Culrose McLaughlin (centre) aboard the schooner Venture. (From “Adventures of the Venture” by C.H.J. Snider, 1923)
Black Yachting History – Capt. Culrose McLaughlin & Aemilius Jarvis
By Ashley Newall
I write a local history column for Ottawa’s Apartment613, but I cut my teeth in Canadian historical research studying Toronto history, and specifically one Aemilius Jarvis, who hailed from my hometown of Aurora, ON.
Through that research, I stumbled across a previously unknown character in Black yachting history. I’ve just published a story on the subject for Black History Month, in Skuttlebutt Sailing News. The following is a summation with added details about the man himself, Captain McLaughlin.
Aemilius Jarvis (1860-1940) was a champion sailor, and famous in his day, however his story has been lost to history due to a wrongful conviction in the political 1924 Ontario Bond Scandal
In 1921, he hired a Caymanian sailor named Culrose McLaughlin (1896-1992) to crew on his Herreschoff schooner “Haswell,” then moored in Kingston, Jamaica, for the trip back to Canada. Culrose subsequently sailed out of Toronto’s Royal Canadian Yacht Club for the next several years, until Jarvis had to sell his yacht to help pay a huge fine stemming from his conviction. Captain McLaughlin then went on to a spectacular career in the U.S., captaining yachts for the rich and powerful in the New York’s Nassau County (reportedly including J.P. Morgan Jr.), and then serving in the U.S. Merchant Marine during WWII and the Korean War, ultimately rising to the level of Ship’s Captain in the service by the early 1950s.
Haswell off Royal Jamaica Yacht Club, Kingston. (From “5,000 Miles in a 27-Tonner” by Aemilius Jarvis, 1921)
(According to his obituary, Culrose also reportedly served as a merchant mariner in WWI. If true, then it most likely would’ve been in the British merchant marine, as was the case for many mariners of colour from the Caribbean.)
McLaughlin, nicknamed “Mack,” encouraged by Aemilius, earned his Master Mariner papers, and was ultimately licensed to captain any sized ship other than an oil tanker. Needless to say, it takes tremendous skill and innate leadership abilities to command ocean-going cargo ships, never mind in war time.
Culrose McLaughlin. (From “5,000 Miles in a 27-Tonner” by Aemilius Jarvis, 1921)
It was said that Mack was part Caribbean Indigenous (Arawak Taino), which he may or may not have been, however it has been confirmed via a descendant that he was part-Black. His great-grandfather was reportedly an Irishman who’d found his way to the Caribbean as a buccaneer.
Legendary Canadian yachting journalist C.H.J. Snider, who wrote a book on a McLaughlin-Jarvis sea journey (from Marblehead, MA to Toronto) in 1923, later described Mack’s prowess as a deckhand: “Once when our balloon jib sheet parted in a 20-knot breeze, he seized the clew of the slatting sail with his right hand, anchored himself to the lee rigging with his left, and acted as a human sheet until we had rove off another one of rope. When we had [to], it took four of us to trim down what he had held with one hand.” (Toronto Telegram – May 17, 1941)
Excerpt from “Adventures of the Venture” by C.H.J. Snider, 1923.
Like Snider (and Jarvis), Mack was also a writer on yachting matters, including for Yachting Magazine.
Notably, two of Aemilius Jarvis’ ancestors were infamous villains in Ontario history: his grandfather was the much detested (then as now) Samuel Peters Jarvis, a disastrous Chief Superintendent of Indian/Indigenous Affairs for Upper Canada, and his great-grandfather was the notorious William Jarvis, a slave owner in Toronto’s earliest years (when it was still known as York).
Both of their stories have come more to the fore than ever in recent years, due to the BLM summer of 2020 in William’s case, and the Indigenous Lives Matter spring and summer of 2021, in the case of Samuel.
As for Aemilius, by contrast, he had Mohawk friends, including the familly of notable Canadian poet and performer E. Pauline Johnson (aka Tekahionwake), and endeavored to learn some of their language (ie. Kanyen’kéha). His association with McLaughlin further speaks to a lack of discrimination. In fact, he loved Mack, and perhaps the young sailor helped fill a void left by the loss of Jarvis’ son Bill, a champion sailor himself, in WWI.
Being both fearsome and highly respected, Aemilius was very well-placed to introduce Culrose into the upper-crust yachting world. That said, while he was one of the best mentors in North America that Culrose could possibly have had, the Caymanian was so talented and personable that there’s no doubt he would’ve found success regardless.
The story of Captain Culrose McLaughlin has never before been told. You can read my (other/full) article on Culrose featuring Aemilius here, in Skuttlebutt Sailing News. https://www.sailingscuttlebutt.com/2023/02/08/black-yachting-history-mclaughlin-jarvis/
Ashley Newall is an Ottawa writer, visual artist, and Top-40 covers artist/musician. He writes a regular local history column for Apartment613, which he illustrates with colourized historical photos. He also presents bi-annual vernissages of his colourized works at various local venues. In 2022, he received a City of Ottawa Heritage Grant (in support of his art and column), and an “Awesome Ottawa” award.
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