This story is about our great uncle, Martin Hawkins. It sounds like a fish tale, but it really happened! More than 100 years ago, the New York Times published a wonderful article relating the story.
Uncle Martin was an avid outdoorsman. In 1779, when Martin lived in Richmond, the shad in the James River would run so thick that you could stand on the shore and net as many fish as you like. On one occasion, our Uncle Martin was standing on the shore of the James with other citizens of Richmond during a very heavy fish run. Martin was surprised by the appearance of an enormous sturgeon: the 10 foot, 300 pound behemoth was rubbing up against a rock, as they like to do. Our uncle decided to try to land the beast barehanded: slowly he moved his hands along the sides of the enormous fish, until he suddenly plunged his hands deep into the gills, and grabbed tight.
The fish took off swimming violently, with Uncle Martin astride, and whether for pride, shock or determination, Martin held tight. The horrified witnesses watched the fish take Martin under the surface, time and again, as the two proceeded several hundred yards downstream. Finally the sturgeon tired, and Martin maneuvered him to a sand bar just beyond Mayo's bridge, where he finally landed the massive fish. The story was quickly known by every resident of Richmond, and there was a feast that night featuring Uncle Martin's huge fish. Ever after our uncle was known as Martin Hawkins the Sturgeon Rider.
The ride is depicted in a contemporaneous painting shown on the next page. Below that is a portrait of Uncle Martin's nephew, our ancestor Martin Luther Hawkins.