Marco Polo Project Saint John New Brunswick

Family letter provides insights into Marco Polo history

Ruby Cusack-Family History
Telegraph Journal
Jan 13/03

    Before Christmas Mum had spent many evenings with her fountain pen in hand, writing notes to place inside the Christmas cards. Now that January was here, she was spending a lot of time answering the notes she received and giv ing details of the doings of family members.
    If it had not been for my friend, the late Vivian Wright, I would not have known about a letter that is in the Archives and Research Library of the New Brunswick Museum that was written in January of 1908 by James T. Smith from Tracey Mills, Carleton County, to his son, James Mitchell Smith, giving family information on his father James Smith, who built the famous Marco Polo ship at Marsh Creek, Saint John and his ancestors involvement with the Napoleonic wars and where the -family had its beginnings. Later it goes into the trials and tribulations of the shipbuilding business in Saint John.
   He commenced the letter with the following words, "To my dear son, James M. Almost every boy or man, at some period of his life, desires to know something about who or what his ancestors were. And as I do not know of any one living who can give you any more information about my ancestors than I can, limited as it may be. I am now nearing the fourscore years of my pilgrimage and as my time cannot be certain very much longer, felt impressed that I should leave some record behind me that you may read when you become old enough to feel interested, should God spare you, as you are too young at present to understand what I might tell you."
   James Smith became a good axe man, working in the woods, felling white pine in the woods above Grand Falls. Later he came to Saint John to work in the shipyards. By industry, sobriety and close attention soon acquired the art of master ship builder. He later had his own shipyard, which was destroyed by fire and from which the business never recovered.
   In the 1980s, Vivian Wright and Joan Pearce were co-chairs of a historical research subcommittee of the Marco Polo project with 27 volunteers under their wings. Vivian became very involved in researching the life of James and Margaret (McMorran) Smith and identified their children as Margaret, James Thomas, Charlotte, Matilda Jane, Elizabeth, Robert and Samuel.

• Margaret married Samuel Parks in 1849 and died 1857 and is buried in Fernhill Cemetery, Saint John.

• James Thomas - the fellow who wrote the letter - married Jane Eaton in 1853. His death was reported in the 9 August 1911 issue of the Woodstock Dispatch. The 1871 Census showed two sons, Sydney Smith age 16 and A.A. E. Smith age 14 (Probably named for his maternal grandfather, Aaron A. Eaton). No other information could be found on them or any surviving siblings. James T. Smith's second wife was Isabella Mitchell, and they had a son, James Mitchell Smith, who was born 25 August 1906.

• Charlotte married John Albert Venning, a merchant in 1851. They lived at 45 Orange Street, Saint John in 1871, at Queen Square North in the 1894-95 City Directory, and they later moved to Sheffield, Sunbury County. In 1945 a portrait of James Smith, builder of the Marco Polo, was given to the New Brunswick Museum from the estate of his grandson, Harry LeB. Venning through Mr. Vennings sister, Mrs. R. W. Gilbert, RR #1, Maugerville, N. B.

• Matilda Jane in 1854 married James L. Dunn of the firm McMorran & Dunn.

• Elizabeth died at age 20 in 1861. The funeral was held from her parents country residence at Bay Shore.

• Robert and Samuel are listed in the 1871 Census of Woodstock Parish, Carleton County.

   The information that was found by Vivian Wright on the family of James Smith has been placed on the Web site of the Saint John Branch of the New Brunswick Genealogical Society at
   Esther Clark Wright's book Saint John Ships and Their Builders gives information on the Smith Shipyard.
   Some very interesting information on the Marco Polo can be found on the Internet at: http://new or
   Joan Pearce would like to document any connections to the Marco Polo, whether it be through relationship to the Smith Family or through the people who were involved in building and sailing the ship or the descendants of the folk who sailed as, passengers to the Gold Fields of Australia and other places. Any and all information would be appreciated. You can contact her at 352 Pelton Road, Saint John, E2K 5117 or by email
    I hope many of our readers will put pen to paper and record some family history for those who come after. It actually might be a good task for the first month of the new year.

Researcher seeks details on those connected to Marco Polo

Sandra Devlin - Missing Links
Telegraph Journal
Jan 14/03

   Like many a genealogy buff, 30-year veteran researcher Joan Pearce is every once in a while bowled over when she happens across some of her filed-away research. Just such a jolt was in store for her late last fall, when she had occasion to dig out the Marco Polo research with which she was involved more than a decade ago.
   "While looking at the file, I realized just how much work the committee had done. I thought that with the Internet and much more accessibility to material, perhaps there might be people . who are related to people who served on the ship and/or might have time to do some work so that we could find some living family members."
   Pearce resurrected her research, posted it on-line at, and issues this challenge to fellow members of the New Brunswick Genealogical Society Inc.
   "If any of the members have information about people connected in some way to the Marco Polo, I would be interested in hearing from you."
    As every New Brunswicker knows, the Saint John-built Marco Polo was dubbed the world's fastest sailing ship in 1852 when she circumnavigated the globe in a record-breaking five months and 24 days.
   The wooden tall-sail Marco Polo was launched on April 17, 1851 from the shipyard of James Smith at Marsh Creek. She sunk off the shores of Prince Edward Island on July 25, 1883.
   Yet, for all that is known about the famed Marco Polo, there remain questions that relate to provincial genealogies, says Pearce.
   "There are conflicting reports on how long the Marco polo was stuck in the mud on her launch. There is a report that says that the launching was attended by the town notables and their wives. Yet, we couldn't find any proof of this and would like to know precisely who these town notables were.
    "Who christened the ship?
   "And, it is said that schools were closed for the launching. We could not find a primary source for this statement."
   The committee was keen on finding genealogical information on the builder/owners, the first crew, any crew members at any time and any passengers from any of the trips the Marco Polo made, she adds.
   Pearce thinks a genealogical collection of information about the people from all over New Brunswick connected to the famed Marco Polo should be continued.
   She can be contacted by e-mail:

    YOUR RELATIVES? - Visit The Waldren Collection, Canada's Digital Image collection on-line. Click on familiar Maritime geographic place names in the browse menu to find hundreds of portraits taken between 1870 and 1940 - most identified by name. The award-winning Missing Links is published in the Telegraph-Journal every Saturday. Send surname queries and notices to Sandra Devlin, 81 Weston St., Moncton, N.B., EIA 7B8; e-mail: Queries for publication are limited to 35 words plus forwarding address. Responses to individual searchers should be sent directly to them.