posted Feb 2007

Boston Daily Globe, 1 Jan 1905;  pg. SM11

Mr Carnes' Boots Were Ripped.
Nonagenarian of Provincetown, Born in Boston Has Had Much Hard Luck,
But His Charity to the Needy of Earth Has Never Ceased  All His Long Life.

photo of John M. Carnes and his lightning-struck boots

    SELF-SUPPORTING since the tender age of 6
½ years; for 84 ½ years a citizen of one town, not one of whose people has been known to speak aught but words of praise concerning him; 91 years old, but still hale and hearty, and still in harness—such is the life record of big-framed, big-hearted John M. Carnes of Provincetown.

    He has not endowed colleges, nor bestowed free libraries upon numberless towns, but after hearing the neighbors tell of his charity to the poor of earth, the listener decides that, in his own way, this man has done more for mankind than some who are scattering millions.

    John M., son of David G. and Betsey Rice Carnes, was born on Leverett st, Boston. Dec 22, 1813. His father died when the lad was 4 years old, leaving the mother in needy circumstances. At the age of 6 ½ the boy left the home roof to dwell among strangers. Two years later his mother died. There were other children, but they were scattered long ago. Perhaps none of them survives.

    A few days ago the aged philanthropist spoke of some of his experiences.

    "I was down on the docks," he said, "when Capt Freeman Smith of the pink-stern schooner Hero (Quincy owned, but having a Provincetown crew) asked me If I would like to go cook on his craft. I told him I would go if my mother was willing. He saw my mother, who gave her consent, after the captain told her he would treat me kindly and give me a place in his home after the voyage.

    "So, at the age of six years and six months. I became a cook on a mackerel catcher, six men in tho crew, for a six-month season. The cooking was done with a fireplace and Dutch oven. Of course, it was hard work for me, I being so young and small. I was obliged to defer the filling of the heavy pots and kettles until after I had lifted them upon the swinging crane. Then having put in the water and food for cooking. I would swing the crane inward over the fire. But I succeeded in doing my duty."

    Think of the hardships of such a life, ye 7-year-old motherlings!

    "I have made my home in Provincetown ever since," he continued. "I married in 1840, Eunice Collins Doane, Eastham born. We lived together 58 years. She died April 14, 1898. We had no children.

    "I kept at sea, on mackerel catchers, grand bankers, coasters and whalers, sailing as boatsteerer on my last whaling voyage in the bark Samuel and Thomas. That cruise ended in April, 1848.

    "On January 7, 1849, I sailed from Boston for the California gold fields on the ship Capitol, Capt Theodore Proctor, with a crew of 18, eight cabin passengers and 256 of us miners stowed 'tween decks. The bill of fare agreed upon before leaving port promised first-rate feeding, out the reverse was experienced after getting to sea, the beef furnished us being cooked without soaking and white with salt when placed before us, while the hard bread, of English bake, was so hard we could neither break it nor soak it soft. The food was poor, but as we had paid for good victuals and an abundant store of such food was kept under our berth deck for the use of the cabin dwellers some of us did not go hungry altogether.

    "In the middle watch, under cover of darkness, pillow cases full of brown sugar, good bread, etc, made their way up through the lower hatchway and found safe quarters in certain sea chests, the contents of which had been surreptitiously removed to hiding places beneath bunk matresses.

    "The voyage lasted 180 days. Two bad gales were encountered—one off cape Horn, when we passengers aided the crew in shortening sail, and drifted so far off shore under single part of the goosewinged maintopsail that we were six days making up leeway, the other when well up the Pacific coast. In that last gale we lay with lower yardarms under water for six hours. Only for the 100,000 brick carried deep in hold the craft would have capsized.

    "I spent two years in California. Riches did not come to me there. After my return home I took up small boat fishing.

        "On June 2, 1862, I had the worst experience of my life. We went out in my seven-ton schooner Midas mackerel dragging. Russell Atkins was my partner. We had shared $300 apiece at the work up to that date, were the high-liners of the local fleet, and looked for good hauls the ensuing night.

    "The weather began to look squally. After standing toward Plymouth a spell, we tacked and jogged to the eastward, being then about five miles west-sou'-west from Wood End, waiting to see what the weather would be.

    "I stood with my back resting against the mainboom arms stretched full length upon it, and Atkins was at the tiller, the end of which was just clear of my knees.

    "We have done well this spring," I said, and Russell assented.

    "Just as he spoke there came a blinding lightning flash, and I fell, unconscious to the deck. Lightning had struck the mainsail above my head and descended upon me.

  [The following 5 paragraphs had their edge torn away, so some words are missing.]
    "When I regained consciousness I was lying at the taffrail. One of my partner's hands was benumbed by the electric discharge, but he dipped up a bucket of sea water with the other hand and plunged the stricken member within it. The numbness left the hand almost immediately, and. finding the water had benefited him, he drew and threw two buckets of water as I lay, with smoking garments [and ap]parently dead, along the deck.
    "I was well and heavily clad, [with] oilskins over my regular attire [when] struck down. That fiery bolt in [an in]stant burned every stitch I had [on] to the semblance of charred [p-] spider webs. My stout boots were [torn] apart at all the seams and the [soles] were nearly torn away from the uppers. I know little of what transpired on board subsequently.

    "Archie McCurdy came aboard [from] another boat and helped sail the [way] back to Provincetown, we arriving at 5 p m. in a northeast gale. I [was un]conscious when they conveyed [me over] the flats and home in a cart, [and re]gained my senses upon being laid [in] my bed.

    "One burn extended from near [the] elbow nearly to the wrist. A g[ood] bit of flesh was missing there. [A] bad burn extended from my [] down my back, and a third w[as] on my right leg, where the lightning entered at the lower part of [] and emerged from the middle [of the] heel, leaving a hole, a blee[] could insert a silver quarter in was still flowing freely from that when I was placed on my bed."

    "I was six weeks in the Boston hospital in consequence. The doctors marvelled at my endurance. My hospital bill amounted to $90. The doctors offered to cancel the bill if I would consent to leave my boots with them as [a] memento, but I paid the bill and [kept] the boots.

    "Since that experience I have been a farmer. At one time I had six gardens under cultivation. I have had as many as nine cows at a time. Gardening, haymaking, milking, etc, have kept me employed pretty well.

    "Unknown persons have fired my buildings three times, causing a net lost of $1800; horses, that I paid $1100 for have died on my hands, and frost spoiled 75 barrels of cranberries for me last September."