Capt. John "Ringbolt" Codman Praises Brattleboro

John Codman, Captain Ringbolt.jpg

[Correspondence of the Boston Courier.]

Brattleboro, March 11, 1864.---

This is the corner stone of the Green Mountain State---the cul de sac of its business and of its importance. In the olden time it was the nucleus of the stage coach interest, when spanking teams of horses such as no State but Vermont could produce, were used to whirl around the corners and to be brought to a stand still at the old stage house door---and as the boys looked up at the jolly red faced coachman, their highest ambition was to rise to their bound eminence.

The railroad has killed their aspiring hopes, and now they can look for nothing higher than to be President of the United States. The boys have this consolation, that they could scarcely expect to emulate those old drovers, but unless they are very dull scholars, they can fit themselves without much difficulty to reach the present standard of Presidential excellence.

Here, too, was once the Gretna Green of New England. Joining New Hampshire and Massachusets, which States formerly placed more salutary restrictions upon marriage than now, troops of runaways crossed the borders, sometimes in hot haste, and once over the bridge, were as safe from the parental wagon wheels which rattled in their rear as were the Israelites with the Red Sea rolling between Pharaoh's hosts and themselves.

I well remember the Universalist parson who was the "blacksmith" upon these occasions, and how, in my youthful days, I "stood groomsman" for the happy swains. The parson received his fee, and I claimed mine.

Railroads spoil the staging. Amended laws in Massachusetts and New Hampshire spoiled the matrimonial business of the blacksmith. But there came another glory to Brattleboro. Wesselhoeft, the pioneer of Hydropathy in this country, the Preissnitz of America, founded the Water Cure establishment, and although the good Doctor is long since dead, and the establishment has lost its character for "heroic treatment," it still maintains a mild sway over the many summer visitors who come to enjoy a moderate degree of hydropathy, to inhale the pure air of the hills, and to enjoy the walks and drives, as delightful as the scenery is romantic.

Rosy apples grow in the orchards hereabouts, and rosy cheeks grow in the nurseries. The apples thrive in the summer, and the cheeks mantle with red transparency most gloriously in the winter.

A few of these summer birds linger into the autumn, nature's most fashionable season, when she "goes into colors," and, like the dying dolphin, is most beautiful in her death. It has always seemed to me that the seasons are wrongly divided. The autumn should end with October, and November should be called, the fall---cold, cheerless November, that sexton of Nature's funeral, who strips the sapless trees of their garments and trails them through the woods like a rustling crane on the wings of her winds.

Then comes the winter. Whatever it may be in your city of sloppy streets and piercing east winds---call it Nature's death there, if you please, here it is her new life. Clear and fresh from the mountains comes her breath of life, and from the short stable of the snow-storm she weaves her bridal attire of pure white, and calls her bridegroom from the sky to deck her forest fingers with diamonds!

There is a bounding elasticity in the air, and the voice which croaks with the rheums in your city streets here rings out in tones as clear as the merry sleigh bells which peal their music through the valleys of Vermont.

A sleigh ride on the Brighton road!---to reach which you travel on the bare ground over the bleak mill dam---a concourse of the b'hoys striking fire in the mixture of snow and dirt, as they g'lang their shaven two-forties to the peril of life and limb---and return after this sport to thaw your stagnated blood in a furnace heat worse than that of Shadrach and his fellows, thence to issue in the morning to bark out your complaints of neuralgia in your limping rheumatic friend.

A sleigh ride in Vermont! ---the mercury never mind where, as many degrees below zero as you please---but the air as still as at the Northern pole, and its every particle a tonic, its every inhalation a breath of life, the blood bounding through the pulses of every horse, and every man, and flushing the cheeks and lips of every woman, without whom a sleigh ride in Vermont is a total incongruity;---the smooth carpet of closely packed snow, the brightest afternoon sun slanting its rays through the ice jewels of the forest and reflecting from the jewels set in the carnations at your side, as they peep joyously over the warm robes in which your care has encased them; the music of bells and of voices, as with fast trot down into the valleys and with full run across them over the hills you speed away to the "tavern," that rustic pronunciation suggestive of flip and mulled wine, after the enjoyment of which you are homeward bound, the moon climbing up over the Chesterfield mountain, no flickering gas lamp of Beacon street, but the very Queen of night coming to join your party and saying to you and to all around you---hills and valleys, glistening forests, sheeted meadows, and ice bound river, which you span without ferries or bridges, "Come let us be merry."

Is there any difference between a sleigh ride in Brighton and a sleigh ride in Vermont?


Vermont Phoenix, April 29, 1864.


Capt. John Codman

Captain John Codman was born in Dorchester in 1814, being the oldest son of the Rev. John Codman. His daughter was Mrs. F. V. Parker, his two brothers were William C. and Robert Codman, and his sisters were Mrs. Charles K. Cobb, Mrs. Otto Pollitz, and Mrs. William A. Peabody.

Captain Codman always showed a great fondness for the sea, and as soon as he saw an opportunity he shipped on one of the famous clippers. He used to say that the best Boston families were founded by the old ship-masters. He made many voyages to China and the East Indies and commanded several vessels.

While second mate of the "Carolina," when that vessel was at her dock in London, he went ashore and sat on the wall of the Duke of Devonshire's palace and saw the future Queen Victoria on her way to Westminster, Abbey to be crowned. During the Crimean War he commanded the ship "William Penn," which was used as an army transport to carry troops from Constantinople to the Crimea, and during the Civil War he was in command of the steamer "Quaker City, which was engaged in carrying stores to Port Royal.

During his voyages he had many exciting experiences and several narrow escapes. On one occasion he was bringing home a tea-ship from China and had a tough lot of men on board on the trip from New York to Boston, having discharged his good crew in New York. On the first morning out his men refused to holystone the deck, whereupon the Captain, upon inquiry, learned that the seamen thought that washing decks was not in the contract.

"Well, what is?" replied the Captain, cheerfully, to which the men answered: "To make sail, steer the ship, hoist anchor, etc." "Very good," said the Captain. "Then you can let go the anchor thirty fathoms and we will keep hauling it in and dropping it again until the gentlemen are satisfied." The crew saw the point at once, actually bursting out laughing, and immediately began to scrub the decks without another word.

Another time, in taking troops to Turkey, the steamer's engines broke down just at the time the ship - was to be inspected; he was determined, however, to keep these facts from the inspectors, therefore, after inviting them on board and entertaining them, he started a donkey engine in order to create a noise resembling the regular engine, and sailed down the Bosphorus without creating a suspicion that the vessel was not entirely shipshape.

Captain Codman was very fond of riding, and once, when about seventy-five years of age, he rode from New York to Boston in the middle of winter. He had a horse which he called "Grover Cleveland" in order to show his admiration for the President, and he always caused great interest when on the hotel registers he signed his name and underneath it "Grover Cleveland."

He also wrote a number of books and newspaper articles and made many speeches on travel shipping, and tariff. He used to say that "his little Latin and his less Greek had been very useful to him." "It was like being vaccinated," he said. "You may not feel it, but it is there all the same and does you a heap of good."

Captain Codman owned a ranch in Idaho and a house at Cohasset, the latter being so near the water that people used to remark that his villa on some boisterous night would undoubtedly go to sea without taking out clearance papers. He gave up the sea for the last thirty years of his life, but still owned a number of ships which were most successful, one of them, the "Morea," in one year's time making for him one hundred thousand dollars in tea.

He was a graduate of Amherst College. He died at the age of eighty-six.


Rev. Addison Brown was the blacksmith, Unitarian Church minister in Brattleboro. Marriage over the anvil was for the luck, iron being discouraging to witches and other evil manifestations.

Sleigh excursions were often outfitted by mine host Capt. Thomas C. Lord of the American House, the Vermont House, &c.

Capt. John Codman's book "Sailors' Life and Sailors' Yarns" was reviewed by Herman Melville in the first edition of the "Literary World".









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