaw bowed and groveled and carried on, since the interpreter at this meeting was not too proficient and L'Ouverture spoke no English and Captain Henshaw no French. Captain Henshaw soon made it known that he had brought a personal letter to Toussaint L'Ouverture from the president of the United States. He held up the framed letter hitherto hanging on the wall of his after-quarters on the brig. Nobody there could read it except Henshaw.

THE Great Revolutionary was infinitely honored. He fondled the letter, tracing the bold signature of George Washington with his forefinger, and permitting each functionary in turn to admire it. George Washington had written to him! This was the high point in Toussaint's vast success!

So the judgment of the high court was that Captain Henshaw was an official guest of the government and the feast would be spread immediately. The cargo of lumber was to be paid for and discharged, but the scoots were the property of Henshaw and would be handled as such. The Brig Bertha Savage was free to depart as soon as the banquet finished, with free cargo for the return voyage if desired. Toussaint L'Ouverture pledged eternal friendship between the two great nations, and he humbly sent his warmest wishes to President Washington.

Shortly, Bonaparte's soldiers would put an end to the revolt in Haiti, and Toussaint would be taken in chains to France. I think Captain Henshaw moved to Boston and opened a bank. I heard, but it may not be so, that every morning the bank clerks would say, "Good Morning, Captain. What's a scoot fetching today?"

And Captain Henshaw said on later voyages to Santo Domingo that he saw the special palace Toussaint had built with his scoots.

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