McKay entrusted his swiftest clippers to one of Cape Cod’s finest sea captains, Josiah Richardson, whose home, built in 1795, still stands on Phinney’s Lane in Centerville. Richardson commanded the Staghound on its record-breaking run from New York to San Francisco to Canton, China and back, a voyage which netted a whopping $80,000 for her owners (a profit equivalent to more than $2 million today). Sadly, according to Fisher, Richardson was the prototypical “captain who went down with his ship.”
On a transatlantic run that had previously required two short weeks, the crew of McKay’s Staffordshire struck a rock near Nova Scotia during a December snowstorm. Confined to his cabin with a back injury suffered a day earlier, the captain was unable to help. When the chief mate offered to evacuate Richardson in the face of the ship’s imminent capsizing, he chose instead to go down with the ship, answering, “Then if I am to be lost, God’s will be done.”
It is hard to believe that none of the majestic clipper ships built by Donald McKay and portrayed in paintings and models in the Centerville Museum survived the 20th century. Perhaps this explains the deep gratitude expressed today by his relatives for preserving their proud heritage.
Jean Anderson, of Grafton and West Falmouth, former longtime Centerville resident and great-granddaughter of McKay, is thrilled with the recognition of his life’s work. At the encouragement of her former neighbor, Shirley Fisher, Jean loaned much of her favorite McKay family memorabilia to the museum for the exhibit.
Jean feels the original designs of her great-grandfather’s ships were “artwork,” explaining: “The boats were absolutely gorgeous, the bowsprits, the figure heads… Each time one of his boats was christened, the East Boston schools would be let out to watch. My mother, Anna McKay Hawes of Centerville, always talked about her famous grandfather.”
Another Cape Cod relative with an affinity for the exhibit is Susan Peterson, Jean’s niece, and McKay’s great-great-granddaughter, of Harwichport. Peterson cherishes her connection to the shipbuilder.
“I carried his Bible down the aisle at my wedding instead of flowers,” says the retired teacher. She, too, remembers tales told by her grandmother, Anna McKay Hawes, and hopes to pass down family history to her granddaughter, Molly Linnane, whom she brought to see the Centerville exhibit.
“It’s important to know we weren’t just plunked down out of nowhere,” Peterson says. She hopes that Molly will learn to sail, inherit a love of the sea, and become a creative problem solver like her shipbuilding ancestor. Most of all she hopes to pass on perhaps the most important lesson left behind by the famous master ship builder: persistent creativity in the face of doubt.
Centerville writer, Sara Hoagland Hunter is the author of 10 books for children. Visit her website at sarahunterproductions.com.