SO much interest is felt in Lamberton’s ship that I have felt inclined to bring together what the early writers have recorded concerning the vessel herself and concerning the atmospheric phenomenon which the superstition of the times connected with her loss.
Winthrop mentions her thrice. When the news of her departure had reached Boston, he records that “this was the earliest and sharpest winter we had since we arrived in the country, and it was as vehement cold to the southward as here,” adding, as one illustration, “At New Haven, a ship bound for England was forced to be cut out of the ice three miles.” In the following June, when solicitude had nearly or quite given place to despair, he writes, “There fell a sad affliction upon the country this year, though it more particularly concerned New Haven and those parts. A small ship of about one hundred tons set out from New Haven in the middle of the eleventh month last, (the harbor being then so frozen as they were forced to hew her through the ice near three miles). She was laden with pease and some wheat, all in bulk, with about two hundred West India hides, and store of beaver and plate, so as it was estimated in all at five thousand pounds. There were in her about seventy persons, whereof divers were of very precious account, as Mr. Gregson, one of their magistrates, the wife of Mr. Goodyear, another of their magistrates (a right godly woman), Captain Turner, Mr. Lamberton, master of the ship, and some seven or eight others, members of the church there. The ship never went voyage before, and was very crank-sided, so as it was conceived she was overset in a great tempest which happened soon after she put to sea, for she was never heard of after.” Two years afterward, that is, in June, 1648, he writes, as if the news had just reached him. “There appeared over the harbor at New Haven, in the evening, the form of the keel of a ship with three masts, to which were suddenly added the tackling and sails, and presently after, upon the top of the poop, a man standing with one hand akimbo under his left side, and in his right hand a sword stretched out toward the sea. Then from the side of the ship which was from the town arose a great smoke which covered all the ship and in that smoke she vanished away; but some saw her keel sink into the water. This was seen by many, men and women, and it continued about a quarter of an hour.”
Hubbard, who was born in 1649, says, “The main founders of New Haven were men of great estates, notably well versed in trading and merchandising, strongly bent for trade and to gain their subsistence that way, choosing their seat on purpose in order thereunto, so that if the providence of God had gone along with an answerable blessing, they had stood fair for the first born of that employment. But that mercy, as hath since appeared, was provided for another place, and a meaner condition for them; for they quickly began to meet with insuperable difficulties, and though they built some shipping and sent abroad their provisions into foreign parts, and purchased lands at Delaware and other places to set up trading-houses for beaver, yet all would not help; they sank apace, and their stock wasted, so that in five or six years they were very near the bottom: yet, being not willing to give over, they did, as it were, gather together all their remaining strength, to the building and loading out one ship for England, to try if any better success might befall them for their retrievement. Into this ship they put, in a manner, all their tradable estates, much corn, large quantities of plate, and sundry considerable persons also went, amongst whom was Mr. Gregson forementioned, who, besides his own private occasions, carried with him some estate in order to the procuring of a patent: but all this, though done by very wise men, yet hath since been thought to be carried by a kind of infatuation; for the ship was ill-built, very walt-sided, and, to increase the inconveniency thereof, ill-laden, the lighter goods at the bottom: so that understanding men did even beforehand conclude in their deliberate thoughts a calamitous issue, especially being a winter voyage, and so in the dead of winter that they were necessitated with saws to cut open the ice, for the passage of the ship frozen in for a large way together; yet were all these things overlooked, and men went on in a hurry till it was too late, when such circumstances as these were called to mind. The issue was, the ship was never heard of, foundered in the sea, as is most probable, and with the loss of it their hope of trade gave up the ghost, which was gasping for life before in New Haven. But this was not all the loss; besides the goods, there were sundry precious Christians lost, not less than ten belonging to the church there, who, as Mr. Cotton’s expression upon it was, went to heaven in a chariot of water, as Elijah long before in a chariot of fire. There were also some writings of Mr. Hooker’s and Mr. Davenport’s lost, that never were at all or not fully repaired.”
In another place discoursing of memorable accidents he says, “Another deplorable loss befell New England the same year, wherein New Haven was principally concerned and the southern parts of the country: for the inhabitants of that town, being Londoners, were very desirous to fall into a way of traffic, in which they were better skilled than in matters of husbandry; and to that end had built a ship of one hundred tons, which they freighted for London, intending thereby to lay some foundation of a future trade: but either by the ill form of her building or by the shifting of her lading (which was wheat, which is apt to shift its place in storms), the vessel miscarried, and in her seventy persons, some of whom were of the principal part of the inhabitants, with all the wealth they could gather together.”
Hubbard makes no mention of the apparition in the air which followed the loss of the ship, and Winthrop, who was no sceptic in regard to supernatural interventions, records it without intimating that he regarded it as a miracle; but Mather, who wrote about as long after the occurrence as did Hubbard, has given us the story with the superstitious interpretation attached to it by some, at least, of his contemporaries. Desiring to give it accurately, he wrote to Rev. James Pierpont, the successor of Davenport in the pastorate of the church at New Haven, and received from him the following letter in reply: —
“Reverend and Dear Sir,—In compliance with your desires I now give you the relation of that apparition of a ship in the air, which I have received from the most credible, judicious, and curious surviving observers of it.
“In the year 1647, besides much other lading, a far more rich treasure of passengers (five or six of which were persons of chief note and worth in New Haven) put themselves on board a new ship, built at Rhode Island, of about a hundred and fifty tons, but so walty that the master (Lamberton) often said she would prove their grave. In the month of January, cutting their way through much ice, on which they were accompanied with the Rev. Mr. Davenport, besides many other friends, with many fears, as well as prayers and tears, they set sail. Mr. Davenport in prayer with an observable emphasis used these words: ‘Lord, if it be thy pleasure to bury these our friends in the bottom of the sea, they are thine, save them.’ The spring following, no tidings of these friends arrived with the ships from England. New Haven’s heart began to fail her: this put the godly people on much prayer, both public and private, that the Lord would (if it was his pleasure) let them hear what he had done with their dear friends, and prepare them with a suitable submission to his holy will. In June next ensuing, a great thunder-storm arose out of the north-west; after which (the hemisphere being serene) about an hour before sunset, a ship of like dimensions with the aforesaid, with her canvas and colors abroad (though the wind northerly) appeared in the air coming up from our harbor’s mouth, which lies southward from the town, seemingly with her sails filled under a fresh gale, holding her course north, and continuing under observation, sailing against the wind for the space of half an hour.
“Many were drawn to behold this great work of God; yea, the very children cried out, ‘There’s a brave ship.’ At length, crowding up as far as there is usually water sufficient for such a vessel, and so near some of the spectators, as that they imagined a man might hurl a stone on board her, her main-top seemed to be blown off, but left hanging in the shrouds; then her mizzen-top; then all her masting seemed blown away by the board: quickly after the hulk brought to a careen, she overset and so vanished into a smoky cloud, which in some time dissipated, leaving, as everywhere else, a clear air. The admiring spectators could distinguish the several colors of each part, the principal rigging, and such proportions, as caused not only the generality of persons to say,’ This was the mould of their ship, and this was her tragic end;’ but Mr. Davenport also in public declared to this effect, that God had condescended, for the quieting of their afflicted spirits, this extraordinary account of his sovereign disposal of those for whom so many fervent prayers were made continually. Thus I am, sir, Your humble servant, James Pierpont.” [Pierpont was in error in regard to the year. The ship sailed in January, 1646, New Style.]
Edward Elias Atwater, The History of the Colony of New Haven to Its Absorption into Connecticut (New Haven: Printed for the Author, 1881), pp. 537-541.