Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The "New Sailor's Home"

Harry and Annie Lynch, a Couple of the Portland Waterfront's Obscure (and Comparatively Gentle) Crimps

From the 1882 Portland Directory

 Not everyone in the business of shipping sailors operated in a nefarious manner. When Jim Turk stopped using the name “Sailor’s Home,” H. J. Lynch, the hosteller who operated the old Keystone House on Front Street decided to enter the sailor’s boardinghouse business, changing the name of his establishment to “The New Sailor’s Home.” Harry Lynch was a well-liked, amiable fellow who was one of the fortunate males of the area—he had a woman. A woman didn’t have to be a beauty to be desirable in the far west, when they were greatly outnumbered by men, but judging from the commotion she caused, Annie must have been of somewhat above average looks.

Harry and Annie managed to stay in business for over twenty years without ever bringing the wrath of the law down on them for shanghaiing, or any other illegal activity connected with sailors. They were, however, connected with some disturbing incidents of violence.

Illustration by author, based on an 1889 Sanborn Map

In the summer of 1879 he was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon against a longshoreman named Tom Watts. Since the fellow had been making inappropriate suggestions to Annie, Harry’s action was seen as reasonable, and the charges dropped.  One dark evening six months later Harry was hit from behind with a metal bar, nearly killing him. He had no proof, but most people thought that Tom Watts had attempted to murder Harry. 

The feud between the two men was described as being caused by Watts having “too close an intimacy with Lynch’s wife.” There is no way to determine what these words mean, but it was most likely not adultery, which was then a crime punishable by a $100 fine and possible imprisonment. 

Things took a tragic turn in July, 1880, at 2 o’ clock in the afternoon, as Harry Lynch drove his wagon down 5th Street in East Portland, on his way to his ranch in Stevens Addition. As he passed L Street Tom Watts spotted him and came running up alongside the wagon, grabbing hold of the sideboard to climb on. Harry, still weak from the assault months earlier, cried out, 

“If you do not leave me alone, I will blow the top of your head off!” 

To which Watts retorted: 

“Blow away!”

Harry Lynch whipped the horses and set off at a fast pace, turning up L Street and circling back on 4th. All this while Watts, an athletic man in his early thirties, managed to keep pace. Lynch pulled his revolver from his pocket, a five shot English Bulldog with No. 45 shells, holding it in readiness. In an attempt to lose Watts Lynch circled back to 5th Street again, whipping the horses for what they were worth. By this time Watts managed to get his hold on the back of the wagon and was about to pull himself in when Lynch fired the revolver. The ball had merely grazed Watts hand, stunning him for a moment. Then he lurched forward, intent on boarding the wagon. Lynch fired again. The ball ripped through Watts side and he staggered, falling in the dust of the street.

.450 5 shot English Bulldog c. 1870 Wikipedia, This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Lynch drove the wagon forward, pulling up alongside Humbolt Brewery, where he tied his horses, before returning to the scene to await the arrival of the sheriff.

Once more Harry Lynch was exonerated, but trouble came again two weeks later.

At half past nine in the evening Alex Mattieson, an oversized giant of a longshoreman, staggered into the police headquarters and demanded to be allowed to swear out a warrant for the arrest of Annie Lynch, by whom he had recently been stabbed in the gut. Mattieson reeked of alcohol and was in a slurring state of drunkenness. He raised his shirt to display a small wound above his navel that bled slightly. The officers had Mattieson lie down until a physician could be called. On doing so he began to vomit large quantities of blood. When the physician arrived his examination showed that Mattieson had received a deep stab wound to the stomach making it unlikely that he would last through the night.

Officers were dispatched to arrest Annie Lynch, whose story was straightforward. Mattieson was a troublesome tenant in their boardinghouse. It was his habit to become frightfully drunk, which had the effect of rendering him equally frightfully amorous. That evening he had forced his way into Annie’s room on two occasions, each time attempting to fondle her, all the while making suggestions of a sexual nature. The second time Annie had warned him that if he returned she would “cut his guts out.” True to her word, when Mattieson came in a third time Annie took a dagger with a six inch blade and thrust it deep into his abdomen. She claimed it was self defense, though no one else had witnessed the event, and Mattieson was too drunk to recall anything at all.

By some miracle of unmerited favor, Mattieson not only made it through the night, but made a full recovery. The charges were resolved in Mrs. Lynch’s favor, and all would be well for a season.
There was one incident in 1886 where Harry Lynch was charged with stealing two sailor’s trunks of cloths. The “theft” turned out to be sailors trying to skip out on a bill, and Harry keeping the clothes until it was paid.

There was however,  yet another killing at the Harry and Annie’s boardinghouse. An East London thug called “Cockney” George had taken up residence there, to the grief of some of the other guests. “Cockney” George was low, threatening fellow, brimming over with insults when sober, and murderous threats when drunk. One evening he was shot and killed in a row with another guest. The killing lay somewhere between manslaughter and self defense, so when the killer was found guilty by a jury, the judge handed down the minimum sentence of three years.

Derived from the Morning Oregonian, 05-13-1902; Page: 14

The story of Harry and Annie Lynch shows that it was possible to exist in the same business as Jim Turk and later on, the Sullivan “combination” without running into trouble, either with the law, or the crimps. There was, however, a time when Jim Turk was reported to have knocked Harry’s teeth out, but that was over divergent politics, not sailors. The violence that Harry and Annie Lynch experienced over the years is a glimpse into the reality that, in spite of all its quiet, New England pretentions, Portland was still a part of the wild west.

Derived from the Morning Oregonian, 05-13-1902; Page: 14

I have collected a good deal of biographical information on the sailor's boardinghouse "masters," so-called, "shipping masters," "crimps," "land sharks," "runners," etc. It will not all fit into the book I am writing--a biographical history called "The Oregon Shanghaiers: Columbia River Crimps From Portland to Astoria." The book is scheduled to be published by History Press early spring, 2014. A book on this subject could have reached encyclopedic proportions. Fortunately, there is a maximum word limit, which will keep me to the straight and narrow. It is my hope that this book will serve to throw some light on a subject that has been cast in shadows for about a century.

This blog will receive the odd item (such as this article) saved from the winnowed dross blown off of the pages of the aforementioned book.

Barney Blalock November 13, 2013