In August of 1860, D.U. Martin of Boston was the toast of New York, known as the wherry man, or by some, the wherry berry man.
Vegetarianism was gaining a foothold in the United States in the middle 1800s with the formation of the American Vegetarian Society and Martin was a vigorous proponent of the diet, crediting it for his health and stamina, which he displayed by his rowing. Martin managed to capture the attention of New York City when he arrived in the East River in his wherry, having rowed all the way from Massachusetts over the course of several days. The secret to his success, he told all who would listen, was a vegetarian diet.
Martin left Boston on August 8th and hopped down the coast to Plymouth, out around Cape Cod to Nauset, from there to Monomy, Hyannis, Woods Hole, New Bedford, Newport, Point Judith, Stonington, New Haven and down the Long Island Sound to New York on the 24th.
Along the way, he slept on beaches, with a lighthouse keeper, and in his boat, fogged in and unable to move. He spent several days on Cape Cod at a Methodist Camp Meeting. All he brought with him were a few articles of clothes, a songbook, a pair of opera glasses, a sponge, his oars and a generous supply of fruits and vegetables, including apples, watermelon and whortleberries.
When his food ran low, he would make stops for more fruit and spread the word about vegetarianism. He stayed in New York for three days, being celebrated by curious visitors, quizzed by newspaper reporters and relaxing at the marina where his wherry had been constructed especially for him, with two enclosed air chambers at either end to make it more buoyant in rough seas. When he wasn’t giving speeches about nutrition, Martin led rowers on short journeys up the Hudson River.
Though most commonly associated with the Thames River in London, where wherries were used to ferry passengers and goods, the small boats also had a following in the United States, where they were used for both work and recreation.
Martin had the previous year made a similar excursion to Nova Scotia, and found his watery travels an enjoyable pastime. When he was last seen in New York, he was rowing up the Hudson River on his way to Albany.
Two years later, the wherry man was to be found in California, where he had gone to join his brother, working as a miner. And naturally he continued his rowing. This time he traveled the Pacific from San Francisco to Panama and extolling the virtues of bananas, oranges and other tropical fruits.