Having been through storms at sea in my lifetime with the advantage of weather forecasts, modern nautical instruments and radios to call for help, I often wonder what the final hours were like for my great-great granduncle during a gale on 12 November 1883. Valentine Elsworth Kelley, a Dennis Port man from a long line of mariners, was out on the John McDonough, fishing for haddock on George’s Bank off the Gloucester coast when the storm struck.
The gale claimed the lives of 120 men on George’s Bank that day, aboard nine fishing vessels. Of the vessels lost, the John McDonough had the largest crew—16 men. It was a brand new schooner, built for John McDonough by Willard A. Burnham of Essex. McDonough’s son Hugh was the master. She was at Provincetown a few days before the gale, which could be where Valentine signed on as a member of the crew. He was the only man on board listed as from Cape Cod.
The Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission reported the storm: “GALE ON GEORGE'S BANK. They have had a hard time on George's. November 12 and 13 it blew a hurricane. Vessels arrived to-day with decks swept, sails torn, bulwarks gone, and cables and anchors lost. I think the worst is to come. Some of the haddock vessels arrived with the loss of dories and other damage.”
The next entry on the subject shows the dire prediction was correct: “GALE. Fears are entertained for the safety of four haddock catchers which were on George's Bank in the gale of November 12-13. Haddock are plenty on George's Bank, but there has been no sale for them for the last three days. There are five vessels here with haddock to sell to the slitters at three quarters of a cent a pound. GLOUCESTER, MASS., November 25, 1883.”
The storm was also mentioned in the Barnstable Patriot: “A dispatch from Gloucester of the 10th inst., states that four more fishermen are overdue, and that fears are entertained that they have been lost with all on board. They, with the others before reported, make nine in number with 120 persons on board.” Further down the page: “The Independent says that Valentine Kelley of Dennis Port is one of the crew of one of the supposed lost Gloucester schooners.”
Valentine Elsworth Kelley was one of the “loose ends” I wanted to tidy up in my family history research. I found his birth record easily enough. He was born in Dennis Port on 12 September 1860, son of Valentine Kelley (Oliver6, Patrick5-4, Eleazer3, Jeremiah2, David O’Killia1), Seaman, born Harwich and Rosannah (Eldredge) Kelley (James Harding6, Nehemiah5, Elnathan4, Ebenezer3, Jehosophat2, William1 Eldred/Eldredge).
|Tintype that is likely of Valentine and his brother Roland Kelley|
But why couldn’t I find a marriage record? If he died young, why wasn’t his death recorded in Dennis? Why wasn’t he buried in Dennis like the rest of his siblings?
Valentine grew up in a quaint half-Cape that still stands at 280 Main Street in Dennis Port. His first name struck me as unusual, but I’ve grown fond of it because of its meaning: valiant and strong, a name of saints and emperors. His maternal grandfather, James Harding Eldredge, lived next door. Valentine’s father was a mariner, as were his Kelley uncles (Stillman, Oliver, Lorenzo, and Richard) and his Eldredge uncles (James Freeman, Sylvanus and Nathan C.). His great-grandfather, Patrick Kelley, built ships in Harwich. Patrick’s house was one of the oldest still standing in Harwich in 1890, owned then by Marshall Kelley, but I have been unable to find if it is survives today.
|House Valentine grew up in, now 280 Main Street, Dennis Port||, an old photo and in 1998|
I had the good fortune of meeting my cousin (third cousin once removed) Natalie Chase in 2002. She graciously invited me into her Dennis Port home and showed me the Bible that belonged to Valentine Kelley (the elder). The Bible’s family register solved the mystery of what became of young Valentine Kelley—he died in that horrible November gale on George’s Bank. Natalie says according to family lore that Valentine was engaged to be married at the time of his death.
His death is recorded in Massachusetts Vital Records: Valentine E. Kelly, died 12 Nov 1883, on board the John McDonough, of Dennisport, on George’s.
I have seen the Fisherman’s Memorial, aka “The Man at the Wheel,” on the Gloucester waterfront many times, not realizing my ancestor’s name was inscribed on the cenotaph (as Valentine E. Kelly), with so many other men that once left Gloucester Harbor, never to return to their loved ones. A recessed panel on the harbor-facing side of the base holds an inscription of bronze letters taken from the Psalm 107:23, which reads: "They That Go Down To The Sea In Ships 1623-1923."
Amongst my great-grandmother Ethel (Kelley) Booth’s photographs was an old black and white snapshot of the Man at the Wheel. I like to think the family made the trip up from the Cape to honor Valentine’s memory, just as my own family did recently.
|The Man at the Wheel in May 2011|
 Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission, (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1884) volume IV, p. 91
 Ibid, p. 92
 Barnstable Patriot, 25 Dec 1883, page 1
 Roberta G. Bratti, Natalie H. Ross & Pauline W. Derick, Dennis, Massachusetts Vital Records 1793-1900 (General Society of Mayflower Descendants; 1993), volume 2, pg. 883.
 Deyo, Simeon L., editor, "History of Barnstable County, Massachusetts," HW Blake & Co., New York, 1890.
 MA VR Vol 346, page 197, Gloucester
 Born West Dennis, 29 July 1890, daughter of David Howes and Mary Ann (Kelley) Kelley