A Blupete Biography Page

Early Life, Part 3 to the Life & Works of
Samuel Cunard

Samuel Cunard grew up in Halifax. The family's home was located on a lane which was to become known as Brunswick street. It was between the naval station and the town.5 His father, Abraham, had bought a strip of land of ten acres which ran steeply down to the Halifax Harbour.6 So, young Samuel had a wonderful view from his backyard. The view showed the goings and comings of large and small sailing vessels plying the harbour, together with all the activities along the harbour occasioned by the arrival and departure of these vessels; it was an age where most everything that had to go any distance went by water.

As a boy it started -- this insatiable appetite for commercial activity. He ran errants such as carrying letters across town for a small fee, or to go to the local farms beyond the town's edge for vegetables. He saved his pennies in a sock.7 He would frequent the wharfs of Halifax especially if ship captains were auctioning off their cargoes. He was quick, as he was throughout all his life, to spot a bargain. On the docks he picked up small lots of stuff such as coffee and spices; in turn he would go door to door to sell his finds.

The best of Samuel's early education came from his parents, particularly his father. However, Samuel did attend Grammar School for a few years. By seventeen Samuel had completed his formal education and joined his father, where, there, in the King's Lumberyard, under his father's tutelage, he learned how to draft designs, to copy prints, to check specifications for the masts, spars, and timbers that were to go into ships of war.

After working with his father for a period of time, learning all he could, Samuel took a ship for Boston. At Boston he spent three years working in a ship broker's office. It was then, back to Halifax for him. (It strikes one that Samuel's father knew the potential that existed in his son and paid careful attention to his education, a very practical education that would serve Samuel Cunard throughout all his life.)

So, there was Samuel Cunard at about 21 years old, ready to take on the world. This was 1808. His father at the age of 52, had left the lumberyard; he was however, not yet ready to retire. Abraham built a wharf on the harbour at the foot of his land. Father and son then went into the shipping business. They started with a small coaster, a schooner, Margaret. Soon there was a second vessel, the Nancy, a privateer's prize. When the War of 1812 came along (United States v. Great Britain) opportunities grew. Though they were at war, each country understood the importance of maintaining trade for goods that were needed in times of peace or of war. Persons of good reputations were given trading permits; the firm of A. Cunard & Son were given permits which allowed the Cunards to increase their volume both in cargoes and in ships. In a time of war, if not generally, then certainly in strategic ports such as Halifax, ships came up regularly for sale, captured enemy ships of all kinds. In 1813 the Cunards acquired, at a prize sale, a square rigged (read big ship) called the White Oak. Though the White Oak could carry cargo, and did, she was also fitted out so that she could carry passengers. The Cunards decided to get into transatlantic shipping carrying both cargo and passengers to England. The commercial success of the White Oak led to the purchase of another large vessel which was sent off to the West Indies with lumber and fish, to return with molasses and sugar.

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Peter Landry
2011

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