Baltimore harbor’s sailing ships interest Benjy more than schoolwork. But he never dreamed he’d be kidnapped at 14 to work on an oystering boat!
One afternoon in 1882, Benjy rode his pony to the markets on an errand and was accidentally shanghaied with a group of German immigrant men. When they woke up, they were far from shore on a leaky ship in Chesapeake Bay, expected to work daylight to dark to earn their meals.
The men had to pull up the metal dredges from the seabed, haul them onto the deck, sort the live oysters from shells and rocks, then throw the dredges back over the side for 12 hours a day. Ben tried to tell his kidnappers that his father was a lawyer and would pay a ransom for his return, but Plum and Hawk just laughed at him, keeping him below decks when other ships came near.
Surely the Ella Dawn would have to return to Baltimore to unload their catch? No, the buy boats came to them, the supply ships came to them, and the oyster fleet would stay out from September to April, through the bitter Atlantic coast winter.
At night, Ben reads Tom Sawyer aloud to keep up his crewmates’ spirits as the cold, wet, brutal work takes its toll. And their pay for months of hard work in dangerous conditions? Perhaps they’ll keep their lives. Captain Steele’s cruelty to his crew is legendary, and murder at sea is an easy way to get rid of oystermen who are no longer useful… 176 pages
Recommended by: Katy Manck, Librarian-at-Large (retired academic/corporate/school librarian), Gilmer, Texas, USA