Who was John Bertram

Who was John Bertram?

John Bertram was born on the Isle of Jersey in the Channel Islands off the Coast of Normandy. In 1807 his father, Jean Bertram, with his wife Marie, John, and five other children immigrated to America. They were bound for Baltimore on the ship Alert, however, when the ship began to leak, the captain put into Boston instead. The Bertram family settled in Salem, Massachusetts. Only John spoke English and establishing a new life in America was difficult for the family.

In order to help support his family and to begin his career as a sailor, John went to see as a cabin boy at age ten. He earned five dollars a month and had many adventures. On one voyage he was captured by the British. Upon his release he was returned to Boston. With no other choice he set out, bare-foot, to walk home to his family in Salem.

His career continued to grow and John rose to become a ship captain. At age thirty-six he had made sufficient money to retire from the sea. As a merchant he continued to grow his wealth by owning ships which he utilized in trading with South Africa, Zanzibar, Madagascar, and Brazil. He also successfully invested in the railway systems of North America.

Throughout his life, Captain Bertram never forgot his families financial struggles during his childhood. He lead a life aware of the less fortunate around him and sought ways to meet their needs. With his wealth and great generosity he established Salem Hospital and programs for Women and Children. After his death in March of 1882 his widow donated their home to become the Salem Public Library.

One of Captain Bertram's most significant gifts was the Salem Home for Aged Men, or the John Bertram House as it is known today. John Bertram's original intent for the home was to provide shelter and meals for older men who had no family members to care for them. More specifically, sailors, who had spent their lives at sea.

In 1988, with the house in disrepair and only three men residing in the building the Board of Trustees closed the home. After two years of historical preservation and practical renovations the home was reopened as Massachusetts first free-standing assisted living community for men and women. Confident in fulfilling Captain Bertram's mission the Board of Trustees continued to work toward the building and opening of the Bertram House in Swampscott in 1997.

(From a lecture given by his Granddaughter, Selina Little, at the John Bertram House in Salem.)

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