A few weeks ago someone in the family mentioned something about my father's grandfather- the one who was born in a Scottish prison.
How could it be that I didn't know this story?
Fortunately, my dad- the keeper of all family stories- had all
kinds of information on my great-grandfather, Captain James J. Brown.
James J. Brown was born in Glasgow, Scotland (in a prison) on
December 14, 1865. He went to sea at the age of 12, working as a cabin
boy. It's unclear exactly how he ended up in Baltimore, but it was thanks
to his life there that I can trace my paternal roots in the United States to
the tugboats that sit in the Baltimore harbor.
By the time he was 25, James was the captain of the R.M. Spedden Company's tugboat, Caroline. He spent many days
working at sea. Family legend has it that his obituary was picked up in
newspapers as far away as Boston.
I've always had a fascination with tugboats. There's
something about their structure and color that stands out to me- like they know
they don't look like other boats, and that's okay because they've got power
that others count on.
I've spent many hours wondering the streets of Fells Point in
Baltimore. These days its waterfront location is a draw for pub-goers
and restaurant seekers. Certainly the next time I'm there I'll be looking
at the area with a different mindset. I'll look out at the tugboat tied
up to the pier and try to picture Captain Brown and the life he lived over 100
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