Capt. James R. Huntting was born in Bridgehampton, NY, on January 21, 1825, a son of Deacon Edward Huntting. He was a well-known figure in his home town, partly because of his commanding height (six feet, six inches), partly because of his full-lunged voice (he could be heard from one end of the main street to the other), but mostly because of the flamboyant stories told of his dash, strangth, and courage.
According to the sea reminiscences of William M. Davis in Nimrod of the Sea, Captain ‘Jim’ was perfectly unfazed when a man who had been tangled up in a whaleline was brought on board more dead than alive:
‘… it was found that a portion of the hand including four fingers had been torn away, and the foot sawed through at the ankle, leaving only the great tendon and the heel suspended to the lacerated stump … Saved from drowning, the man seemed likely to meet a more cruel death, unless some one had the nerve to perform the necessary amputation … But Captain Jim was not the man to let any one periash on [such] slight provication. He had his carving knife, carpenter’s saw and a fish-hook. The injury was so frightful and the poor fellow’s groans and cries so touching, that several of the crew fainted in their endeavors to aid the captain in the opeation, and others sickened and turned away from the sight. Unaided, the captain then lashed his screaming patient to the carpenter’s bench, amputated the leg and dressed the hand.’
Though he went to sea first at the age of 16, little of Jim’s early seafaring career is known, in contrast to his flamboyant record as master. He first went out in command of the Nimrod, sailing in September 1848 and returning exactly two years later, and then took out the Jefferson on two voyages, the first in November 1850, and the second in October 1853. After getting home in March 1857, he took over the General Scott of Fairhaven, sailing in October 1858, and returning in May 1862. His last command was the Fanny of New Bedford, which he took out in September 1864, and getting home to retire in April 1869.
He married Martha White, the daughter of Deacon John White, who had been born on May 15, 1828. She sailed with him, despite the certainty of grisly sights. On the Lexington, June 26, 1855, Eliza Brock noted that Capt. Manchester of the Coral ‘reports the loss of ship Jefferson of Sag Harbor, lost in Cape Elizabeth two days ago in the Fog ... all saved, Mrs. Hunting, Captain’s wife, was with him. So much bad news makes me feel sad.’ Unnecessary in this case, for the report was wrong: it was the Jefferson of New London, Captain James M. Williams (who carried his wife and family), that was lost.