SEAFOOD & PASTA
In the 1830's, Monterey was the sleepy Provincial Capital of Mexican California, a small fishing village surrounded by cattle ranches, haciendas, the Presidio, and the Carmel Mission. This was the time of the Spanish and American Possession, a time when the people of Monterey looked forward to visits from the dipper ships traveling from New England. These ships came to port to trade and provision before their long voyage home.
In 1832, a young couple arrived in Monterey aboard the sailing schooner Eland. They had been at sea for most of the year. Mercy Ho'ridge was the daughter of a very prosperous Boston Merchant. She had fallen in love with Nickolas Grahm, a young sailor. Mercy's family opposed their union and forbade her to see Nickolas again. The couple married secretly, but realized that a two year separation awaited them when Nickolas shipped out on the Eland. The young couple devised a plan that would allow them to be together. Mercy cut her hair, dressed in boys' clothes, and signed on as a galley mate aboard Nickolas' ship. On June 23`d, 1831, the Band set sail for California with a cargo of goods from China and New England. Californians at the time were very dependent upon the Boston traders for everything: cloth, tools, lumber, and various other items needed by the local residents.
At first Mercy battled long bouts of seasickness, but she soon acquired her sea legs and began to love the life of a sailor boy, enjoying the salt air and the wind in the sails. The Eland landed in Monterey and quickly traded her cargo of goods: in turn she took on a full cargo of hides and tallow from the ranchos around Monterey Bay. Mercy realized that she could no longer conceal her advancing pregnancy. women and infants were not welcome on sailing merchant ships, and there still remained the long and dangerous trip around South America back to Boston.
The couple, having severed ties with families in Boston, decided they would start a new life in California. They found a family in Monterey for Mercy to stay with, as Nickolas had to return to Boston to collect the couple's wages and their share of the ships' trading profits. Nickolas would then return on the next possible ship. The California family was warm and loving to Mercy, treating "Dona Mercedes" as a daughter. Mercy began to learn Spanish and the local customs. Time passed quickly and a son was born late that autumn. Everyday Mercy would walk to the wharf to visit with the sailors, seeking news of Nickolas. Her Spanish improving, she became involved with the community centered on the wharf. To help support herself and her son, she organized a small market to provision ships calling on Monterey Harbor.
Monterey was the Capitol of California therefore all cargo ships arriving in port had to clear customs at the Monterey Custom House and pay their duty. Because of her New England background, Mercy was familiar with the preferences of these Yankee sailors. She began to serve her Boston Clam Chowder and fresh local seafood to the sailors. She would also preserve fish for the sailing ships leaving port. Among the Yankee sailors calling on Monterey, Mercy became known affectionately as "The Fishwife."
Four years passed when word was finally heard that the Eland had broken up and sunk near Tierra del Fuego. Mercy never abandoned hope that Nickolas would survive and find his way home to her. She continued to work at the Monterey Wharf, for the Fishwife was for the sailors a part of their lives, a home away from home. During the 1850's whaling and fur hunting declined, and Mercy retired to a small home. She never remarried. Her son, however, became a part of the new generation of Californians; the gold rush of 1849 bringing the once isolated land into the Union as a state. Mercy Graham's recipes were passed on to her daughter-in-law and on down through generations to her grand and great grandchildren. In this restaurant, proudly named after the first Fishwife of Monterey, we serve Boston Clam Chowder and fresh local seafood as Mercy served it to the Yankee Sailors more than a century ago.