Recalls Queer Catch When He Fished Up China Dropped In Bay
A perfect record as a member of the village fire department, with 100 percent attendance at fires during his term of service, is the boast of Wesley T. Pearsall, 74-year-old retired bayman of 27 Raynor avenue, Freeport. He helped fight one fire in five years. The alarm for that blaze was the only one sounded in that time to which the hook-and-ladder company of which he was a member responded.
But a background of water, rather than of fire, is a more appropriate setting for a picture of the career of this still hearty, if not hardy, figure among the Freeport bay folk. For the laugh of the man who was one of the bigges Freeport oyster planters in years past has the same spirit it had when it once rang out in response to the recital of some humorous tale of the "Mosquito Fleet" -- the swarm of small craft which made up the fishing and oyster fleet and which once dotted the waters of Freeport bay and Freeport creek.
Wesley Pearsall likes to joke, in spite of his age and in spite of the fact that he is recovering from a seige of illness which lasted most of the winter.
"How long have you been retired, Mr. Pearsall?" was a question the writer asked when he found the old bayman, with the aid of a stout cane, making his rounds to chat with the tradesmen in the bay section.
He seemed to reflect for a moment, and then took his pipe from his mouth. "I've been tired for a good many years," he said.
Mr. Pearsall was born in Freeport when that village was a mere handful of houses, and he has lived there all his life, although it is possible the hours on the waters of the bay might exceed the hours he has spent on land. He is a son of Ditmus Pearsall, and his father and brother, Frank, he has labored in the oyster fleet through the period when that pioneer industry of the South Shore was in its heyday; when the oyster planters dropped into the bay the seed oysters they had purchased by the bushel in Connecticut; when they shipped to market from 3,000 to 5,000 bushels of the full-grown variety each year, and when the whistle of a bullet past his ear or its lodgment in his body informed the deliberate or accidental poacher that he was trespassing in the forbidden waters of another man's oyster beds.
Creek Lined With Docks
Freeport creek in those days was lined with oyster docks, planters leasing from the town areas in the bay in which they carried on their cultivation and harvesting of the sea food. The oyster business was the biggest business on the South Shore.
Mr. Pearsall has employed both sail and power boats in the course of his career, and during one winter of exceptional severity his activities were marked by the use of a sled with which he bought in oysters from the bay. The oysters were taken up through a hole in the ice which covered the bay and loaded aboard the sled instead of being haled aboard a boat.
First To Use New Sail
For a time Mr. Pearsall worked in partnership with James R. Smith, of Freeport. They were the first to adopt the "leg o'mutton" type of sail on the oyster boats, and for a long time their craft should be readily identified by their unusual type of sails. Mr. Pearsall engaged in the oyster business during the winter months, and in the summer his boats became fishing craft.
There may have been other times that Mr. Pearsall complained of his fishing luck but one "catch" in particular is recalled with disgust. It was a catch of chinaware, or crockery. Thieves had looted a home, carrying off most, if not all, the tableware they had found in the house. Later, hard pressed by a police investigation or concluding that it would be difficult to dispose of such loot at a profit, they dropped it in the bay.
Found By Pearsall Boat
A dish was brought up by Mr. Pearsall's boat, and then another. He and his aides set to work to recover as many pieces as they could, and a couple of hours' work resulted in the netting of all the stolen tableware. Mr. Pearsall notified the victim of the theft, who soon called for his property. He loaded the goods recovered from the bay into his wagon and drove away wthout stopping even to say "Thank you" to the men who had made possible his recovery of them. Mr. Pearsall resolved thereafter to fish for fish alone.
Father of Smith F. Pearsall
In more recent years Mr. Pearsall kept up with the times to the extent of purchasing an automobile which he used in delivering fish and oysters to his retail trade or "fish route" in Freeport.
Wesley Pearsall was the father of Smith F. Pearsall, one of the outstanding newspaperman of Nassau county in the generation immediately preceding the era of the daily newspaper. As editor of the Nassau County Review of Freeport, Smith F. Pearsall became a power in local and county politics. His newspaper was the dominant political organ of Freeport and several times the offical Republican newspaper of Nassau county.
The Nassau County Review was purchased by James E. Stiles in 1920, exactly 10 years ago this month, and the name was retained when the chain of weeklies was merged into a daily newspaper.
Howard E. Pearsall, village clerk of Freeport, and Mrs. John T. Cotter of Freeport are the only surviving children. Smith F. Pearsall died a few years after he disposed of the Nassau County Review.
Next Howard E. Pearsall- a short biography.
* source: LISI Hofstra, Hempstead, N.Y.