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The three masted schooner, Joseph Baker, loaded with Walnut and Poplar logs moved gently away from the wharf of the N&W Railroad in Norfolk and began the last long journey for a man whose life on the water was a continuing epic. Holder Almy, like many an Almy before him was born in Tiverton-4 Corners, Rhode Island, the fifth child of William Almy and Elizabeth Wilcox. He was an adventurer who sought a saltwater experience at an early age. The November 1883 sailing from Virginia to Hamburg with a cargo that cabinetmakers would use in building fine furniture would provide both remuneration and challenge. Holder was an accomplished mariner and had long captained both sailing and steam powered vessels. This journey of almost 2 months would provide him with much time to reflect upon those he left behind ... Fannie, his wife of 26 years, William C., 24, his first son who had followed his fathers example and begun his own distinguished career on the water, Julia May, 22, who would provide her mother with feminine company through much of that cold winter. Finally there was the youngster, Holder Jr. who would be known in later life to others as "Uncle June." Tragedy had touched their married life when they lost their third child Ambrose as an infant.
The Westward winds moved the ship through smooth and stormy Atlantic seas until it reached the entrance of the Elbe river at Cuxhaven. Here a steam tug would assist the schooner upriver to the thriving seaport of Hamburg. The bustling port city fascinated the captain and he described it in some detail in a letter forwarded to Fanny that found its way into the family archives.
I believe that it was here that Captain Holder took his walking stick (illustrated in the October 2002 issue of the Almy newsletter #116) and toured the historic town. A post card he purchased while there shows a harbor crowded with ships of all description. He must have felt very much at home since his life had led him to a variety of seaports. His service reveals that he indeed commanded brigantines, used for coastal commerce (one such must have been named PERSIA). He partnered with a man named Barnabus Baker in a ship salvage operation off the Outer Banks and eventually married Mr. Baker's daughter. While involved in the salvage business he moved his young wife to Norfolk, Virginia. It appears that the business was successful but in1858 his salvage ship itself was shipwrecked off Cape Hattaras in March from which mariner Holder barely escaped. He was at his home in an area known as Willoughby Spit, Va. at the outset of the War between the States. Gideon Welles, Lincoln's secretary of the Navy, wrote him and invited him to come to Boston to be appointed as Masters Mate in the fledgling U. S. Navy. He would be paid 40 dollars a month and one ration per day. He came from a Quaker background and opted to command an unarmed seagoing steam tugboat. Letters from those ships indicated one was named U.S.S. Guide and the other was the U.S.S. Pioneer. It was aboard the Pioneer that in his letters he describes the aftermath of the successful Burnside (a fellow Rhode Islander) expedition into Pamlico sound. While in command of another tug, the U.S.S. John P. Freeborn, he assisted in freeing the ironclad Mondauk that was aground on Shackelfoot Shoals near Fort Macon near Beauford, North Carolina. He reports, in another letter to his wife, carrying southern prisoners to both Point Lookout, Maryland and Fort Delaware further up the Chesapeake Bay. When the war ended he returned to his home in Norfolk to reunite with his family and resume his commercial life on the water. It appears that throughout his seagoing life he maintained a strong loyalty to his family, his native State. His reputation as a mariner became legend and his passing at age 58 was marked by flags flown at half mast in Norfolk.
The walking stick's whereabouts during the period after his departure from Hamburg in 1884 remains much a mystery. We still don't know how it turned up in an antique auction in England. In Cambridge an enterprising dealer purchased it and set out to find a buyer. Apparently there were no Almy prospects in England so Anne, the dealer took to the internet and found Merwin's website. Merwin put me in touch with Anne and we negotiated the return of the treasure to Holder's family. Suffice to say how excited and pleased I was to see the mailing tube from the Royal Mail when it arrived in December. Captain Holder Almy's walking stick has completed its voyage but the stories will continue down the generations.
William Dickson Almy
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