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Fred Plaisted - Professional Sculler
by Bill Miller - September, 2002

Professional sculler, Fred Plaisted, lived and raced during the golden years of professional sculling. Born in 1849 in Saccarappa, Maine (nr. Portland), he shipped out on a clipper when he was 13. As the ship's waterman he rowed the ship's wherry between the ship and the docks and many times on layovers in San Francisco harbor.

He entered his first race at age 17 and won $500 in gold racing "up the bay" in San Francisco. Following this success he became a professional rower/sculler. He grew to 6'0" and rowed in over 400 races during his lengthy life.

In 1918 he moved to Philadelphia and lived there until his death at age 97 on Oct. 9, 1946. In his later years he kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and some personal recollections about his life. Fred Plaisted's scrapbook was stored in Philadelphia and then donated to the National Rowing Foundation to be preserved with the rowing history collections at Mystic Seaport Museum.

Here are some of the highlights from his scrapbook:

 c. 1871 - He accepted a challenge from China to race for the Championship of China for 10,000 cash. He arranged free passage on a steamer in return for stoking the boilers. When he arrived in Shanghai he was greeted by his Chinese rival, 7 ft. Chee Foo, the son of a wealthy mandarin. He immediately realized that the sculling the Chinese were referring to was the single oar type where you propel the boat off of the stern. "Yessir, he was one of those rear-end experts like the gondoliers of Venice. I was suppose to race him in a trick sampan." Fred consulted a dictionary for the definition of sculling and found that there were two accepted forms of sculling: a pair of sculls and one scull positioned off the stern. He obtained two 15 ft. oars, weighted the handles with lead to balance them better and secretly trained at night. During the day he fumbled around with the one stern scull.

On race day Fred paddled out with two oars explaining that sculling was with one or two oars. Fred states that "Chee Foo grudgingly agreed and off we went. At first he led, but as soon as I got into stroke I picked him up, pulled away, and to the astonishment of all Shanghai, defeated the mandarin's son. He was furious and said it wasn't fair, but had to admit that two oars were better than one." Fred became the Champion Sculler of China.

That evening at the championship banquet a wheel barrow was rolled up to Fred's table. In it were 10,000 round coins with square holes. He was told that this was his prize money - 10,000 Chinese coins. This he found out converts to $10 US. Everyone had a wonderful meal and Fred always claimed to be Sculling Champion of China.

  1876 - Fred was a competitor in the Philadelphia Centennial Regatta and fell in love with Philadelphia.

  1877 - In the July 4th Regatta in Boston Fred won a hard fought American professional sculling championship race against 11 other professional scullers.
    1st  Fred Plaised - 14:24 1/2
    2nd Frenchy Johnson - 14:30 1/2
    3rd James TenEyck - 14:39 1/2
    4th D.D. Driscoll - 14:46
    5th John McKeel
    6th George Hosmer
    7th Edward Hanlan *
    8th thru 12th other regional scullers
* Famed sculler, Ned Hanlan, was responsible for a great deal of fouling during the race.

Fred Plaisted in 1883

  c. 1880 - Fred Plaisted raced above the lock on the "Weldon Canell" for a prize of $600. He won his heat and Edward Hanlan won his heat. Plaisted was asked to pick a finish line judge and approached a fellow who said he never judged a race before. Plaisted explained that the winner was the one who's boat bow crossed the finish line first.

There was a lot of money bet on the race and it was looking like Plaisted would defeat the favored Hanlan. The final race went off and the two scullers were level. At 3/4 [mile] the two scullers were hitting the bottom of the canal. It seems that someone had opened the lock and drained the canal. Fred states that "he always carried rubber shoes in his boat". He put them on, got out of the boat, grabbed his sculls and boat and carried them across the finish line. Plaisted states, [Hanlan] "protested that I did not row across the finish line. I told him the rules is when the bow of the boat crosses the finish line".  Hanlan agreed and Fred Plaisted was the winner with $600 in his pocket.

  Fred Plaisted's manager was Jim Keenan, who also managed the professional boxer, John L. Sullivan. A part of Plaisted's training regime was to be sparring partner for Sullivan. Although Plaisted never boxed professionally he did box Sullivan in exhibition bouts.

One newspaper article tells about Plaisted's four-year stint in vaudeville in the US and Europe. His act was with professional sculler, Jim TenEyck. "With mechanical appliances, the pair would row in competition. Revolving sculls of miniature dimensions would indicate the progress of each competitor." The audience loved it. At the end of the act, Plaisted says that they didn't need any hostess to say "give the boys a great big hand."

  c. 1890 Fred Plaisted coached at Bowdoin College in Maine and his crews were very successful. However, at the 1890 race at Cornell the Bowdoin crew went out for the 5:30 PM start but Cornell didn't show. In the rough water at the start the Bowdoin crew were informed that the Cornell crew would soon arrive. Finally at 7:15, after waiting for almost two hours, the Cornell crew arrived and defeated the "thoroughly chilled" Bowdoin crew.

Coach at Bowdoin - 1890

  Fred Plaisted coached at Harvard (2 years), Yale (2 years), and Columbia (10 years). He also coached in Germany and England. He coached a women's four at Clifton Boat Club, Staten Island.

  Plaisted was a dock builder in New York City "during the Teddy Roosevelt administration".

  Plaisted moved to Philadelphia c. 1918 and was a boat builder by trade. Had a boat shop at 2425 Cadwallader Street during his 80s and 90s and was boatman at Undine Barge Club.

  At age 72 (c. 1922) he raced old rival Jim Riley on Saratoga Lake and won. The prize was $1,000

  Coached the Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club c. 1939

  At age 92, the Plaisted Mug was awarded to the Championship Singles winner at the People's Regatta, Philadelphia.

Last known alive from photo notation "Fred Plaisted at age 97"

At age 97

More scrapbook items:

Muscle man

Plaisted and young J.B. Kelly, Jr.

Dockside at Boathouse Row

1940 Certificate of Honor



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