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Sunday, June 19, 2011

No. 48 "Billie Hancock's Dream"

Back in 1973 my brother Bill (Robert William Hancock) was a recruiter for the United States Coast Guard. While stationed in Salt Lake City, and probably a little homesick, he wrote and asked our father (Charlie William Hancock) to pen for him an account of a story that I and my brothers and sisters had heard him tell many times. It was of my father’s grandfather and their mutual namesake, Billie (William) Hancock, and a dream he had one late Spring evening about a whale that had washed ashore near Cape Point. He also told about how responding to that dream helped to save the people of Diamond City from a winter of privation.

My great-grandfather, Billy Hancock
My father's narrative was based upon the story he himself had heard often from his own father. Only two generations removed from his legendary grandfather, he delighted in recounting for his own children in so far as possible, the same stories and using the same words that had been a staple of his own education as one of Billie Hancock descendants.

According to my father's written account, the spring whaling season of one year in the 1870's had passed without the sighting of a single whale. Finally, in mid-June, a whale was spotted far off of Beaufort Inlet and Billie Hancock's crew set out to bring it in. The story that follows is from my father's letter:

… They floated the boat out until they put a lance into the whale. They started shooting it, but the whale was so big that shooting it didn't do any good. The moon was shining bright, so they hung with the whale until after the night had fallen. Then the whale headed out toward Cape Shoals. The line on the whale finally broke and they lost it. Everybody was so worn out that they rowed back to shore very discouraged.

They were so tired when they got home that my grandfather went right to sleep and had a dream. His dream was so real that he got out of bed and went and called two more men from the crew and told them what he had dreamed. He had dreamed that the whale had died and had grounded at Cape Point. After telling the others, he began to run to the Point (approximately six miles) to see for himself if the whale had, in fact, washed ashore. The other crewmen must have accepted what their Captain had told them for they soon followed him to the Point.

My grandfather ran straight along down the beach because there were so many trees back then. He said that when he got to Cape Point the tide was so low and the moon was shining so bright that he could see something out on the reef. He said to himself, "That's got to be that whale! We need it so bad!" So he waded off and soon saw that it was the whale.
The whaling harpoons used by Billy Hancock

Now came the big problem. On high tide the water would get so high that the whale would float off the Point and they would lose it. He thought that if only he had enough rope to run off and tie it to the whale they then would be able to hold onto it even after the tide came in. 

Fortunately, his crew had followed him and together they were able to save the whale from drifting off … I don't remember what they got for the bones, but they got forty barrels of oil and they made $40.00 a share. I was told that after it was all over they came back to Diamond City and had a big square dance.

Sixteen years and two generation after my father's letter, his granddaughter Joella (my daughter), who was then twelve years old, decided to put into verse her own version of her grandfather's story about his grandfather's feat. The result was a poem that has been a family staple ever since.

Billie Hancock's Dream 
Joella Hancock 1989

The spring had fled too fast that year in eighteen seventy-four,
And not one whale for Diamond City had been spotted from the shore- 
Until mid-June when Billie's eyes were cast upon the sight
Of a giant's spout that pierced the sky as day turned into night.

Upon the dorey the crew set out to spear the whale's side,
But fate conspired and the line broke free before the fish had died.
The dreams and battles seemed all lost as the whale swam far away,
And as it fled their hope sank too, before night could turn to day.

Exhausted and drained the men returned and slumber soon was found
When a dream came to the captain's mind: The whale had come aground!
Under moonlit skies he called his crew, then ran on winged feet
Along the beach towards Cape Point where all were told to meet.

And as the Cape came into view, a lump upon the reef
Assured the runner his dream was true, and to his great relief
Before the tide could wash the catch back out upon the sea,
The crew arrived with ropes and spears as hearts broke forth with glee.

O'er forty barrels of oil were sold and bones brought even more
And forty dollars a share was given according to the lore.
T'was providence that smiled that night to bless the needy folk
When Billie Hancock ran forth in faith as from his dream he woke. 

A long and hard day on the water followed by a late night dream that welled into a vision. A story told to his children and to theirs. A letter written by a father to his son who shared it with his brother. A daughter who was allowed to see it unfold yet again in a vision of her own, so much so that she described it in a verse that is now read by her own children. One story spanning seven generations (for now), combined with a hundred other stories, to knit the fabric of a family and to bind them across centuries as well as generations.

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