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Homeport – Centerville

Another Centerville native, Josiah Richardson, married and moved to Shrewsbury after leaving command of the ship Chatham, which carried cotton from U.S. southern ports to Liverpool, England and Le Havre, France. He became a deacon and spent time planting fruit trees, but the siren song of the sea beckoned him again.

In an era dominated by shipping, many captains called this Barnstable village home.

Photo courtesy of Centerville Historical Museum

Richardson gained notoriety when Donald McKay, the architect/inventor of a new design of clipper ships that could travel long distances at high speeds, chose him to sail his new ship, Stag Hound. In 1851, The Boston Atlas newspaper described Stag Hound as “a new idea in naval architecture” and its master, Richardson, “as a gentleman of sterling worth as a man, and a sailor of long-tried experience.” While captaining another state-of-the-art McKay vessel, the Staffordshire, Richardson and 169 others died when the ship sunk after hitting rocks off Nova Scotia’s Sable Island on December 30, 1853.

The life of old Cape Cod is often told in its churchyard cemeteries. Gravestone inscriptions at the cemetery on Main Street and Church Hill Road tell of lives lost at sea, of deaths of infants and young children, and mothers dying in childbirth.

In an era dominated by shipping, many captains called this Barnstable village home.

Photo courtesy of Centerville Historical Museum

The gravesite of brothers, Ebenezer and James Scudder, is a harsh reminder of the perils of the sea. Caroline, a sloop commanded by young captain James Scudder, capsized off Barnstable’s Sampson’s Island in February of 1829. James was 19 at the time—Ebenezer, just 13. Ebenezer perished from the cold, while James died of exhaustion a few hours later.

Much has changed in the village over the years. The salt works and many of the cranberry bogs are gone, as is the shipyard that was once on the Centerville River off Main Street. James and Samuel Crosby and Jonathan Kelley built 34 vessels of light tonnage here between 1824 and 1860, many of them specifically for Centerville captains.

The Centreville Wharf Company, built in 1852, was located on a strip of what is now Craigville beach. Vessels of up to 200 tons were built there, but the tide was changing both on shipping and the coastal trade. Stages and trains were transporting people and goods over land. These modes of transportation were also responsible for a new industry on Cape Cod: tourism. In May of 1879, the wharf sold at public auction: the building brought $73, the wharf property, $8.

A walk down Main Street today may elicit a sentimental longing for the past as one strolls by the old school building built in 1717, the 1856 Country Store, the South Congregational Church—and a collection of stately residences that Centerville’s ship captains once called home.

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