Sea Stories in Stone
Alfred Litchfield (1835-1873) - Maple Grove, Bath
Drowned at the Roosevelt St. Ferry, New York City
Alfred Litchfield was born in Freeport, February 18, 1835, the second of nine children in a family of caulkers.
Alfred's father, Lendall C. Litchfield, advertised as a master caulker on York Street, in Bath, in the 1850s. Per the construction records of the Clark & Sewall shipyard for the 716 ton ship Adriatic, he was paid $643.50 for his crews' work on that vessel.
By 1860, 25 year old Alfred was a caulker like his father and older brother, Horace. His younger brother, Gilbert, was apprenticed to Alfred. They were living in Boston with a rather large household that included several other caulkers, joiners and ship smiths.
Young Gilbert would be killed at the Battle of Fort Sanders, 1863. And by 1870 this family of caulkers would be divided between the Boston area and Brooklyn, New York. Alfred's father died in New York in 1871, as did another brother, Freeman, in 1876.
According to his grave marker Alfred had drowned at the Roosevelt Street Ferry at the South Street Seaport in New York City, October 12th, 1873, perhaps in the vicinity of a shipyard where he practiced his craft.
As described by James P. Stevens in Reminiscences of a Boothbay Shipbuilder, the caulkers work began with spinning the oakum. First they loosened and fluffed the bales of this easily combustible fiber, then "seated with the oakum pile on his right hand and a 2-foot square of canvas drawn tightly across his lap with the corners tucked under his thighs, the caulker would begin to pull the pile across his lap with his left hand, streching and rolling it up and down his right thigh with his right hand, until after an hour or two he would have converted the bale in to a continuous loose strand approximately one inch in diameter...After enough oakum was spun to make a good start, the rest was left to be spun on rainy days." Mr. Stevens memoir continues with a detailed explanation how the actual caulking was accomplished, which I must recommend to anyone who wishes to learn more about this vanishing craft. He has also calculated that a 1500 ton vessel would require the talents of a 12 to 15 man caulking crew "working nine-hour days and six-day weeks for approximately three months. In this time they would caulk about six miles of seam."
Sources: Gravemarker; US Census: 1860; Henry Holt's research; Baker
NEXT: Henry Rush (1844-1874)
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