The True Story of Skipper Ireson


Out of the fog and the gloom,
Chased by the lift of the sea,
Dripping with spindrift and spume
Races the Betty , free.
Hold full of cod to the planks,
Staggering under her spread —
Never such luck from the banks
Sailed into Marblehead!

Full — keep her full! Drown her rail —
Lee decks awash to the hatch!
While the rest ride out the gale,
Flood Ireson's home with his catch!
Cape Cod abeam to the south'ard —
Up sprang the skipper on deck:
What was that hail the wind smothered?
" Wreck, O — to port, there — a wreck! "

Logged, and awash in the sea,
Ready to sink by the head —
" Looks like the Active to me —
Stand by those head sheets! " he said;
" Keep your helm up all you can —
We'll round-to and bring her to weather —
Keep her away , I said, man!
Are you all mad there together?

" God, men! — " He stopped on the word.
Sullen his crew stood, and grim;
Never a man of them stirred,
Save as if guarding from him
Halyard and sheet; so he stood,
One man against the whole ship —
Skipper? Ay — what was the good?
Greed was the captain this trip!

Order, when none would obey?
Threaten? 'Twas idle, he knew;
Reason? Ay — argue and pray
And plead with a mutinied crew!
" Look at her signals! " he said: —
" Stand by her! Shall it go down
That seamen of old Marblehead
Left sinking shipmates to drown? "

" Ay! " growled the mate: — " and by God,
What if a story were told
How the year's best catch of cod
Rotted and spoiled in our hold?
Risk such a catch as we've got?
No! ... Let them chance it! " said he: —
" Sink or swim ... that is the lot
Of all men who follow the sea! "

Heartsick, Flood Ireson sailed past,
Helpless to answer their hail.
Deaf as the shriek of the blast,
Blind as the scud of the gale,
Lee decks awash to the hatch,
Tearing her way through the foam —
Blood of men's lives on her catch,
On drove the Betty for home.


The day was cool; white-crested ripples sung
Along the beach, and all the sky was clear
When, safe into the quiet harbor, swung
The Betty , gliding smoothly to her pier.

First of the fleet, and welcome as the day —
A little fortune in her close-filled hold —
Why did her crew, then, seem to turn away
From friendly greetings? Ireson, too, of old

Kindly of heart, whose brave words often cheered
The poor home-comings of an empty trip —
Why was it he himself had not appeared,
But sent his crew ashore, and kept his ship?

Then, bit by bit, was forged a black report;
From mouth to mouth the cruel story spread,
And murmurs rose — till, sailing into port
Like some accuser risen from the dead,

The rescued skipper of the Active came.
And told the angry gossips of the town
How skipper Ireson, to their lasting shame,
Heedless of signals, left him to go down.

" Heedless of love of man or laws of God,
Or all the brave old honor of the sea,
He sold us, shipmates, for a mess of cod —
And Marblehead shall bear the shame! " said he.

" He left us — and before the Swallow came
Four of my men were washed away. The dead
Shall haunt your cape, to cry Flood Ireson shame —
The whole world know the shame of Marblehead! "

Then strong men, cursing, swore to purge the town
Of such dishonor; smarting with disgrace,
They dragged Flood Ireson, unresisting, down
And stripped him in the public market-place.

The rest you know — the tar-and-feather coat,
The shameful ride they gave him, dragged with jeers
To Salem village, in a fishing-boat —
The cruel, lying song that lived for years.

And all he bore, thinking it best the shame
Should cling to one man, though that man were he,
If that would save the honorable name
Of Marblehead, and of her sons at sea.


So Ireson won the day, and no one hears
His crew's disgrace. Their very names are lost,
While he has borne the blame through all these years
And paid the cost.

All they are gone who wronged him — some asleep
In quiet graveyards, others roving free
Till God shall call by name from out the deep
Those lost at sea.

For that was all a hundred years ago;
Long is Flood Ireson's rest among the dead;
But still the fishing-schooners come and go
At Marblehead.

And those who sailed them have been true and brave —
Heroes of surf and rescue, storm and wreck,
Gone, unafraid, to death on shore and wave
And battle-deck.

Then let the blood and seas blot out the wrong
Done long ago; we will not judge the dead,
But lay our laurel wreath where thorns pressed long
On Ireson's head.
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