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The Life of John W. Johnson
Chapter 5
The Sea & Indian Doctors - 1848 to 1853

Transcribed - June 1998 - by Ne-Do-Ba

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I left the company near Albany, N. Y., and went to Boston, Mass., where I remained about a month, and then went to Lowell, where I hired out with an Indian doctor, named Cooley. I had been with him but a short time, when an Indian company came along, giving entertainments, and I engaged to travel with them upon shares. The first place that we went to, was Lowell, where we gave a few entertainments; but as our dresses were rather poor, and properties in not very good order, we camped out and commenced to make baskets, intending to get some money in this way and then recruit up. After getting some, we bought us some dresses, and having replenished our scenes, &c., we went to Nashua, N. H., then to Manchester, Concord, and through parts of Vermont and Massachusetts and then through some of the larger places in Maine.

In Dover, N.H., we hired out to a man named Chase, and agreed to travel with him through Maine, he paying our expenses, and the company so much a night. He left us in Readfield between two days, owing all of the company more or less, and also leaving us to settle our bills at the tavern where we were then stopping. I settled my proportion of the bill, which took all the money I had, and then walked to Bangor, where there were some Indians. I lived here with an Indian called "Bangor Police," and traveled with his family all summer, making baskets and getting ash to make them of. We went to the villages on the Penobscot, selling baskets, and camping out as we went along; and in the summer months we camped at Woolwich until fall, and while here built a canoe, and then went to Phipsburg. The family remained here a short time, and then went away, leaving myself and another young man behind. We remained a short time in this place, chopping wood, gunning and fishing, and making baskets.

The spring following, 1852, I worked a short time in a saw-mill, at a place called "Parker's Head;" and also went three trips at sea, coasting. The first trip we were loaded with lumber, bound to Portland, but so heavily was she loaded that it strained her timbers, causing our vessel to leak badly, and I was kept at the pumps all the time during our passage, which was a day and a half. We arrived at Portland, and laid at "Molasses Wharf," as it was then called, and while there our schooner, as the water ebbed, caught in the wharf, and was capsized and nearly filled with water. At low water we pumped her dry, and as the waterrose she floated, and we unloaded. One Sunday, the skipper and all hands, excepting myself, took the boat and went round to another wharf (as this wharf was fastened up on Sundays), and went ashore. I did not like the idea of remaining alone all day, and I therefore went out upon the wharf and clambered upon the top of a sheds and slid off into the street, a distance of ten to fifteen feet, bringing up rather suddenly. I went up into town, and after spending the day, went back, and got a sailor from another vessel to carry me around to the schooner, when I found the skipper and the men had returned and felt anxious about me. The captain, seeing me come rather coolly upon the dock began to show signs of making a "rumpus" at my leaving the schooner without liberty. "Here, you redskin, what do you mean by leaving this craft without orders?" he said, and at the same time caught up a billet of wood and hurled it at me. But, he was not in a condition to throw it with much accuracy, and it came nearer striking another hand than me. Somewhat nettled, he started after me, saying that he would learn me better than to leave without orders, but was so far "over the bay," that, as he approached the gangway, he made a lee lurch and fell, measuring his length upon the dock. The captain said nothing more to me after this, in regard to leaving the vessel. The day before we sailed, an Italian came on board with images of plaster to sell, and taking his load from his head, placed it upon a board on the dock. I was cutting wood at the time, and not noticing that the images were upon the board, in cutting a stick I jarred it, and broke a number of them. The Italian was angry, and began to jabber at me in his language, intermixing it with broken English.

"I will pay you for what I have broken," I said. But nothing that I could say or do satisfied him, and I ordered him to leave, and I approached within a dozen feet of him, when he drew a dirk from his side, and with a quick movement, and after their peculiar mode of handling a knife, threw it at me with great force. Though extremely skillful with a knife, as the most of them are, he did not make a successful throw, for the knife passed under my am, and through my clothing, just drawing blood. The knife, or dirk, that he threw, had a short chain attached to the end of the handle, and to this chain was fastened a silken cord, and the and of this cord attached to his person. I seized and broke the cord, and he drew a similar one and threw that, but I sprang aside, and seized and broke the cord, and talking a small billet of wood, I demolished his images in a much shorter space of time than I am telling it, and was just about to damage his, when the crew hearing the noise upon deck, came running up from the cabin, and the Italian seeing them jumped upon the wharf, saying as he left, that he would send the police down, and make me pay for his images, but I saw no more of him.

We sailed the next day for Parker's Head, and as the most of the crew were in drink, we did not have a very pleasant passage. When sailing up to Parker's Head, the order to down the sail was not given until rather late, as we had on a strong headway, and blowing fresh, and we went up to the wharf, an the saying is "fluking." The captain ordered me out on the bowsprit to "fend off," but finding that it would be entirely useless for me to attempt to stop her headway, when her bowsprit came over the wharf, I jumped off. The vessel went up with a crash, breading the jib-boom and the bob-stay, and injuring the wharf and schooner somewhat. As soon as I jumped off, I ran up to my boarding-place, knowing that the captain would bluster and swear at me, leaving him and the crew to fix up things as best they could.

My next trip I went in a schooner loaded with lumber, bound for Boston. We had no sooner got under way than we experienced a heavy gale. When we first sailed we anticipated a pleasant trip, but we were soon disappointed, for we had not run many miles before signs of a storm were apparent. The first indication we had was a dead calm, our sails hung loosely to the rigging, and we were almost stationary in the waters but whilst thus the clouds began to gather in the heavens, and the waves in the distance we could see were capped with white.

The wind now could be heard moaning far off, but approaching toward us, and there was every indication of a severe gale. The captain gave orders to close reef and secure the hatches, and the order had not been more than carried out before the gale was upon us, but we were prepared.

The sky was now covered with black, murky clouds, and the wind piped dismally in our rigging, the sea seemed to change its color from a light to dark, murky greens and heaved, and tossed, as though a volcano lay beneath its surface. As the wind struck the vessel, it bore her swiftly though the water, continuing thus for some eight or ten hours. This was the first storm at sea that I had ever experienced, and I thought if I ever reached the land, that it would be my last. We were blown down by Cape Cod, as we found when it cleared off, and after a short time we reached Boston in safety, and unloaded our cargo. In going back we made a quick passage, as we were only about twelve hours.

Having made such a pleasant and quick trip back, I thought that I would go one more voyage, and I therefore went again with a load of saw-dust, bound for Boston. The crew consisted of the captain, a lame man, using two canes when he walked, and four boys besides myself. The first night we had a head wind, and it looking squally, we ran into Portland harbor, and anchored, remaining over night.

The wind blew fresh, and the yards were creaking, and the vessel pitching badly, when the captain hearing the noise, hurried up as fast as he could upon dock, and as it was very dark, he thought the vessel was adrift. He sang out for me, and in turning to go down the stairway, he missed a step, and fell head foremost, striking the stove, and making quite a confusion. Hearing the noise, and also the captain's voice, I hurried up on the deck, but finding that all was right, I went into the cabin, and after assisting the captain, who was slightly stunned, into his berth, I went to my quarters.

The next day as it was fair we set sail, and arrived at Boston, where we unloaded our cargo, and sailed for Parker's Head. Our mate having left in Boston, I was promoted to his situation. Our crew now only consisted of the captain and three besides myself. In the passage back we experienced quite a gale, and as we could not make a harbor we had to put off. We had two boys that were afraid to go aloft to furl the top-sail, and therefore the other boy and myself went up to furl it, but as it was blowing quite fresh, we found it impossible to effect anything. I told the young man that if he would promise not to say anything, I would furl the sail, and after he had promised, I took out my knife, and cut a small slit in the canvas. The wind finished the rest, for the small slit increased until it ran the whole length of the sail, and then a fierce slat finished it, and the wind soon tore it into fragments, and as we came down, the captain hailed me, saying, "Well, Johnny, have you furled it?"

"Yes," I replied, "the wind has furled it, for it has blown all to pieces."

The captain asked no questions about it, for the sail was an old one, and the story seemed probable. When I arrived back I gave up going to sea, as I did not fancy that kind of life. I came to the conclusion that if I was to roam over the world, if I was to roam over the world, if I was to travel here and there, I should prefer terra firma, upon whose firm foundation, I might travel without being subjected to the uncomfortable position of being lashed to a tree, in case a storm should arise. I did not like the idea of climbing aloft when the winds whistled, and the thunders muttered overhead, and the rain beat in my face, to take in sail, whilst the lee lurches of the vessel threatened to take out my foothold, and plunge me into the water beneath. But, above all, I did not like to be caged up in a vessel. I had been so used to hunt in the woods, to glide over the lakes, and go wherever my fancy turned, that I could not give up these privileges, which I used to enjoy so much, and therefore with no reluctant feelings, I bade "old ocean" adieu!

I took the steamboat and went to Bath, and from there went to Boston, where I hired out with an Indian doctor, named Peters. I went with him to Nashua, N. H., where he was practicing, and stopped there a short times but as he wished to do a larger business (although he was now doing well), we went to Boston, and took rooms at the American House, on Hanover street. We stopped here some six weeks, but as he did not do much business, we went to New Bedford, Mass., and stopped there all the summer and part of the fall of 1852, doing very well. I used to make out his bills and collect them, and distribute his circulars, and also sold medicine for him. While here we had a camp, the office being in one end, and we lived in the other part. The doctor had a wife and one child. I left the doctor in the fall and went to Boston, where I formed the acquaintance of an Indian doctor called Peal. He was well educated, having graduated from Hanover College, and was a very quiet and mild man, and I never except upon one occasion, saw him excited, and as that time was connected with myself, I will relate it.

One day when the doctor was out, I was handling over his dentist instruments, and wishing that some Irishman would come in, wanting a tooth pulled, that I might practice upon him, when I happened to think that the doctor had a skeleton in a box under the lounge.

This skeleton was one that he prized very highly, as it was a female skeleton, and had cost him quite a sum, but that was immaterial to me. I pulled the box out, and found upon examination that the teeth were perfectly sound, and thinking that it would be a good chance to get my "hand in," I took a pair of forceps, and attached them to one of the teeth, which I extracted, as I thought, in beautiful style. As I met with such good success in pulling the first tooth, I thought that I would try again, and taking a new instrument I hauled another, and as it was a very pleasant performance, I kept on until they were all extracted. After finishing the operation I placed the teeth back in their respective places, which job I found no trifling one, as I was somewhat green, and I worked quite hard and long to do it.

The doctor a few days after was fixing up his office, and, among other things, he had a nice walnut case, to set in one corner of the room, to place this skeleton in. After setting the case in the right position, he came into the room where the skeleton was, and pulling out the box, he took hold of one end of it, and I the other, and we carried it into the other room and there sat it down. As he lifted the skeleton up, one of the teeth dropped out, the doctor somewhat surprised, lifted it higher up, and another dropped out, and then another, and thus they continued until they were all upon the floor. The doctor dropped the skeleton, and in a rage turned around, saying, "John, what does this mean?" but he did not stop for an answer, but seizing his hat left the office, and, did not make his appearance again until the next morning. I did not blame the doctor for being somewhat angry, but I could not refrain from laughing for sometime after he went. I went and got the mucilage and firmly inserted the teeth, and then procured some wire, and fastened the skeleton up in the case, and when the doctor came in the next morning, he seemed very much pleased at the appearance of things, and I did not hear a word in regard to it afterwards.

I stopped with him until the fall of 1853, and then went with some medicine upon a visit to Oldtown, where I remained some six weeks and then went back and found that the doctor had left the city, taking away with him besides what he owed me, some seventy-five dollars' worth of medical and other works. This was quite a loss to me, as the spare money that I had, I used to expend in books, and I had managed by economy to get together quite a library, and now the work which I had been a number of years accomplishing was overthrown by this doctor.

I heard a short time after, that he went to Philadelphia and was practicing medicine there. Notwithstanding he took my books, and I lost some forty dollars that he owed me, yet somehow or other I liked the man, for he seemed to be a goodhearted follow, but still I thought that the joke I played upon him, was nothing to be compared to this, one he had played upon me.

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