Here is a lovely sketch of a ship not unlike the size and appearance of the USS Connecticut, tied up at a quay. This was drawn by the artist Carlos Kirovsky in 2021 and is used here with permission. The sketch draws me into the scene and back into the history!
For any of you still checking in, I have not abandoned this blog or project. You know, of course, that I have far more than I post here but I am reluctant to give up too much with the idea of formal publication in mind. Still, I will answer questions and provide updates now and again.
Currently I am deep into writing up the biography of Seth Overton – the contractor for the building of the USS CONNECTICUT and an interesting character in his own right. STILL no sign of his portrait coming to light, alas. I long ago promised Gail Overton Mason – direct descendant of Seth and my mother’s maid-of-honour lo those many years ago – that I would not settle for a printed up file but actually write a book about her ancestor, and I aim to fulfill the promise though Gail had passed on a few years ago. What is an interesting by-product of working on a biography of someone is the detail of minor events being drawn to your attention… The things that rarely get mentioned in the typical historical record and sometimes not even in local historical record, usually being overshadowed by larger, more impactful events. Another takeaway is how the reputation of someone generations ago can be not so much lionized with oral tellings but changed for being out of focus; imagine someone being remembered for being a GREAT fireman for he heroically put out one house fire and perhaps saved someone in the process, when in fact his job was, say, as a policeman or a forest ranger… Misrepresentation not out of malice but in under-presentation of the records and efforts to dig up clarifying data. There are several “heroes” from the RevWar I call to mind that are viewed since the “colonial revival” as being so very impactful when in fact, once you look at the records, they were marginally effective and in some cases detrimental to the cause, and a couple of them downright self-serving asses who don’t really deserve credit for much other than the happenstance that they had the money and pull to secure an important position! However, Seth is one of those people who deserve to be recalled in more of a heroic light for his contributions and for what he endured, then recovered to rise to greater heights.
So, the book is coming along and I’ll need an editor soon. Once the book is out, may Seth rise to the level of being recalled in local history books above only being mentioned in local footnotes!
This is a topic concurrent with and associated with the Quasi-War and something worth your time to get to know. The Alien and Sedition Acts.
I recently put the effort into updating my file on Lieut. John May of Haddam, CT. I wish that I knew more about him, but this is usually the case, eh? I particularly hope that some image of him may have survived and is with a descendant somewhere, and may be brought to my attention! Anyway, come read about the man -> HERE
In researching the USS Connecticut of 1799-1808, I was trying to collect as much data about details of the vessel and what might distinguish her from other vessels. One of the features common to warships at this time was the vessel’s figurehead, which would vary from vessel to vessel and often reflected perhaps the name of the vessel or a visual representation of something of the American ideal such as an eagle or statue of Columbia – a typically female motif that was one of many metaphors for the United States in the early decades. Visitors to Mystic Seaport can view a collection of such surviving figureheads from merchant and whaling vessels of men, women, children, mermaids, warriors, &c. In a letter from Seth Overton – Contractor for the building of the ship Connecticut – to a Noah Talcott, merchant, in NY (City), of 3 April 1799, there is some back and forth regarding a figurehead FOR the Connecticut; perhaps supplied by a Seth Wetmore as “the one in the store in Middletown (CT) it is unmountable (not the right size or unacceptable)”… But in the end, the figurehead used is not described.
After the conclusion of the “Quasi-War”, Congress moved on a “Peace Establishment Act” in which the navy was dramatically downsized. Vessels kept in service were in part due to perceived future service but politics played a large role, pushing otherwise very serviceable vessels into “mothballs” or simply put up for auction and sold. The Connecticut was one that suffered the last fate and on 9 May 1801, the USS Connecticut was sold to a NYC merchant Jordan Wright for 19,300$. When the vessel – now the privately owned merchant vessel Connecticut – was entered into the books at this point, it provides us the actual dimensions of the vessel (which differ a bit from the proposed dimensions before building commenced and is what is cited as the vessel’s proportions in US Navy description and subsequent citations by those who touch briefly on the vessel), and specifically states that she has a “Man Figurehead”.
So my curiosity piqued, I set out to find just what “man” might have been the figurehead for this ship. After years of digging, I found nothing, and settled upon the idea of perhaps a clue might be in the name of the ship and the river…
In researching shipping along the Connecticut River for the biography of Moses Tryon, I learned that while most rivers around the world are thought of as “female”, there are some considered “male”, such as the Mississippi (think the song “Old Man River”). Well, it appears that the Connecticut River is ALSO considered “male”, such as in the article in the Middlesex Gazette on the launching of the ship Connecticut: No words can convey an adequate idea of the beauty and brilliancy of the scene. Nature, as inclined to do honor to the occasion, had furnished one of the most delightful days that the vernal season ever witnessed – while Old Father Connecticut, eager to receive his beautiful offspring, had swollen his waters by the liquefaction of snows reserved for the occasion near his source, in order to facilitate her passage to his wave; and extending his liquid arms, welcomed her to his embrace.
So while doing this I came across a copy of The Colonial History of Hartford by the Rev. William DeLoss Love, Ph.D., published in 1914. In chapter 11, it is stated, “… in 1785, Colonel Samuel Wyllys, alderman, and John Trumbull, Esq., councilman, reported a device for the seal of the newly incorporated city… Thus it happened that the above committee reported as follows: Connecticut River, represented by the figure of an Old man crowned with Rushes, seated against a Rock, holding an Urn, with a Stream flowing from it; at his feet a net, and fish peculiar to the River lying by it, with Barrels and Bales; over his head an Oak growing out of a Cleft in the Rock, and round the whole these words, “Sigillum Civitatis Hartfordiensis”.
The seal is below:
With all this, I feel comfortable with the conclusion that the figurehead might very have been some representation of “Old Man Connecticut”, and until I find any evidence to say otherwise, I’ll leave it at that.
222 yrs ago today – 6 June 1799 – the newly built USS CONNECTICUT is launched from Stevenson’s Wharf (private shipyard rented by the US Government for this purpose), at the northside of the end of Shipyard Lane (now Indian Hill Ave.) in Chatham (now Portland). Below is the text of the article that was published the following day in the Middlesex Gazette, Middletown, CT. I emphasized “Old Father Connecticut” in the text for a future posting, noting that the Connecticut River was referred to as male (like the Mississippi) rather than female like we all seem to expect when coming to waterways.
Middletown, June 7
More of the Wooden Walls of Columbia.
Yesterday at 35 minutes and 4 seconds past five P.M. the United States Ship Connecticut, was safely deposited in the bosom of the majestic stream whence she derives her name. No words can convey an adequate idea of the beauty and brilliancy of the scene. Nature, as inclined to do honor to the occasion, had furnished one of the most delightful days that the vernal season ever witnessed – while Old Father Connecticut, eager to receive his beautiful offspring, had swollen his waters by the liquefaction of snows reserved for the occasion near his source, in order to facilitate her passage to his wave; and extending his liquid arms, welcomed her to his embrace. Flora, decked in her richest attire, smiled gleeful around, and a brilliant concourse of spectators from this and the neighbouring towns, whose countenance expressed the liveliest sensibilities at thus witnessing the progress of our nautical armament, destined to protect our commerce and hurl the thunders of Columbia on her shrinking foes, formed a most magnificent moving picture, in addition to the brilliancy of nature which shone around. The preparation for the launch was exquisite, and evincive of the consummate skill of the architect who superintended the operations of the day, and whose orders were given with dignity, and obeyed with punctilious nicety. When the moment arrived at which the elegant fabric was to leave her earthly bed, never more to return, the anxiety of the crowd was witnessed by a solemn silence, awful and profound. The stroke was struck, the blocks were removed; when lo! with the grace and majesty of the divine Cleopatra, on the wonder-struck Cydnus, she glided into the arms of her Parent River, and as if reposing herself to sleep upon a bed of roses, sunk upon his breast. In a moment the peal of Federalism burst forth, the poems of the gazing thousands met the heavens, and the echo faintly expired on the distant hills.
While shad and salmon feel the patriot glow,
And throng in numerous shoals the watry way,
And sturdy sturgeon from the depths below,
Leap up, her matchless beauties to survey.
>>>The above Bostonian paragraph translated into the vernacular tongue, reads thus – The United States ship Connecticut, which is to be commanded by Capt. Moses Tryon, was yesterday in the afternoon, safely launched from the ship-yard at Chatham, into Connecticut River.
I quite recently donated the Tryon-Baggallay Papers to the Lewiston Public Library. After careful consideration and some input by a librarian at the NYPL during a conversation regarding my collection, I weighed the various reasons and decided that the tremendous help I had received from their Adult Services Librarian, Local Historian Michelle Ann Kratts and the eagerness of the Genealogical division to help unravel the mysteries presented by the Papers coming to light, it was a match and there they be! I have digitized the collection and retain copies of everything; if you are researching the family and wish to consult the collection, I urge you to reach out the Ms. Kratts and the Lewiston Public Library at 305 South 8th Street, Lewiston, New York 14092, or via the link I provided above. You may also reach out to me and I will help in any way that I can. But now I can rest assured that these papers have been put into proper preservation and will survive for generations to come.
After a great deal of issues this site is back up and ready to go!
Since my last real post to this, I had purchased the Tryon-Baggallay Papers from their family in the UK, adding a Moses Tryon letter to my collection/shrine but thereby winding up with a mound of papers relating to a line of the family through a nephew of Moses. Together with Michael Tryon (Tryon Genealogist), Michelle Ann Kratts (Adult Service Librarian/Local Historian), and a handful of others, a pretty solid genealogy was assembled for the papers early years that had been earlier merely a fog of misinformation and supposition and sloppy transcription! I will keep the Moses letter which was a hand-me-down within the family, written to the (adopted?) father of the wife of Moses’ nephew (can you follow that?)… But the entirety of the remaining Tryon-Baggallay papers will be settled in an appropriate repository for safe-keeping and availability for future researchers. I have digitized the entire collection and will be available to genealogists upon request.
While this was wrapping up, I was contacted by Ipper Collens who had purchased a letter from Moses Jr TO his father! She sent me a good digital copy but then decided to donate it to my archive on Moses! Very generous and finally brought home!
Meanwhile some new leads were brought to my attention regarding letters and information surrounding Moses Tryon that had not appeared in my earlier searches… Either recently deposited in said collection or very recently come to light. Yesterday was an excursion to the New York Public Library, manuscripts division, which yielded a letter written by Capt. Moses Tryon hours before the CONNECTICUT set sail on her mission… Data for both the Moses bio and the USS CONNECTICUT story!
How I wish and pray for a portrait of Moses Tryon to come to light!! And if anyone should be traveling to Cuba anytime soon, despite King Baby’s new prohibitions, please do let me know… I have a photo request for a cemetery holding the remains/headstone of Moses Tryon Jr.
My web-blog seems to be having some issues. It is being looked in to but in the meantime you can certainly reach out to me at my email – JosMorn@aol.com
Thank you for your interest!
My never-ending research project! Part of it is the distractions of life; running my own shop, evenings as a performer of historical and maritime music… But part of it is following up various leads that often not only bear fruit but provide further leads. I, therefore, have amassed quite a collection and fat files on the ship and many of the crew members. Some of you have reached out to me but I have never heard from again – Please feel encouraged to renew our contact! Others have been in touch and we have made meaningful headway together – thank you!
In following Madame Legras – the business associate of Moses Tryon in Saint Domingue – I have gotten rather an education on that period of Haitian history and the travels of the exiles. Also access to church/civic records leading up to the 1791 uprising. In the biography for Moses Tryon that I have been writing I will provide something of a biography and genealogy for her and her descendants through life in New Orleans, Louisiana. I have been trying to get in touch with a local historian in Haiti but thus far have come up empty. But in France I have several contacts who have been most helpful!
As for Moses; but for a few loose ends I had suspected that – short of finally finding his portrait – I had reached the end of useful new data and the outline had been written and mostly filled in. And yet just recently an old request I had sent to a repository was replied to (some four plus years later!) with the information that new documents had been deposited in their collections! And they told me of another repository that I would never have thought of holding even more personal information/documents! Road trips in the planning stages.
As for several requests for what the USS Connecticut had looked like, I have amassed enough data to be almost certain of her appearance… But thus far I am unaware of any contemporary images or plans having survived to this day. The images of vessels I have in the header are NOT of the USS Connecticut but rather are more recently drawn images of vessels during this war, borrowed off the internet as public domain. There are some images used not long afterwards cited AS the USS Connecticut but these are in fact generic transfers used for pottery, tableware, and printed matter commissioned by people here from makers in England… To prove the point, the very same images were used for myriad vessels with the name being the only variation. And keep in mind that these vessels DID look different from each other at this stage of the US Navy.
More to come…