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FREEPORT — Thanks in part to a grant from the Maine Humanities Council, the Freeport Historical Society hopes to bring to life the songs, stories and memoirs of the sailors and captains who traveled on a 19th century cargo ship in a five-month program called “Lessons from the Tam O’Shanter.”
Christina White, executive director of the society, said the grant will help fund programs that will answer questions about “Tam O’Shanter,” the original oil painting purchased from the Childs Gallery in Boston last year.
The painting, created by Pun Woo, a Hong Kong artist in the 1880s, came out of a private Massachusetts family collection where it was kept since the 1950s.
The Tam O’Shanter was built by Enos Chandler Soule at the Soule Brothers shipyard in South Freeport. It was a cargo vessel that traveled to places as far as San Francisco, Bombay and Hong Kong. The ship was lost in the Gaspar Straits in the China Sea in 1899.
White said since the painting was hung at the society, people have asked questions about the ship captain and crew, the food on board, and the length of the sailors’ travels.
“We realized we needed to offer programs to answer the questions posed,” White said. “These programs will touch on different aspects of the sailors lives at sea.”
She said the presentations will take place in different locations in town and will hopefully attract curious community members.
The $4,000 grant, in part funded by the Humanities Council, will provide five public programs and an exhibit.
The first presentation, “We Go ‘Round Cape Horn – Sea Songs and Shanties Belonging to Maine,” is an educational music discussion by musicians Bob Webb and Dave Peloquin. It will take place at the First Parish Church on Sunday, Jan. 25, at 2 p.m.
Webb, a maritime historian and previous curator at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, has been presenting the music of seafarers, loggers and railroaders for four decades.
He said the traditional sea music of the time of the Tam O’Shanter, from 1875 to 1900, included work songs called shanties, and popular songs of the time called forebitters, or main-hatch songs.
The forebitters were sung from 6 to 8 p.m. when the sailors had free time, and the shanties were used to coordinate the sailors’ movements so they could move heavy gear and work together in a timely and efficient manner.
Webb said he and Peloquin will mostly present shanties at the workshop and will sing most of the songs as the men on ships sang them, with no instruments.
“The whole reason we struggle to keep this music and the tradition alive is because it forms a community,” Webb said. “This is the best way to get strangers together and form a group of friends in a short amount of time.”
The presentation will take about an hour and refreshments will be served after the program.
In February, there will be a program on maritime food on the high seas, and in April there will be dramatic readings and a theatrical presentation on the life of a deep-water sailor.
Starting Tuesday, Jan. 27, there will be a corresponding exhibit at the historical society at 45 Main St. It will include sailor and captain clothing, tools and games used by seamen, documents, photos and mementos brought back from exotic ports.
The exhibit will continue through May 17.
For more information, contact the Freeport Historical Society at 865-3170.