Monday, March 6, 2017

From Glasgow to Baltimore

A few weeks ago someone in the family mentioned something about my father's grandfather- the one who was born in a Scottish prison.

Wait, what?

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 years ago.



  1. Oh, this is beautiful. No wonder you've felt drawn to the tugboats! These kinds of family stories make me feel a special kind of warmth - being connected to the past.

  2. That's literally a great grandfather story!

  3. How cool--when can we learn about his mother and this prison birth?