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Watson and the Shark…and Amherst

This painting by John Singleton Copley hangs today in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., one of the most prestigious art galleries in the world. And it has an Amherst connection!  

Just another surprising fact that most don’t know about this amazing town we call home.
The naked man in the painting is Brook Watson. He’s in Havana harbor at age 14 and the shark in the bottom right is about to bite off his leg. He survived but sported a wooden leg thereafter.
Read on.
Brook Watson (1735-1807) was born in Devon, England and orphaned at age 6. Relatives sent him to his uncle in Boston and by age 14, his uncle had sent him to sea on one of his merchant ships. And what young boy in a tropical port wouldn’t go swimming?
When Brook returned to Boston in 1750, he discovered his uncle was bankrupt, but a man who had boarded in his uncle’s house, Captain John Huston, a soldier and land owner from near Fort Lawrence, took him under his wing and invited him to sail home with him on his merchant ship. There Huston saw to it that Watson learned bookkeeping and record keeping. Soon Watson came to the notice of Captian Robert Monckton who made him the commissary during the action that saw Fort Beausejour yield to the British.
In 1758, Watson oversaw the expulsion of Acadians from Baie Verte area and was commissary under General James Wolfe at the Siege of Louisbourg.
By 1759, he was in London, England furthering his career, by engaging in business in Montreal, London, and Boston. In 1763, seeing the promise in owning land at the head of the Bay of Fundy, he applied for and got land in the newly formed County of Cumberland. An early map shows some of that land in sight of Fort Lawrence, running parallel with the head of the Bay of Fundy right beside a similar sized piece owned by Captain John Huston, his old mentor.
From 1772 on, he often combined business and political interests so that he rose quickly to great importance. He served ten years as Chairman of the Corporation of Lloyds of London. He travelled back and forth to North America often, and on one trip just prior to the American Revolution, he accompanied the American prisoner Ethan Allen on his voyage from Canada to England.
Brook Watson used his considerable talents and soon became an Alderman for the City of London, and then Member of Parliament (1874-1793). As well, he was Sheriff of London and Middlesex in 1785 …and finally he served two terms as Lord Mayor of London, Commissary-General of England and a Director of the Bank of England. In his last years, he was made a baronet.
Did you know….the Facebook Group, Abandoned Cumberland shares excellent photos and conversations about abandoned buildings in Cumberland County.

Leslie Childs is a member of the Amherst News Community Editorial Panel.

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