Captain James Blinn Rescues the Massachusetts Fishing Fleet

Captain James Blinn, master of the sloop Seaflour, was a simple trader passing between Nova Scotia and Boston, but his skills managed to save the lives of 20 Massachusetts fishermen caught up in Father Rale’s War in 1723.

captain james blinn

Eastport and Passamaquoddy Bay by William Henry Bartlett (1839)

It was spring of 1723. A 17-vessel fishing fleet out of Massachusetts working off the coast of what is now Maine found out the hard way that the treaties of the French and English, signed in Holland, were stronger on paper than in practice.

The crews on most of the vessels would have been killed but for their good fortune to be rescued by Captain James Blinn.

In 1713, following years of fighting, the French and English had agreed upon boundaries for their North American colonies. The English would retain Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and the French would have Prince Edward Island. These treaties of Utrecht were, however, not fully enforced. Further, the tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy in the area had not been consulted and were not party to the treaties.

As the British began building settlements and fishing in historically Wabanaki lands, the Indians grew angry and, with French missionaries spurring them on, the Indians of the area harassed and attacked the British.

In 1721, Captain James Blinn was transporting the royal tax collector from Port Royal in Nova Scotia to Boston. He stopped his ship at Passamaquoddy Bay (the border of Canada and Maine today), and he and his party were taken captive by the Indians there.

The Royal Governor at Port Royal (then called Annapolis) responded by seizing 20 Indian prisoners, and a swap was negotiated. In the process, Captain Blinn learned some important details about how to negotiate with the Indians, which would come in handy later.

Over the next year, the skirmishing between the American Indians and the British continued, with a number of small raids and, most significantly, the Indians burning the town of Brunswick in Maine and attempting to blockade Port Royal.

These were the circumstances when the fishing fleet set out in 1723 and a party of Wabanaki Indians seized the fleet. Two captains, John Eliot of Boston, and John Robinson, of Cape Ann, were dispatched by the governor to the northern waters to find and rescue the fishing fleet.

Eliot and Robinson came across seven of the vessels in Jeddore Harbor in Nova Scotia. Eliot had his men hide below decks and the Indians attacked, expecting to easily win another prize. However, they soon found Eliot had a force of armed men and a two-hour battle ensued. Eliot drove the Indians back. Most of the captive fishermen were killed by the Indians and Eliot himself was seriously wounded.

The loss infuriated the Indians, and they made plans to kill the remaining fishermen, who were held at Malagash in Nova Scotia. They might well have done so had not Captain Blinn arrived at the harbor at Malagash.  Blinn knew how to signal the Indians for a cease fire and negotiation. Following the signal, Blinn negotiated a ransom to free the 20 fishermen prisoners, and they were delivered home when Captain Robinson arrived and paid the agreed-upon sum.

The war itself, Father Rale’s War, would rage on through 1725. Blinn would die in 1731 of natural causes.

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