News Section: Community
Sunday Favorites: Sinbad the Sailor
|Sinbad buit cat boats similar to the ones above.|
BRADENTON – In the 1880s, it was impossible to travel across the Manatee River to obtain goods and services if one didn’t own a boat. The nearest crossing was miles down a treacherous path at the Village of Mitchellville, which was in the general proximity of where Rye Bridge is now. One day a mysterious stranger with a long beard wondered into the small community of Braidentown. The man called himself “Sinbad the Sailor,” and single-handedly revolutionized transportation for the general populace.
Sinbad built himself a modest shack underneath a natural embankment at the river’s edge, where the Central Library is located today. Because of its small size and primitive construction, residents jokingly referred to it as “Sinbad’s Castle.” He owned several small cat-boats or sailboats which were beached near his shack. At that time, there was a huge demand for a route across the river. Sinbad soon began transporting passengers for 10 cents per person, becoming the very first ferry boat captain.
The Manatee River was bustling with commercial vessels utilized for shipping cattle to Cuba. Beef was one of Manatee County’s biggest exports back then. Most residents made a portion of their living as “Florida crackers,” hunters who used whips to round up the free-range cows left over from of the Spanish explorers of the 1500s. The cows broke loose from Spanish expeditions, began breeding in the wild and continued to do so for nearly three centuries. By the time pioneers arrived in Manatee County, the locals saw their untamed profit potential, they branded them and drove them to one of four loading docks on the Manatee River, and from there they were shipped to Cuba. Records show that there were 1036 cow brands in Manatee County.
Sinbad had a weakness for rum. As the Cuban cattle ships came into the nearby loading wharf, he was always ready upon their arrival; he caught lines as they were tossed from the ship and safely secured them to dock cleats. In exchange for his efforts, the captain always produced a bottle of rum, which Sinbad would drink all at once. After consuming the alcohol, he proceeded to stubble over to Main Street and pass out on his favorite bench which happened to be right across the street from the town’s busiest hotel, the Gaar House. Anyone who needed a lift across the river knew right where to find him if he wasn’t “on duty” at his castle – the hard part was waking him from his slumber.
As an old salt, Sinbad liked to play music. In 1888 he took an initiative to start the Braidentown String and Cornet Band. After a lot of rum induced practice jams, members were confident enough to promote their first official performance—an open-air concert at the waterfront. Families came from all over the county after hearing of the event. They brought their families in horse drawn buggies and wagons, setting up in an oak thicket east of Main Street. They carefully tied their animals to the trees.
They spread quilts on the ground and patiently waited for the music to begin. The band started the program with a march, but not everyone enjoyed the loud blast of music that followed. It frightened all the horse and oxen. In disarray, they snapped their tethers and broke loose from the oak, stampeding in every direction. Remnants of wagons, buggies and belongings went everywhere. The entire next week was spent rounding up the animals. The blacksmith exhausted days repairing the wagons so the owners could return home.
Sinbad lived the duration of his life in Braidentown and died on January 12, 1905. Upon reading his obituary, many residents learned his birth name for the first time. He was identified as Charles Edwards, a seaman from England, but most remember him as Sinbad, a pioneer area pirate with a great appreciation for good rum and thunderous music.
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