Monday, August 12, 2013

The Newspaper report of the catch of the Mammoth Trout

From: Richard Thomas
Sent: Monday, August 12, 2013 4:28 PM
Subject: The Newspaper report of the catch of the Mammoth Trout


Your questions about the article in last week’s Patchogue Advance prompted me to see whether I could find the newspaper reports of the catching of the mammoth trout at Carman’s mill.


I had found the report in the Niles Weekly Register of 07 Jul 1821, but as it was a national paper, that report relied on reports first printed in local newspapers.


I also knew The Market Assistant, published in 1867, said, on p. 251,


“The Gazette of the 29th of June, 1821, says : " A very large salmon-trout, weighing thirteen pounds eight ounces, and three feet in length, and seventeen inches round, was caught by Mr. Samuel Carman, Jr., in his pond at Fire-Place, Long Island, on the 24th inst. The Evening Post confirms the above ‘by three of our most respectable citizens.’”


Several years ago, and periodically thereafter, I had looked for 1821 issues of the Gazette and the Evening Post on line, but copies were only available in reference rooms of the New York Public Library.


But on Saturday I discovered a web site that, for a price, lets one access these old newspapers. 


Please see the attached newspaper articles from the New York Evening Post, which are contemporaneous with the capture of the large trout.  The first, MammothTrout_SamuelCarman_EveningPost(NewYork,NY)_Thursday_1821-0628.pdf, includes a number of details not found in later sources.


The Gazette appears merely to have copied parts of the report that first appeared in the Evening Post on Thursday, June 28, 1821 --- four days after the fish was caught.


The letter to the newspaper is dated 25 Jun 1821, so, in 1821, it took about as long for a letter from Fire Place to be delivered to a recipient in Manhattan as it does today (two or three days).


There is a mention of the mill pond above the mill “abounding” with salmon trout, but the huge trout caught below the mill is never described in the article as being itself a salmon trout.  And the next day, the Evening Post ran a correction saying that its report of the upper mill pond abounding with salmon trout was incorrect, and instead the pond abounded with brook or creek trout, but still without any specification of what kind of trout the “mammoth trout” was.


I also found a later article, published in the Evening Post on Friday, 06 Jul 1821, that says:


                The Mammoth Trout which was taken at the Fire-Place, on Long-Island, by Mr. Samuel Carman, on the 25th of June, was killed last Monday and brought to this city yesterday: weighing when dead, fourteen pounds and a half.  Mr. Carman has made a present of him to a number of his friends in New-York.


It’s a bit surprising that the fish, when dead, gained a full pound compared to its weight when first caught.


Nearly all later reports of the “mammoth trout” say it weight 14 lbs. 8 oz., but I expect the 13 lbs. 8 oz. given by Samuel Carman, Jr., himself is the correct weight.


The two articles confirm five other elements of the legend,

1) the trout was caught on a Sunday,

2) the fish was caught at the tail of the mill,

3) the size of the fish was witnessed by distinguished men from New York City, (albeit, a day after it was caught)

4) the trout was, for a time, kept alive in a pen in the tail of the mill, and

5) the trout was ultimately sent to New York City.


As the fish was kept in a pen for a week, I suppose the spectators might have kept the trout well-fed, so I guess it is possible that the fish weighed 14 lbs 8 oz when it was delivered to Samuel Carman’s friends in New York City.


Although the 06 Jul 1821 article implies that the fish was killed and then brought to the city three days later, I would have expected the trout to have been brought to the city alive.  I suppose there might have been enough ice in the ice house to keep the fish in reasonably good condition for a journey to the city.  I note that the article does not say that Samuel Carman’s city friends actually ate his gift. 


According to Eugene Connett (writing under the pen name” Virginius”), live transport was the usual way of transporting fish to the city, and fish were certainly delivered to the city from as far east as Fire Place.  Jehiel Woodruff, who had ponds between Bellport and Fire-Place on Osborn Creek raised fish that were sold in the fish markets of New York.


In the days before the Long Island Railroad was built market wagons fitted with large tanks set out from New York along the route of the Sag Harbor stage---the South Country Road and, stopping at each trout pond, picked up the fish which were offered for sale by the owners of these ponds.  The latter netted the trout, put them in tubs, and sold them by the pound to the market men.


So we have three sets of facts, one set confirms that a mammoth trout was caught and was sent to New York City, a second set, though later, confirms that a wood replica was made of the large fish for use as a weathervane, and a third set of facts confirms that Senator Daniel Webster knew Samuel Carman well and had fished in the Carmans River and stayed at Sam Carman’s inn.


By the end of the nineteenth century, Senator Daniel Webster was identified as being somehow associated with the mammoth trout. 


As the decades passed, the stories of Daniel Webster fishing for trout in the Carman’s River and the story of the mammoth trout that was caught there edged closer and closer together.


The article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle has the title:



It Weighted Fourteen Pounds and Was
Caught on Long Island.




Autograph Letters of the Great Jurist
  Produced in a Law Suit at Riverhead,
  Showing That He Did What He Could
  for His Old Friend, Samuel Carman, in
  a Dispute With the Long Island Rail-


Published in December 1895, the article clearly states that Daniel Webster merely purchased the fish (for $100!); he did not catch it, but even a purchase is very unlikely to have been the case.


An article in Forest and Stream, published more than ten years later, in 1906, also has Webster playing a role, and has the title “The Webster Trout,” but in that story also, Webster merely purchases the fish (and for only $10 instead of the $100 in the earlier newspaper article).  This is reportedly a tale told by Judge Arlington H. Carman (1851-1924), of Patchogue.  (He was only very distantly related to the Carmans of Fire Place.)


This telling of the story is the one that is most blatantly racist, so be prepared to be offended.


“One hot June day, when all the townspeople were at church and the minister had just got to his sixthly, Carman's little n[xxx]er boy rushed in, mouth open, eyes bulging, one hand holding up his baggy trousers, and yelling, 'The big trout is in the hole! The big trout is in the hole!' All knew what hole was meant. It was a spring under a big willow tree, where Carman's dairy house had once stood, and sent a little brook into the river. So every man and boy in the house was on his feet in an instant.

“Hold on, brethren,' shouted the parson, who was a fisherman himself, 'let's all have a fair start.' Then they made a rush across the fields for the old spring hole, the women and girls tagging after. Arrived there, their first thought was to stop up the entrance, then they got out Carman's old menhaden seine that hadn't seen the water in ten years and was full of holes, and wrapped it round and round the sides and bottom of the hole, while the big trout made the water boil as an accompaniment.

“At last, having him hard and fast, they went back and completed their devotions. Next day some one sent a telegram to Webster, and he sent back a check of ten dollars for the trout, and ordered him held alive until he arrived. He came as soon as the stage coach could bring him, and in his presence the trout was taken out, laid on a broad oak plank and his outline carefully drawn with chalk. From this a weather vane was cut out and swung on Sam Carman's mill for years, or until a West India cyclone came up the coast and split it so it fell. It is still in existence, however, and you will find it in the shop of Nathaniel Miller, one of our oldest residents.

“Webster took the trout to New York, invited in all his friends and made a grand banquet of it in the Astor House, where he always stopped when in the city. The feast was held in the northeast room, second floor, the Vesey street and Broadway corner.


In this telling, Webster wasn’t in church or even in the vicinity on that Sunday, he only arrived on the following day, which was also the case for the three gentlemen in the true story of the mammoth trout.


[According to the Evening Post, the three gentlemen actually present were: Gamaliel Smith (b. 1774, Suffield, Conn., d. 1823), Peter L(edyard) Vandervoort (b. 1776, d. 1842, of the firm of Vandervoort & Flanders, “celebrated dealers in dry goods” and located next to old Trinity Church), and Peter Crary, Jr. (b. 1781, of the firm E. & P. Crary, also dry goods, especially silks, located at 107 William St., until 1812, then P. Crary, Jr.,  Co. at 172 Pearl, “Peter moved to 361 Broadway, where he lived many years in great style,” the company failed in 1837, and Peter Crary Jr. died 1843.).] 


As the huge fish was captured in 1821, it is remarkable that Judge A. H. Carman claims Senator Webster  was informed of the news by telegram, as it would have been at least 15 years before Samuel Morse had perfected his invention of the telegraph.


Indeed, this story has as many holes as Uncle Sam’s ”old menhaden seine.”  This trout could not have been the same mammoth trout that was recorded in the newspaper articles of 1821, as the Astor House, erected by John Jacob Astor, wouldn’t even be built until 1836.


This is not the first author to claim that the trout was captured with a seine, however.  The first such report was very much earlier, in 1843, but as this would still have been 22 years after the event, it can hardly be treated as reliable.


Boston Journal of Natural History. Vol. IV. No. 3.  April, 1843, p. 265.

         By William O. Ayres, of East Hartford, Connecticut.

(Continued from page 264.)

p. 272-273


Salmo Fontinalis. Mitch.

The trout, for which the streams and ponds of Long Island are famous, are often taken of very considerable size; those of three or four pounds are not uncommon; and eight or ten years since a trout was caught at Fireplace, which weighed fifteen pounds. It must, I suppose, have been this species. It was called by many who saw it a salmon trout, on account of its great size or perhaps some peculiarity in the coloring, but the most experienced fisherman who was engaged in taking it (it was caught with a seine) considered it only a very large individual of the common brook trout. I may here remark, that on that stream, and possibly in other parts of the island, the name salmon trout is often applied to any specimen very strongly tinged with red on the abdomen, and it may have been so in this instance.


Eugene Connett’s story of 12 April 1919 is the first I’ve found that correctly states that the “wooden effigy was used later as a weather-vane on the South Haven Presbyterian Church, and years later was given to the oldest living member of that church, Ellen C. Miller.”  [Ellen Carman Miller (1827-1914) was Samuel Carman, Jr.’s daughter.] 


Connett doesn’t identify who caught the fish other than to state that it was caught by “two distinguished sportsmen” who had arrived on the Sag Harbor stage the evening before (Saturday).


Robert B. Lawrence, a wealthy resident of Mastic, wrote in May 1919, that in the story he had been told, the trout wasn’t caught by fishing at all.  Instead:


. . . the big trout was left by the outgoing tide in a shallow spring hole and was not caught by fishing. The account of the rush of the congregation from the church agrees with what I heard, but Daniel Webster, who had frequently come down to Carman's River after trout, was notified of its capture and came down post haste and, purchasing it, returned with it to New York, where it was enjoyed at a banquet. Its weight was said to have been over fourteen pounds. It was spoken of as the “Daniel Webster trout.''


Even Edna Valentine Trapnell, writing in 1933, does not claim that the trout was actually caught by Daniel Webster, but she does have, for the first time, Senator Webster actually being present at the time the fish, “after a short and lively struggle,” “was netted by Uncle Sam’s skillful hand.”  She does state that it “fell to the skill and rod” of one of the three important people who had been at the church service: Daniel Webster, Edward Stevens, or Martin Van Buren, but she knows not which one.


(Although Eugene Connett also has “gentlemen” from the city being present, and also states these two gentlemen caught “The Big Trout,” he does not identify them by name.  In Connett’s 1919 version, the congregation witnesses the capture only after the fact.  A “ragged little colored boy,” who was snoozing, was awakened by the shouts of jubilation of the fishermen, then went down to the water “below the dam,” where the “youngster beheld the fish flopping in the bottom of the boat.”  It is only then that he runs up to the church and excitedly announces that the Big Trout has been caught.)


The first instance I have come across in which Daniel Webster is said definitely to have caught the trout is in the recounting of the tale by Rev. George Borthwick in The Church at the South: History of the South Haven Church, written about 1938, but not published in hard cover until 1989.  However, Rev. Borthwick’s version of the “Daniel Webster’s Trout” story also widely available before 1989, as it was published under the title “Webster at South Haven Church” in the Long Island Forum in September 1939 (p. 13).


And as they say, what God has joined together (or, at least, what Rev. Borthwick joined together), no man has been able to pull asunder.



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