In 1859, a schooner called the “Break O’Day” was launched from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Her captain, Cpt. Daniel Deasy,  had immigrated from Ireland to Prospect Harbor, Maine, where he named his son, Luere Babson Deasy, after the ship’s owner. Luere Babson Deasy went on to establish a thriving law practice in Bar Harbor through the ’20s and ’30s. In this oral history,  Bill Horner shares a family story with the help of two artifacts: an oil painting and a photograph.

Images:

(L): A photograph (ca. 1911) of Luere Babson Deasy (left), Blanche Deasy (center, standing), Bob Deasy (center), and Capt. Daniel Deasy (right).

(R): An oil painting, ca. 1859, of the schooner Break O’Day off the coast of Gloucester, Mass.

Oral History:

Oral History Transcription:

JB: This is Jenna Beaulieu interviewing History Harvest participant Bill Horner at the Sound Schoolhouse on July 12th, 2018, as part of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society’s History Harvest Trial Run.

JB: And you have two artifacts that you brought today?

BH: Yes.

JB: The first one is this oil painting on canvas from 1859. So, could you tell me a little bit about it?

BH: Yes, this is a family artifact, if you will. When I was a little boy, there was a farmhouse with a fireplace called the Deasy farm. And this painting hung over the fireplace. Occasionally I would ask the adults around, “Why is this there?” and they would say, well, you have an ancestor who was a sea captain, and that was his ship. Years passed, and the farm was sold, and the painting came to be in my parents’ home where I grew up, from about 1952 on, and again hung over the fireplace. And my mother was one that kept a calendar every day. And kept photographs, and everything. As I got a little bit older and more inquisitive, I kept asking the question and getting the same general answer, and so finally, when I came back to Maine and was practicing medicine up in Bangor, and particularly as I was approaching retirement, I thought, this might be a good object for research. So this is where my history career began.

The painting is unsigned. The type of vessel is clearly a schooner. Schooners are characterized by having usually two masts, and the foremast, the one in front, is shorter than the main mast. But there are a couple of other peculiarities about this particular painting, because it’s obviously celebratory: a working schooner would not carry a huge pennant, for example, where it says “Break O’Day” off the main mast. It would not carry a huge American flag like that; that’s put been out of proportion. And then the interesting thing to me was that the burgee that’s flying off the foremast has the letter “B” on it. I thought, well, if that’s the captain Deasy’s vessel, why isn’t the letter “D” on it? Trying to figure out when this is painted and where led back into family history, and through that, finally down to Gloucester, Massachusetts, and specifically down to Essex, Massachusetts, which was a schooner building center back in the days of sail, when they were sailing off to the Grand Banks for codfish or off on Georges Bank for mackerel.

So, I brought the second artifact because it relates directly to the painting and the story about solving the riddle. This is a family photograph, which shows four individuals: each represents a generation. The youngest here, this little boy, is my uncle Bob, who had been my mother’s brother. My mother hadn’t been born yet. The woman forming the center of the triangle here is my grandmother, my mother’s mother, and her maiden name was Blanche Deasy. And on the left side of the picture is her father, Luere Babson Deasy, who would become an attorney in the town of Bar Harbor, a member of the Hancock County Trustees, and a member of the Wall Court. So he had very significant law practice in the 80s, on through the ‘20s and ‘30s. And finally, we have this elderly gentleman, on the right-hand side, who is Luere Babson Deasy’s father, Daniel Deasy. And Daniel is the captain. Whence came these people—it isn’t clear. But I’ve been to New England genealogical and historical societies, looking and genealogies, and censuses, and so forth. We think that Daniel himself was an Irish immigrant, who most likely came into New Brunswick. He died at the age of 88 in 1911 or so. If we extrapolate, he was probably born in the early 1830s. And somehow made his way to Prospect Harbor, Maine, which is over on the Gouldsboro peninsula. And then through other documentation that I’ve discovered along the way, I’ve learned that he subsequently learned the seafaring trade, as many young men his age did, as an apprentice to a young man from Prospect Harbor, and made his way down to Gloucester. The son, the attorney Luere Babson Deasy—you always say, what’s in a name?—and his name was actually the key to figuring out the connection to the painting. And the letter “B” on the burgee. Babson is a well-known family down on Cape Ann, Gloucester. And if you look in the Babson geneaology, you find that indeed, there was a fellow named John Luere Babson, who was about the same age as Captain Daniel Deasy. So it’s clear that when my great-grandfather was born in 1859, he was named for Captain Deasy’s employer, essentially. Luere Babson. And so, with that information, I was able to go to the Gloucester Ship’s Registry, and the Cape Ann Museum, and the Essex Shipbuilding Museum, where they have a database of all the schooners built in Essex, and lo’ and behold, I found the “Break O’Day”; I found the year that she was launched, 1859. The ownership was one John Luere Babson, and her master was Daniel Deasy. So everything just all came together.

So, getting back to the painting—I indicated circa 1859, but it could have been more recent than that, I suppose. But it’s obviously to celebrate the launch of this new vessel. And that was the beginning of my history career. With the detective work involved, it’s fascinating. Talking to many many many people, doing a lot of recording myself, online searches, but also going out to art galleries—the Peabody Essex Museum down in Gloucester, and other places that I mentioned—it’s really ignited a passion for history. And the family connection just sweetens the pot.

JB: That’s great, I love how they’re connected. Do you know when the photo was taken?

BH: I know when my uncle was born, and by extrapolating to his likely age there, which looks to be about three or four, I guess—I would say it was taken around 1910 – 1912. And it’s obviously a posed photograph. At that time, the lawyer, the judge, was well-established in town in Bar Harbor, where he moved with his family and had a thriving law practice. So they could afford to have a formal family portrait taken at the local studio. The dominant one in that area, based on other research on what was going on in Maine Street and Cottage Street businesses then, it was probably a fellow named Bradley who took the picture.

JB: Very interesting. Well, thank you very much!

BH: It’s a pleasure!