9.14.2010

Who Was Donald Barr Chidsey?


"Swashbuckling Adventure and Fiery Romance"
 Six or seven years ago I stopped at a library book sale in Bay City, Michigan and found Captain Adam by Donald Barr Chidsey. The pulpy cover stood out amongst the decades-old zoning ordinance books and worn Good Housekeeping magazines. Bemused and intrigued, I flipped to the blurb (scan of it here):
Adam Long was an indentured servant, but before he was twenty-five he had won his way to the top of the heap over mutineers, pirates, the merchants of Newport and the noblemen of London. He was the son of the Earl
of Tillinghast, and so of noble blood-according to rumor. When he was twenty-two he won his "freedom suit” and was elected captain of the trim, wonderfully fast schooner Goodwill to Men which he had helped to build in the shipyards of Queen Anne’s bustling Rhode Island colony.

Captain Adam could have married Deborah Selden, but he had other things to do. He had to prove himself, he had to make his fortune, and he had to solve the mystery of his birth.

In those days the seas were catch-as-catch-can and rip-roaring with many other hazards besides the wind and the weather. Adam’s little vessel had to run the gauntlet of smugglers, coasters, pirates and men-o’-war in the dangerous waters of "Scaredy-Cat Sea,” off Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas.

Real trouble started when Adam acquired a passenger--Lady Maisie Treadway of London, red-haired, beautiful, young and very feminine. Then things happened in turbulent succession. Adam’s quest led him through amazing adventures, eventually to London and to the greatest surprise of his life.

Pretty much exactly what I expected: stormy seas, sexy sirens, swashbuckling and swords. When I turned it over I found a much more interesting story (scan here):
There is a handsome, middle-aged gentleman who lives quietly with his wife in Lyme, Connecticut. He is a Justice of the Peace, and is active in the local P.T.A., Boy Scout movement, concert association, and Church.

It was not always thus.

Donald Barr Chidsey has covered a good part of the earth in tramp steamers or tramp schooners, pearl shell boats or copra boats, or private yachts. He owned a plantation in the Punaauia district of [Tahiti,] visited or lived in most of the South Sea Islands: the Society Islands, American and Western Samoa, the Australs, the Cooks, the Fiji Islands, the Gambiers, the Tuamotus, New Guinea, Papua, New Caledonia, the New Hebrides, and many others; Central and South America, China, Indo-China, Japan, Malaya, the Near East.

Mr. Chidsey has been a newspaperman, Broadway actor, farmer, road gang foreman, mountaineer, bartender, boxer, and fencer with foil, epee, saber, schlaeger and broadsword. He was an ambulance driver with the British 8th Army in North Africa, has served also with the 9th Army in Syria, the New Zealanders, the United States army, the Free French in Tunisia, and the 51st Highland Division. Throughout his own adventures, he has always been a writer. Many previous works include the bestselling novels Panama Passage and Stronghold.

These days, Mr. Chidsey hardly ever dreams of returning to the South Seas. He likes it in Connecticut. However, he has a new hobby, stunt flying...

Here was the book I wanted to read, not the Adventures of Adam, but the Chidsey Capers. A man who had served in the armed forces of four countries, a swordsman and boxer, a character bigger than fiction. The archetype of manliness.

I wanted to know more, so, like anyone else with an internet connection, I went to Wikipedia.
whoops


Nothing.

This has happened to me before, and I couldn't even really blame Wikipedia (wikigroaning aside); the list of requested author articles is interminable, even without Chidsey. And I don't even know how to add an entry; besides not wanting do maneuver through all the rules and politics of that site, the only information I have about the guy are his own dust jacket and an obituary published just after The New York Times "pay to access" archive cutoff:

March 26, 1981

Donald Barr Chidsey, Biographer And Historian of the Revolution


Donald Barr Chidsey, a biographer and author of many books dealing with the American Revolution, died March 17 at Lawrence Memorial Hospital in New London, Conn. He was 78 years old and lived in Lyme, Conn.

Mr. Chidsey started his writing career when he was about 17 years old on The Elizabeth (N.J.) Daily Journal, his hometown paper. He eventually wrote 50 books including novels.

Among his books on the Revolution was ''Valley Forge,'' ''Victory at Yorktown,'' and ''The Loyalists: The Story of Those Americans Who Fought Against Independence.'' His biographies included ''Marlborough, The Portrait of a Conqueror,'' ''Bonnie Prince Charlie'' and ''John the Great,'' the life of John L. Sullivan, the American boxer.

He is survived by a brother, G. Alan Chidsey of Port Washington, L.I.

Googling and Binging(?) return few results, often tied to one of his nonfiction books as a recommended read for historical background on this or that topic (e.g. Islam after 9/11). I cannot find his name tied to Broadway in any aspect, although I doubt many records have been digitized for supporting actors for Broadway plays pre-WWII. For such a prolific historian and biographer, he seems to have not deigned to pen his own story.

My only other option is to go sail the South Seas myself, maybe interrogate an aged Maori warrior or look for a Chidsian profile amongst the impassive stone heads of Easter Island.

Adventure awaits.

4 comments:

minard said...

Sounds like he got to be too good for the tramp shell boats and tramp yachts and lost touch with his tramp fanbase.

Ashley said...

Hi, I'm a Chinese college student. My teacher assigned me to do a 5 mins' presentation about Donal Barr Chidsey. Dismayingly, I got the same result you mentioned. To be honest, I was not interested in him at all. Wherever, reading the few words about him, my interest grows and I was wondering why nobody wrote a biography about Chidsey since he was so prolific. Or, there is one and I can not find it. Anyway, I'm still looking forward to knowing more about him. Hope you got some and share with me.

Jeremiah Britt said...

Unfortunately, no. I emailed the Town of Lyme's selectman and tried to contact what passes for their historical society, but never heard back. If you find anything either, I'd appreciate you letting me know.

What possessed your professor to assign him as a topic?

Hobie said...

His brother Glen Alan Chidsey apparently wrote a book on the genealogy of the Chidsey family. His wanderlust might have been the cause of his divorce from his first two wives although the second was quite the traveler as well. A number of the passenger/crew lists showing him are available. I'm trying to figure it all out now. He is my 5th cousin 2X removed and fellow descendent of both Amos Richardson and veteran of King Philip's War, Abraham Jacquith II.