FREEPORT, N.S.: Excuses of poor weather, protests about extenuating circumstances, and arguments over who would bear the burden of the shipwreck costs, were all carefully noted in an official ledger by the Receiver of Wrecks, appointed by the government of the day, and called on to compile the firsthand accounts of shipwrecks from the surviving captains.
A collection of those fascinating accounts can now be discovered in the newly published book, The Shipwreck Ledger of Benjamin H. Ruggles 1867 to 1929, an ambitious project undertaken by the 10-member Brier and Long Islands Historical Society, and several very dedicated volunteers.
The stories of more than 60 shipwrecks, the types of boats lost or damaged, and even newly created maps marking the places those ships received their injuries or mortal wounds can all be discovered in the book’s 307 pages.
The original ledger was donated to the historical society in 2012 by Bertha Ruggles, widow of Robert Ruggles, who was the great-grandson of Benjamin H. Ruggles. Bertha is also a member of the historical society. Dorothy Outhouse, the society’s volunteer archivist and treasurer, and one of the compilers of information and indexes during the book’s creation, said that the book was donated with a request.
“When Bertha first brought the it in, she passed us the book but then said, ‘I think you should have this, but I think something needs to be done with it. It shouldn’t just sit on a shelf.”
The society’s members took that message to heart and it was soon decided that the book would be transcribed into a digital version. But who could take that enormous role on? Enter volunteers Rodney and Leta Stark. Outhouse said Stark has a passion for research, a passion for art – one of his paintings graces the book’s cover, but that he also had an interesting connection to the original ledger. Rodney had worked with Robert Ruggles many years before, and he remembered Robert bringing the ledger into work with him so the two of them could pore over its pages on their breaks.
When he heard that the society wanted the book recreated, Stark jumped in with both feet. In the end, Stark and his wife photographed each page, deciphered the difficult handwriting and then typed up their notes into a digital copy. Stark also researched the history of the ships and created a detailed map that pinpoints the numbered locations of the shipwrecks and matches those locations on a legend with the ship’s names. That stage of development alone took 18 months and more than 3,000 volunteer hours from the Starks.
But as Outhouse has quickly discovered, the book’s immediate popularity has justified all of the hours and sweat poured into its creation.
Outhouse said readers of the book will discover that Benjamin H. Ruggles was a Notary Public and the Receiver of Wrecks from 1867 to the time of his death in 1898, and in his role, he recorded accounts of the wrecks off the coasts of Brier Island and Long Island and at the end of Digby Neck. From 1898 to 1927, Ruggles’ two sons, Edwin and St. Clair picked up the torch and continued on as Notaries Public and as Receivers of Wrecks, and so the family story and the historical accounts of the wrecks in the ledger was continued.
The book launch was held on Dec. 16 in Freeport, with the original 60 copies printed already sold out. Of it’s second printing of 50 books, 45 have now been sold, and Outhouse said the book orders keep coming – from across the province and as far away as BC. With its third print run underway, The Shipwreck Ledger of Benjamin H. Ruggles 1867 to 1929, is available to order from the Brier and Long Islands Historical Society for $35 by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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