On Tuesday, 11 January 2022, the Portland Historical Society and I joined forces and bought the portrait of Seth Overton and two more believed to be a son and grandson! Gratitude to Sam Evans for alerting us that he has purchased them and for holding them for us to buy into the historical society!
Author Archives: Joseph Morneault
The problem with romanticizing history…
Seth Overton – completed
The biography on Seth Overton is completed… Or more to the point, is ready for an editor. I am looking into possibilities, and it is highly likely that the “missing” portrait of Seth has been located. More on that when appropriate. But stay tuned for better info on the book, when it might go to press, when available!
After the CONNECTICUT was sold into private hands in 1801, she changed hands in part or entirely about every year. At one point, Howard (Hayward) Allen [1762 – 1836] was hired to be the ship’s master and then he became a part-owner. His is a life that ends sadly and in obscurity; with the essential help of Donna and Thomas McQuade, the three of us spent some time digging into unpublished records and put together a life of the man, sifting out the chaff of other men with the same or similar name. This was back in about 2010, but my time has been so taken up with my business and family estate matters that my extra time has largely been focused on Moses Tryon and Seth Overton. However, recently someone reached out with a simple question which required me to open the box of info on Howard Allen and I am now trying to assemble the parts for the start of a biography. Oh, it won’t be completed anytime soon, but I’ll post more data on him and his immediate family.
The ship quayside
Long overdue post
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!
Alien and Sedition Acts
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.
Update on an crewmember
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
Old Man Connecticut
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.
6 June 2020
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.