What was a day in a life of a wherry taxi driver before the Emancipation Proclamation?

Looking back on my life now that I am a 75 year old man, I guess I was a pretty rare person. I ( George Adams ) lived back in the time right before and through the Emancipation Proclamation. I've also met lots of interesting people. Not that meeting interesting people is very rare, but I was a wherry taxi driver on the Piscataqua River. Right about now you are probably saying to yourself " What in tarnations is a wherry ? "

Well a wherry is a type of wooden boat used during the time of the 1800's and early 1900's. This type of boat was used to taxi people from place to place on the Piscataqua River. The shape of the boat is one of a kind. It is really slim and about the size of a whaleboat. The wherry was the fastest boat of its time, that is why it was used on the Piscataqua River. The wherry is a real unique boat.

I sort of feel badly now. I didn't leave anything for the world to remember us wherry taxi drivers by. I now see some schools like Sanborn Regional High School trying to find any sort of information about the wherry boat in general. There have had about three or four kids in that class call me about information. I could of at least left some kind of information for them. I can see now it would of been a big help. I've decided to tell about one day in my life that sticks out like a sore thumb. This day changed my life forever, I remember everything about it.

It was a really bright and sunny day in May, there wasn't a cloud in sight. I got to work at around 5:00 am and my first customer was already waiting for me. " Hello Mrs. " I say as I am untying my boat.

" Could you hurry up? I am a little late as it is. That man over there told me that you are my only ride to New Castle. "

" Sure Mrs., At this hour I am about your only ride. "I started rushing around, putting all my stuff into my wherry.

"Yes, well could we pick up the pace a little bit? " She said with the snootiest attitude. She just got this smirk on her face like I wasn't worthy enough to be sitting on the same boat with her, even though it was my own.

" Yes, mamme! I'm sorry I didn't catch your name?" I said trying to make conversation

" My name, oh Victoria, Mrs. Victoria Madison, and yours? "

"Mine, George, George Adams. "

"Well it's nice to meet you Mr. Adams." She seemed a bit nicer.

" You can call me George. It is also nice to meet you Mrs. Madison. "

As I helped her in to my wherry she touched my hand like I was some kind of disgusting dirty dog or something. Mrs. Madison wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. Before she sat down on the seat she made me wipe off the seat, even though there was nothing on it. So much for her being in such a hurry!

When Mrs. Madison finally sat down she yelled" Could we get a move on, I am quite late at this point!"

" Yes, Mrs. Madison. " I said nicely

Mrs. Madison seemed like she was in such a bad mood. Maybe she isn't I an bad mood all the time. Maybe she is just having a bad day. Yet the way that he eyes and eyebrows are scrunched together I am leaning more towards the constant snob.

" Where are you from Mrs. Madison?" I said.

" Excuse me! " she said with the ugliest tone of voice.

" Where are you from?" I repeated.

" Why do you ask? " She responded.

" You just don't seem like you are from around here."

" Well for your information, I am not from around here. I am from Connecticut. " She said once again with her snobbish voice.

" Oh, I am quite sorry for asking. " I said even though I really did want to know, because she was quite a fine looker. " so have you heard anything on this Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln? "

" Yes I have, and if the Emancipation of the slaves occurs, I know a lot of people who will be quite upset. " Mrs. Madison said like it was a very touchy subject. So I chose to continue asking touchy questions. I am an ornery sort of fella. I don't back off easy.

" Does that include you? " I said just waiting for Mrs. Madison to knock me on the side of my head with her purse.

" You are quite the nosy one aren't you Mr. Adams? " She said with the most frightening look in her eyes. For a moment I thought I was making eye contact with the devil.

" Not nosy, just trying to make conversation, that's all." I said with my tail between my legs. I was not about to pursue that question, not with that look. After that comment I just sat there rowing the wherry as fast as I could. I didn't want to spend another moment on my boat with her. Mrs. Madison intimidated me. It was the weirdest feeling I have ever felt. I really don't know what it was I just felt stupid.

Then all of a sudden Mrs. Madison comes out with " Yes it does include me. "

" That is all you had to say, I feel the same way. " Silence, all I could hear was the seagulls flying above us and the best sound on the Piscataqua River- the water flowing. " It's not a personal question or anything."

" Look taxi driver, I am trying to get to New Castle as quickly as possible. I have no time for petty conversations, especially with someone like you."

" And what is that supposed to mean ? " I said defensively.

" What do you mean? What does that mean? Do you actually think that I would lower myself to having this kind of conversation with you?" Mrs. Madison said to me like I was among the tiny specks of dirt on the bottom of the river. " Besides the Emancipation Proclamation will never pass. President Lincoln would be a complete fool to try to pass something of that sort. The blacks are property and should stay property!"

When Mrs. Madison said that I immediately thought that she was right, but I also thought of my wherry. Because my wherry is my property, but it is not living, it is made of wood. Yet my boat is much prettier that any black person I have ever seen. So I really don't see much of a comparison, but my wherry does do work like a black person does. I own my wherry just like some white folks own blacks.

Even though Mrs., Madison explained to me quite clearly that she didn't want anything to do with me, she kept bring up conversations. I've always wondered why she did that. " I totally agree with you Mrs. Madison, the blacks should stay right where they are in society! "

" Please, just get me to New Castle Mr. Adams." She said with a look on her face that made me feel like complete filth.

" Yes mamme, New castle is just around that bend." I said just wanting to get her off my boat!

As I pulled into the dock I saw someone waiting for a ride. " Here we are, New Castle."

" Yes it is about time. " She said with a tone of relief. I think she wanted to get off the boat as much as I wanted her off.

As I helped Mrs. Madison off the boat, she once again touched my hand with her finger tips only as I helped her off . She made me feel so worthless. As soon as Mrs. Madison paid me for the ride a black man came running over to me " Please sir, are ye going ta Kittery? " He said with a look on his face like it was life or death for him.

" You had better not take him! " Mrs. Madison said like it was her wherry or something. It was not her boat. It was mine. I own the wherry, I choose who goes on my boat. As I saw myself thinking about MY wherry, I started thinking about the whole property issue. I thought of my wherry as Mrs. Madison and I thought of the blacks. I still thought that the blacks should stay in the place of society that they were in. I certainly didn't want to be sharing the same water fountains or sharing the same washing place with any black.

" Yes I will take him to Kittery. He has money just like you. " I said just wanting to get her mad.

" O Lord blass ye, O thank yer so much. I'm Tom King " He said with a smile on his face that I will never forget. It was like I had saved his life.

" George Adams is my name. Why are you going to Kittery? " I asked as we both got into the boat. The weird thing about him was that he sat as close to me as he possibly could. So I had to ask him " Could you possibly sit over there please? " I said that because I really didn't want to take that black man to Kittery, never mind have him sit next to me in my wherry. So Tom sat at the next bench over, and we were off for Kittery.

I didn't say a word to him the whole ride. I think Mr. King got the idea because he didn't say a word either. Being on my wherry with a black man was really weird because I had never been on my wherry with one before. Ever though the silence was killing me, I just couldn't pick myself up enough to talk to him. There was no way I would lower myself to talking to a black. I did eventually ask him

" Are you a runaway slave? "

" NO, would ye like ta see me license! " Tom said defensively.

" Calm down boy, I was just asking for my safety. " I said so he wouldn't have a heart attack on my boat. He was getting so worked up.

"O, I jist get that question alls the time." He said much calmer.

" Well you are a black man and blacks are not free, so what do you expect. " I said with that same snobbish attitude as Mrs. Madison had with me.

" I know I jist..."

" Here we are in Kittery. " I said interrupting him because I didn't really want to know what he was going to say. " Oh my God, is that Mark Twain? " I screamed with great excitement.

" Mark Twain, who is that? " He said with the curious look on his face. Tom looked like he was going to meet someone famous or something. He got this smile on his face that reached from ear to ear, he did have bad teeth though.

" Can I stay on your boat and ride to wherever he is going? "

" You've got the money, not I. If you can pay you can stay. " I really didn't want him to stay, but he was a free man. I could do nothing about it.

I always wondered why Tom wanted to stay on the boat and I didn't find out until years later. The reason was the same reason I kept asking Mrs. Madison questions, just to gain more knowledge. I had never experienced any sort of person.

We pulled into the dock, Mark Twain looked at us both and started walking towards us. Mr. Twain could of picked between three other boats, but he chose my wherry. I always wondered why he chose my wherry, but five minutes later I found out why.

" Are you going to Portsmouth? " Mr. Twain asked with excitement.

" Tom just jumped right out and said, " Why yes we are, would ye like a ride there? "

" Thank you for answering for me Mr. King." I said with a little bit of an attitude, but not to much of an attitude because I wanted to take Mr. Twain to Portsmouth.

" Why yes I would like a taxi ride to Portsmouth. This is one boat I have not experienced before. " Mark Twain .As he was getting into the boat, Tom went over to shake his hand and the boat nearly tipped over.

It was a good thing that I yelled " NO TOM! Stay on that side of the boat. We don't want to be in the water now do we. " After that Mark Twain sat down and shook Tom's hand. Mark Twain wasn't going to shake my hand, but he must of felt badly. The reason that I know this is because he hesitated to shake my hand. That made me feel really mad. Just that fact that he would shake a black mans hand before he would shake mine. That drove me crazy.

I had only read a couple of Mark Twain's pieces. I enjoyed the way he wrote, I just didn't like what he wrote about. Mark Twain was for the Emancipation Proclamation. I really wanted to hear his opinion on this matter, but I wasn't about to ask. The weird thing about the whole boat ride was that Tom asked Mark Twain what he thought of the Emancipation Proclamation, it was like Tom read my mind. Mark Twain replied " Now Tom, " he paused for a moment " and Mr. Adams, why must everything be about color? We are all human beings, we are all made of exactly the same things. The only difference is our skin color. " Another moment of silence occurred. Both Tom and I were just staring at Mark Twain like he was the President himself. We were both so into what he had to say.

" Are you a runaway Tom? " Mark Twain asked with great respect for him. I know Mark Twain had great respect for Tom because he said it very calmly and looked him straight in the eyes.

" NO, why? " Tom answers in a defensive way again.

" Would you like to see my license? "

" No Tom, that's the thing, why were you a piece of property? I was never a piece of property, nor was Mr. Adams here." All of a sudden Tom's face lit up like a match had just bee lit. His smile was once again from ear to ear. Mark Twain continued, " Why just because our skin is white we must treat people with black skin like they are dogs or something. " Mark Twain looked at Tom and I both like we had an answer or something. Then he continued again,

" Mr. Adams, This here boat is yours, correct?"

" Correct. " I said in response

" This boat is your property, correct? "

" Correct. "

" Then why is a black person treated as your boat? This boat is made of wood, not flesh and bones. This boat does not have feelings, it does not feel emotions, it does not feel humiliation, it does not feel love or anger. So now Mr. Adams or Tom you tell me what the similarities are between a black person and this here boat! "

Mark Twain said a lot of other things on that boat ride from Kittery to Portsmouth, but that one five minute speech hit me the hardest. It got me thinking of how Mrs. Madison was treating me. I didn't like that very much, yet I was treating blacks just as she was treating me. That was the first eye opener for me in seeing that I was in fact prejudice.

When we did arrive in Portsmouth Harbor I thanked Mark Twain for that talk. I didn't shake Tom's hand because I still felt weird about the whole situation. I got back into my wherry and went home. The whole way home I couldn't stop thinking about what Mark Twain had said. That talk he gave still sticks with me even today.

About a year later I ran into Tom again, he was looking for work, so I offered him a job with me in the wherry taxi driving business. Tom and I became very good friends. In fact our kids and grandkids run the business now.

Both Tom and I have kept in contact with Mark Twain. He is one good guy. You can't say that about too many people, but Mark is defiantly one of those people. We don't see much of Mark anymore, lots of people read his books now. Mark Twain is famous now and I will always remember what he did for me.

I hope this gives you a little bit of help on what it was like to be a wherry taxi driver during the time right before the Emancipation Proclamation. Even though it was only one day out of my life , it was the most important. I don't know what my life would of been like if I hadn't picked up the people I did that day. I know that plenty of students at the Sanborn Regional High School will gain knowledge from this story about my life. I hope it is helpful- enough.