Sea History 036 - Summer 1985

Page 17


In 1867 the Deep River waterfront accommodates a big schooner-the day of the much bigger multi-mast schooners has not yet begun-and a handsome bark. Such vessels, framed up in Connecticut pasture oak, were a more rewarding product of the fields and of men's labor than the crops that could be got out of the stony soil.

Shipyards to the north of Hartford , but below Enfield Falls, built several vessels over one hundred tons. East Windsor, fourteen miles south of Springfield, turned out one vessel a year through 1816; the largest was the 357 ton Amphion, built by Abner Norcott in 1804. Hartford was the financial center of the Valley where seventy houses dealt in West Indies goods. A bridge was built across the Connecticut River at Hartford in 1810. Originally uncovered and built with a draw, it effectively cut off those upper river yards from continuing in shipbuilding. The bridge gave farmers and merchants on the western bank access to the port of New London when the Connecticut froze or was impassable due to ice. (The first bridge carried away in a freshet in 1818 and the second one was covered and lasted until 1895.) In 1800 the Union Company was chartered to improve the river by removing bars at Hartford , Wethersfield and Glastonbury, and maintaining a channel between seven and nine feet in depth. Tolls were based on vessel draft and a chain was stretched across the channel opening to prevent masters from rushing the channel to avoid tolls. The Union Company continued in business for its full charter period of sixty years . Saybrook Light at Lynde Point was built in 1803, but the rest of the river did not have lights until 1856. The city of Hartford built two important ships for the European packet trade. Sylvie DeGrasse was built by D&H Burgess for the Havre Line in 1834. Named for the wife of the line owner, Francis DePau and the daughter of Admiral DeGrasse, the vessel was 641 tons. After fourteen years on the grueling New York-Havre Atlantic run , it was sold to West Coast interests and in 1841 rounded the Horn. The ship was subsequently wrecked in the mouth of the Columbia River loaded with lumber destined for the booming new town of San Francisco in the early days of the Gold Rush. The Normandie was also built at Hartford for the Atlantic service. At 500 tons it was reported to have "the cabin in cream color, polished and ornamented in gold." Built in 1833 by Luther Smith, Normandie went missing on a midwinter passage from Liverpool to New York in December, 1844. The town of Wethersfield is some forty miles from salt water and yet its merchants and mariners dominate the early years of navigation on the river. More than one hundred-fifty vessels were built here including many privateers for the wars in 1776 and 1812. Many of these ships and brigs were destined for the European trade and those of the Wine Islands. The brig Commerce is perhaps best known . When the brig was wrecked on the African coast , Capt. Riley and his crew were enslaved by wandering Arab tribes. Riley's story of his bondage was widely read in America and Europe. Luther Smith, who built the Normandie , later removed to Middletown where he built the Desdemona. Three yards remained active in the seat of the customs district through 1847. SEA HISTORY, SUMMER 1985

ll'tsl t'iuc uf l~a o l Jla.!dom J, wulin;;. Fast Haddam in 1836 shows a landscape long settled and humanized, but the drain of the farming population to the Midwest has begun. Below, the warship Cayuga, built in 1861 far upriver at Portland, (where the frigate Trumbull had been built nearly a century earlier, in 1776, for another war), led in the Civil War Battle of New Orleans.

As we descend the river geographically, we come to those yards dominated by families or individuals that were able to stay the decline in the shipbuilding industry. James Kelly Child built vessels at Haddam, among them the Emulation for N.L.& G.G. Griswold (the brothers known in New York shipping circles as "No Loss and Great Gain" Griswold) . It was not uncommon for four vessels to be registered within a year from this town. Most of the vessels were sold to New York buyers. Seven whalers were built, mostly for Nantucket firms. Thomas Child, brother of James Kelley Child , established himself across the river in Middle Haddam. Child and Eleazer Tallman built for themselves, for the Griswolds, and for Jessie Hurd. The ships Panama and Niantic were both built by Child for sales to the Griswolds for use in 15