Stanton Henry King: Sailor, Author, Chantey Singer (1867 – 1939)

Stanton Henry King was born in Barbados on 1st May 1867 and died 10th November 1939 in Everett, Massachusetts, USA.

He was a sailor, author, and chantey (shanty) singer who was known for his works on maritime life and culture. He served in the US Navy before going to Boston and becoming the director of the Sailors’ Haven. Stanton King was also a passionate singer of traditional sea chanties and helped preserve the traditions, music, and stories of the maritime community.

Stanton H. King was born at Payne’s Bay House in the Parish of St. James, Barbados. The house was on the coast and he had a good view of passing ships. This gave the men of the family a yearning to travel and work as sailors.

He was the 27th of his father’s 29 children.

His father married 3 times. His first wife gave him 11 children. When she died he married her cousin and they had 10 children. She too died and he then married his second wife’s sister and together they had 8 children.

His mother was Isabella Lewis King nee Rogers. She died on the 1st August 1884. The ‘Burial register for the PARISH CHURCH of ST. THOMAS in the Island of Barbados, in the year 1884, record 44’ states she was buried on Saturday 2nd August and she was 54 years old. (I have tried to find the grave and had someone look for the records but none can be found. She may not be buried at St. Thomas Church after all as her announcement only says that the funeral will be there. So maybe she is buried somewhere else. WB)

His grandparents on his father’s side came from Ireland and on his mother’s side from Scotland.

Stanton’s father worked as commissioner of road works and was well respected in the island. He was also a member of a Lodge.

Most of Stanton’s brothers left the island as sailors. When their ship visited Barbados Stanton enjoyed listening of their accounts of life at sea and the places they visited. Many captains and crew were friendly with his parents and visited their home. This association helped Stanton on his travels. He often met people who knew his family and they always held his parents in high esteem.

His mother did not want Stanton to follow in his brothers footsteps but wanted him to find work on the island so they could be close together. She had already lost some of her sons to the sea.

In March 1880, and not yet 13 years old, and with many tears from his mother, Stanton left Barbados on the schooner Meteor captained by Captain Dunscombe who was a family friend, sailing for Bermuda with a cargo of Molasses. He would stay with George Hill who was also a friend of the King family. Some of his brothers had stayed with Mr. Hill when their ship called there.

His first voyage was not a pleasant one because he was sea sick most of the time. The captain’s cure for sea sickness was to keep him busy climbing the rigging and other jobs around the ship. It worked because he got accustomed to the motion and was able to eat well. His duties were assisting the cook, cleaning and spells at the wheel. He became a very accomplished helmsman.

After 2 weeks they sighted Gibbs House Lighthouse but before they could get to the harbour they met a terrible storm and the ship received some damage from the waves. Next morning they managed to anchor in Hamilton.

He spent almost 6 weeks with Mr. Hill working in his vegetable fields. But soon was on his way to New York on the brigantine Excelsior with Captain Mayor. He spent 8 days in New York before returning to Bermuda. While in New York he visited his sister and took in some of the sights.

He spent the next 2 months on the Excelsior trading between Bermuda and New York. Carrying Onions and potatoes north bound and general cargo southbound.

For the next year he worked on many ships trading out of Bermuda and along the east coast of the USA. Before he was 14 he was becoming a seasoned sailor and could climb the masts to work on the sails or take a turn at the wheel, which needed a steady hand and concentration.

He worked for a time in a fireworks factory in New York and when that closed he was broke. He was home sick for Barbados and wanted to see his mother, something that he mentions constantly in his book.

He had very little money, certainly not enough to pay for a passage to Barbados. He found the Atlantic getting ready to sail to Barbados. At first the Captain Lanfare refused to take Stanton as crew but when he said his name the captain knew his family well. So his trunk was loaded aboard and, like all sailors, he went for one last drink. When he returned the ship had sailed with all of his clothes and now he had spent his last cent. He was broke with no clothes, except what he was wearing, and winter was approaching.

The next few weeks he lived very rough. He slept wherever he could and ate what was available. He found a ship, The Victoria, bound for Trinidad with a cargo of mules. After Trinidad it was destined to call at Barbados.’

When the final preparations were being made for sailing he slipped aboard and hid in a seaman’s bunk. He was discovered a few hours out of port. Too far for them to turn back.

He was taken to Captain Spencer, very afraid as what would happen to him. It turned out that the captain was also a friend of his father. He was treated well and given new clothes and his first good meal in weeks. He finally made it home where he was re-united with his family. His trunk was already there. Captain Lanfare personally delivered it but had no idea where Stanton was. This caused his mother much sadness. She had just got news that another of her sons was lost a sea.

This link to other Captains and sailors shows how much trade took place between Barbados, the Caribbean and America in the late 1800’s.

Life in the merchant navy was very hard especially for the men “forward of the mast”. On one trip to Antwerp the sailors had to force the captain to stop a passing ship in the mid-Atlantic to buy food as they had very little to eat.

During his 6 years as a merchant sailor he visited Europe, Japan, where his ship burnt and sank, and most of the Caribbean and the East Coast of the USA.

But like all sailors of his day when he was in port he blew his earnings on liquor and women. Sailors were not welcome in most reputable places so he often stayed in the roughest of places.

In January 1886 he was in Boston and joined the USA Navy. After a few weeks training he joined the Alliance, a third rate Corvette, a Bark rigged with single top sail yards.

They sailed across the Atlantic, through the Suez Canal and then along the east coast of Africa. In June 1887 they were in Cape Town. Then around the Cape of Good Hope to Rio de Janeiro. The Alliance spent 2 years patrolling the East Coast of South America.

His time with the navy was up while he was in Montevideo and he returned to the USA on the Kearsarge. They stopped in Barbados for a few days to resupply. The commander was kind and gave him 48 hours shore leave and $10 so he was able to visit his father and sisters. His mother was already dead and this was the last time he saw his father.

Life in the USA navy was a lot different than in the Merchant Navy. While the food and pay was a lot better the discipline was very tough. No alcohol was allowed on board and this did not go well with the crew who devised many ways to get strong drink on board.

But life on shore-leave was the same. The crew spent their money in rum shops and brothels in the rougher parts of the towns they visited.

Stanton always had a yearning for education. He went to school at his godmother a short distance from his home. By the time he was 12 he was well versed in History, Geography, Arithmetic and Reading. By 16 he had read books by Dickens and Scott and many other authors.

After returning to the USA he left the USA navy and attended the Mount Hermon school for men. He worked hard for the $100.00 for the year’s education. This was a turning point in his life. He no longer wasted what little money he made but saved it and put it towards bettering himself.

He was well aware, from his years at sea, that when a sailor was on shore leave the only places that would allow him to enter were the Grog shops and brothels. There was no place for a man who wanted to live a sober and Christian life.

He soon was working at the Sailors Haven, Mission for Seamen, in Charlestown, Massachusetts. This was a place where a sailor on shore leave could stay in clean and safe surroundings and read, play pool and have a good meal while attending church services if he so desired.

Stanton Henry King, Born 1867 Barbados; Sailor, Author, Chantey Singer
Stanton Henry King, Born 1867 Barbados; Sailor, Author, Chantey Singer. Photograph taken from: Heirlooms Reunited.

Stanton Henry King wrote three books: “Dog-Watches at Sea”, “A Bunch of Rope Yarns”, and “King’s Book of Chanties” which provide a glimpse into the experiences and challenges faced by sailors at sea and the significance of sea chanties in their daily lives at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

  • Dog-Watches at Sea” is a maritime story about life on a sailing vessel and the challenges faced by sailors during their off-duty hours, specifically the “dog-watches” which are the two short watches in the evening. The story highlights the camaraderie and resourcefulness of the sailors as they navigate the dangers of the sea and the boredom of their off-duty time. It recounts his life from Barbados to when he left the Navy.
  • A Bunch of Rope Yarns” is a collection of maritime stories and tales about life at sea. This book recounts how he changed his life during the last few months as a sailor to get his education and then join the Sailors Haven. It continues on with some stories and a general overview of life of a sailor. The book is a compilation of experiences and adventures of sailors and the challenges they face while navigating the ocean, including storms, shipwrecks, and other dangers of the sea. The stories highlight the bravery and camaraderie of sailors, as well as their wit and resourcefulness in overcoming the obstacles they encounter.
  • King’s Book of Chanties” is a collection of traditional sea chanties and songs that were sung by sailors as they worked on ships. The book provides a historical look at the lives of sailors and the music that was an integral part of their work culture. The songs and chanties in the book are accompanied by explanations of their origin and purpose, as well as their significance to the maritime community. The book serves as a tribute to the musical tradition of sailors and the role that songs and chanties played in their daily lives at sea.

Responses to “Stanton Henry King: Sailor, Author, Chantey Singer (1867 – 1939)”

  1. Richard

    Is this King family related to the King family of Bequia? The Captain King of inter-island trade fame? Did you find any links? That family still operates a vesselo to this day. The Admiral Bay!

    1. William

      Hi Richard
      That is an interesting question. When I wrote the article I hoped that some of his extended family would send more information on his family connections.
      Many Bajans moved to St. Vincent so it is very possible that some are related to him. King is a fairly common surname in the Grenadines.
      During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s many Bajans, of all races, left the island in search of “greener pastures”.

  2. Garth

    William, thank you for a great story and some interesting history.
    You had told me the outline some months ago but the details are even more fascinating.
    Stanton King seemed to have done more by the time he was 22 than most men who were fortunate to reach old age.

  3. Rhoda Green

    Stories like this reinforce why people from Barbados migrated to other places for opportunities that were sparse in Barbados.

    How much time did Stanton Henry spend in Charleston? And was it Charleston, South Carolina?

    Rhoda Green

    1. William

      It was at the Sailors’ Haven, Mission for Seamen, Charlestown, Mass.
      I don’t think he returned to live in Barbados as he married and had children in the USA.
      It would be interesting to be able to contact his grandchildren.

  4. Randy Bridgeman


  5. Margaret

    Thanks for sharing this story with us. Very interesting detail about early Barbadian life.

  6. W Lee Farnum-Badley

    Fascinating account. His works should be part of our secondary schools’ literature syllabus.

    Thank you for unearthing it!

  7. Simon Kreindler

    Hi William,
    Stanton Henry’s story was very interesting and the considerable research you had to do to put it together is much appreciated.
    Best regards,

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