|Beached whales on Cape Cod, 1902.|
|Yarmouth, MA, with Mill Creek in the center just above the bay.|
On January 7, 1690, at Yarmouth, a drift whale was beached against a pasture fence belonging to James and Thomas Clark. It seems that Samuel Rider and William Harlow Jr. broke the law by taking the blubber and whalebone from that drift whale for themselves. The next day, January 8, they were charged with the crime. The blubber and whalebone were confiscated by Constable William Shurtlef, and the accused were directed to appear before the County Court at Plymouth.
One of the two accused men, William Harlow Jr. (1657-1711), was a first cousin of the John Rider who was in charge of disposing of drift whales at Yarmouth. William Harlow Jr.’s mother Rebecca Bartlett Harlow (bef 1634-1664) and John Rider’s mother Sarah Bartlett Rider (abt 1636-bef 1680) were sisters. They were also granddaughters of Mayflower passenger Richard Warren (abt 1580-1628). William Harlow Jr. isn’t related to me by blood, only connected by marriage, but the whole story of this drift whale crime was certainly a family affair.
The exact identity of the other accused man, Samuel Rider, is harder to determine. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there were Samuels in every generation and branch of the Rider family. Most of them were still children during the drift whale incident or born afterward. But there are three reasonable possibilities for this Samuel Rider.
|Grave of Samuel Rider (1632-1715), Burial Hill, Plymouth, MA.|
Another Samuel Rider to consider was John Rider’s brother. This Samuel was born in 1657, but controversy surrounds his history. Some say he died young. If he did, then he can’t be the Samuel Rider of the drift whale story. Others say he’s been conflated with his father, the Samuel Rider of the previous paragraph and that he died in 1715, well past the age of thirty-two, which is how old he would need to have been to fill the role of the drift whale Samuel Rider, so he's a possibility. If he was that Samuel, why did he break the law his brother had the job of enforcing? Sibling rivalry? This Samuel Rider was my first cousin nine times removed.
The only other Samuel Rider who seems possible was a first cousin of John Rider. Their fathers were brothers. Samuel’s father was another John Rider (1636-1705). I don’t know the birth or death dates of this Samuel Rider, but extrapolating from a couple of his siblings’ dates, this Samuel may have been born sometime around the 1660s. If so, he would have been reasonably close to the age of William Harlow Jr. who was thirty-two when he and Samuel were charged with pillaging the drift whale. I like this Samuel as the best possibility for Samuel Rider, drift whale pillager. He was, like the previous Samuel, my first cousin nine times removed.
William Harlow Jr.’s father was Sergeant William Harlow Sr. (abt 1624-1691), whose house still stands in Plymouth, Massachusetts, although now it’s a museum. The elder Harlow had a problem related to this charge against his son. William Harlow Sr. was one of the Selectmen of the town of Plymouth and sat on the County Court. He couldn’t sit in judgement against his son. So on March 19, 1690, he appointed Ephraim Morton Sr. as his attorney to appear in his stead in court.
The next day, Monday, March 20, 1690, John Rider testified in court to give the location of the drift whale’s beaching. He said nothing concerning the accused men, both of them members of his family.
The following day, Tuesday, March 21, 1690, Samuel Rider and William Harlow Jr. were tried in the County Court of Plymouth for their illegal appropriation of a drift whale. Judgment was found against them and they were fined the cost of the suit—twenty-seven shillings and sixpence.
By the mid-eighteenth century the local Cape Cod whaling industry had declined. The whale population had been so thinned by whalers that to this day it hasn’t recovered. Disputes over drift whales declined proportionately. I suppose crimes concerning drift whales declined, too.