April 16--"They spoke to me in the English language, and informed me that they were born on the island, and their father was an Englishman, who had sailed with Capt. Bligh."

And with those words, penned by Massillon's Mayhew Folger in a letter to the Lords Admiralty in London more than 200 years ago, the erstwhile ship captain explained just how quickly he found out that he had learned the fate of the crew that inspired the seafaring lore surrounding what has become known in books and films simply as "The Mutiny on the Bounty."

"In February 1808 I landed on Pitcairn Island ... west from Greenwich," Folger wrote on March 1, 1813, just before leaving the East Coast to travel to Stark County with his wife, Mary Joy.

"My principal object was to procure seal skins for the China market; and from the account given of the island in Capt. Carteret's voyage, I supposed it (Pitcairn Island) was uninhabited; but on approaching the shore in my boat, I was met by three young men in a double canoe, with a present consisting of some fruit and a hog," continued Folger, who was based out of Nantucket early in the 19th century. "After discoursing with them a short time, I landed with them, and found an Englishman of the name of Alexander Smith, who informed me he was one of the Bounty's crew."

Story told

Folger's letter was reprinted by historian Edward Thorton Heald in Volume IV of his multi-volume history text, "The Stark County Story." The tale of Stark County's close ties to both an historical event and a pop culture phenomenon is retold in Section 10 -- "Unusual Persons" -- of the book, under the title "Capt. Mayhew Folger and the Mutiny on the Bounty." The slice of history was broadcast on radio station WHBC on July 30 and July 7 in 1958.

"Ever since Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall published their three books -- "Pitcairn Island" in 1934 and "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "Men Against the Sea" in 1935 -- public interest in this romance of the seas has been growing," Heald wrote.

"This interest has been fanned to greater heights by the movies and TV. In the movies, Charles Laughton took the part of Captain Bligh of the Bounty and Clark Gable was Fletcher Christian, ring leader of the mutineers. The National Geographic Magazine for December 1957 had a graphic story of Pitcairn Island and the Bounty, illustrated by colored pictures. They showed skin divers recovering parts of the Bounty.

"But while the general public has become familiar with the story of Pitcairn, the Bounty and the mutiny, it is only recently that Massillon's connection with the romance through Mayhew Folger, discoverer of the survivors of the mutineers on Pitcairn Island, has received widespread recognition and attention."

Folger recalled

Locally, Mayhew Folger is remembered for work in the community that was far different from the adventure he found at sea. A profile of Folger written by Helen Henley is published at the website for Massillon Museum. It is based on research done in 1962 by Edwina Pratt.

"In the year 1813 Captain Mayhew Folger with his wife Mary left Nantucket and moved to Kendal for she had insisted that he leave the seven seas he had sailed searching for seals and whales," notes the museum's profile. "He picked Kendal to settle in not only because his friends were there but it was far away from the salt water he loved so much. Many of his seafaring friends from Nantucket, Massachusetts, had also settled here.

"He sold 1,000 acres at $4.25 an acre in the 'Plains' between Massillon and Navarre; when the canal was put through in Massillon, Ohio (just a few miles southwest of Kendal) he was one of the first purchasers of lots; he became the Massillon's first postmaster; he operated the Commercial Inn at the northeast corner of Main and Erie Streets. Mayhew Folger was also a participant in the Underground Railroad."

The "friends" of Folger referred to by Henley were Quakers Thomas and Charity Rotch. Thomas Rotch was the landowner and sheep farmer who founded and named the town of Kendal, which later became a part of Massillon. The friendship of the Rotches contributed greatly to the happiness that Folger -- and a number of other sea captains who came to Stark County -- found far inland from the sea.

"Successful, happy and comfortable in Kendal," wrote Henley in the Massillon Museum profile, "enjoying the company of other retired sea captains, the Rotches, and the thrill of living in this raw and booming country, Captain Folger hardly missed the excitement of his seafaring life, of fighting off cannibals and pirates, of piloting his ship through hurricanes, and of sailing his vessel through uncharted waters."

Story spread

Still, it was Folger's connection to the story of the mutiny on the Bounty that most captivated his Massillon area friends and neighbors.

Heald noted in his historical account that "during the last 15 years of his life Mayhew Folger found willing listeners in Massillon to his thrilling stories of voyages on the Seven Seas."

As might be imagined, Folger's wife became well-versed in the details of the tale of Mayhew Folger's visit to Pitcairn Island, a story which 30 years after her husband's death in 1828 she retold in a letter to her friend Mary Rappee. The letter later was donated to Massillon Museum.

In the missive, Mary Joy Folger wrote about how one of the three young men who met her husband in a boat off the shore of Pitcairn Island asked, "Did you ever know Capt. Bligh?"

"On hearing that name mentioned, my husband remembered to have read an account when he was a boy of the ship Bounty, which was fitted out by the British government to take breadfruit from one island to another in the Pacific," wrote Mrs. Folger, retelling the tale of how in 1789 in the south Pacific the Bounty's crew took over control of Bligh's ship. "When the crew got the breadfruit on board, they ... put Capt. Bligh and his officers in one of the ship's boats and set them adrift. The mutineers then went with the ship to Otaheite (Tahiti) where all but six remained. The others having taken wives and servants from the native females, went again on board the Bounty and put out to sea in search of some safe retreat, and at length settled on Pitcairn Island."

The crew members reportedly sunk their ship to help avoid their presence on the island from being discovered.

Folger's widow recalled in her letter how "jealousies" between the newcomers and native males cause "quarrels" that escalated to the murdering of all the Bounty crew by their servants, except for "the one my husband found there, whose name was Alexander Smith."

"The widows (of the crew) then arose and killed all the servants, which left Smith with the widows and children of six men," wrote Mrs. Folger. "He, too, was wounded, but his life was spared, and he was instrumental in doing much good, as the children under his care were trained to habits of industry and virtue.

"His first wife deceased, he married one of the widows. ... Smith said he took no part in the mutiny and he felt that he was a much better man than if he had kept in the British Navy."

The aftermath

Her letter noted that "the English government ... took back those of the mutineers that remained at Otaheite (Tahiti) and hung them."

Smith's information -- passed on by Folger with evidence provided by the chronometer and compass from the Bounty that had been given to the sea captain by Smith -- helped bring the Bounty crew to justice. The English spared the life of the sole survivor. They even helped support the existence of Smith and his adopted clan by supplying them with equipment to farm their land on Pitcairn Island.

"The English government hearing of their wants sent them all they required in that line," Folger's window wrote, explaining how the descendants of the mutineers continued for years to remember Folger as the man who was responsible for their good fortune.

Indeed, Folger could be considered the conduit for a wealth of historical information uncovered by his discovery on Pitcairn Island 210 years ago. And that discovery subsequently caused a significant amount of popular culture to grow up around a single chaotic event that occurred at sea.

"The fate of the Bounty and crew was entirely unknown, until my husband found them at Pitcairn Island."

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