Monthly Archives: December 2015

Hart and Hazard on the Phantom Ship (1905)

Over the harbor of New Haven appeared, in the evening, the form of a ship with three masts. Suddenly all the tackling and sails were to be seen. Shortly after, upon the ship there appeared a man, standing with one arm akimbo under his left side; and holding in his right hand a sword stretched out towards the sea.

Then from the side of the ship which was toward 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, women, and children, and it lasted about a quarter of an hour.

The unhappy mourners of relatives lost in a ship nearly two years before, tried to find some connection between the ship in the air and their own sufferings. In the gloomy and sad state of their minds they tried to find some meaning in the strange appearance.

There are many accounts of this air-ship. One says: “After the failure of news of their ship from England, prayers, both public and private, were offered by the distressed people. They prayed that the Lord would, if it was His pleasure, let them hear what He had done with their dear friends, and that He would help them to bow humbly to His holy will.

“Then a great thunder storm arose out of the northwest, and a ship was seen sailing against the wind. The very children cried out, ‘There’s a brave ship.’ The air-ship remained before their eyes and came up as far as there was water for such a vessel. It came so near to some persons, that they thought a man might throw a stone on board her.”

The people were so sure and satisfied that they had seen the ship that they believed that God, for the quieting of their troubled hearts, had been willing to send this wonderful ship to tell of what He had done to those for whom so many prayers had been made.

—Albert Bushnell Hart and Blanche E. Hazard, Colonial Children (New York: Macmillan, 1905), pp. 30-31.


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Once Upon a Time in Connecticut (1916)

The voyage of the “Great Shippe” which took place about this time is the most tragic adventure in the story of New Haven’s early shipping days. It began in this way. In 1646, as a last resource, the merchants of New Haven decided to fit out a ship with what was left of their “tradeable estate,” and send her to London. Up to this time they had sent goods to England by way of Boston or of the West Indies; there might be more profit, they thought, in a direct trade, cutting out the cost of reshipment. So they bought a ship. We do not know her name, she is always spoken of as the “Great Shippe,” although she was only one hundred tons; perhaps the title was given her because the colonists were staking so much on this venture. If it succeeded, their prosperity might be assured; if it failed, they must give up the sea and commerce as a dependence and turn their energies to agriculture. The “Great Shippe” was a new boat, said to have been built in Rhode Island, and she was loaded principally with wheat and peas shipped in bulk, with West Indies hides, beaver skins, and what silver plate could be spared for exchange in London. Her cargo altogether was worth about twenty-five thousand dollars, which was a large sum in those days, especially in a new and struggling colony.

The master of the ship was the same Captain Lamberton we have heard of before. He was a brave and bold skipper, but it is said that he was not altogether pleased with the ship when he first saw her; that he did not like her lines and thought her not quite seaworthy. Other people, too, besides Captain Lamberton, complained that she was not only badly built, but badly loaded, with the light goods of the cargo below and the heavy above, and some old seamen predicted that the grain would shift in rough weather and make trouble. These were mostly rumors, however, and few paid attention to them at the time; but long afterward, when people talked over the strange fate of the “Great Shippe,” Captain Lamberton’s words, “This ship will be our grave,” were recalled and believed to have been a prophecy.

That winter of 1646 was a bitterly cold one in Connecticut, and New Haven Harbor was frozen over. When the “Great Shippe” was ready to sail, it was necessary to cut a way out for her with handsaws through the thick ice for nearly three miles. A good many people from the town walked out on the harbor ice beside the ship to see her begin her voyage, and to bid good-bye to a number of their friends who were going home to England on business of one kind or another. Seventy people had taken passage in the “Great Shippe,” and among them were some who were very prominent in the colony, as, for instance, Captain Nathaniel Turner, who, having had experience in the war with the Pequot Indians, had been given “the command and ordering of all martial affairs” in the plantation, and Thomas Gregson, one of the magistrates, who was charged by the colony to obtain a charter for them, if possible, from the English Parliament, then in control in England.

The Reverend John Davenport, the minister, stood in the crowd of people on the ice that winter day and offered a prayer to God for the protection of the travelers. “Lord,” he said, “if it be thy will to bury these our friends in the bottom of the sea, they are thine, save them.” This does not sound like a very cheerful sendoff, but we must remember that a long voyage was a serious undertaking in those days and that people sometimes made their wills even before sailing from New Haven for Boston.

When the “Great Shippe” had really gone, when the people had seen the last of Captain Lamberton standing on her deck giving orders, and had watched her white sails dwindle and disappear, they walked back over the ice to their homes on the shore remembering sadly that it would be a long time before they could expect to have any news from her. It might be two or three months before she reached London and as many more before word of her arrival could come back to them. So they waited patiently through the hard New England winter and the early spring, but by summer time they were eagerly looking for tidings of her. Ships came from England as usual to the colonies, but no one of them brought news of the safe arrival in London of the “Great Shippe” from New Haven. Then the people began to question the skippers of other boats, boats from the West Indies and from the plantations on the southern coasts, and to ask if anything had been heard of her in that direction. For they remembered that there had been an unusually violent storm soon after the ship had sailed, and they began to fear that she might have been blown out of her course and possibly wrecked on some such coast or island. Public prayers were offered for her safety and for the safety of her passengers.

Meanwhile, the summer passed and the cold weather came again, and still there was no word from the fated ship. Few vessels put into New England harbors during the winter, and, as the chance of news grew less and less, the anxiety of the people gradually changed to despair. They recalled the sacrifices they had made to fit out that ship, the precious cargo she carried, all the things that could not be replaced (such as the sermons and other writings of Mr. Davenport which he had sent to England for publication); and in the loss of the ship on which they had set all their hopes they saw the final blow to the prosperity of New Haven. No one now had the courage or the money for another venture of that kind. Slowly and reluctantly the people turned to agriculture instead of trade, and the days of New Haven as a commercial colony were numbered.

But far worse to them than any material loss was the loss of the dear friends and relatives who had sailed with the “Great Shippe” for England. No compensation could come to those who had loved them. In November, 1647, the passengers on the ship were finally given up as lost and counted among the dead and their estates settled.

Yet many to whom they were dear could not rest satisfied. They remembered all the perils of the sea, the dangers of shipwreck on some barren coast, of possible capture by pirates, such as those who had attacked Captain Carman off the Canary Islands not many years before, and they came to feel at last that they would be thankful to learn that the ship had foundered at sea and that their friends had gone down with her to a natural death in the waters.

Two years and a half after the sailing of the “Great Shippe” (so the story stands in a strange old book called the Magnalia Christi, by the Reverend Cotton Mather), a wonderful vision came to the people of New Haven. On that June afternoon in the year 1648, a great thunderstorm came up from the northwest. The sky grew black and threatening, there was vivid lightning, and a cold wind swept over the harbor. Before the rain had ceased and calm had come again, it was nearly sunset. Then, against the clear evening light, a strange ship sailed into New Haven Harbor. Around the point she came with her sails full set and her colors flying. “There’s a brave ship,” cried the children, and they left their play to stand and gaze at her. Men and women gathered on the water-front and the same startled hope thrilled every heart: “It may be the ‘Great Shippe’ come home again!” For there was the old familiar outline, there were her three masts, her tackling, and her sails. And yet there was something new and mysterious, something awe-inspiring about her, and the watchers held their breath as they realized that she was sailing toward them straight against the wind that blew strong off the north shore. For a full half-hour they stood and gazed, until they could distinguish the different parts of her rigging, until they could see, standing high on her poop, the figure of a man with “one hand akimbo under his left side and in his right hand a sword stretched out toward the sea.” Then, all at once, a mist rose out of the sea behind her and covered her like smoke, and through the mist and smoke men saw dimly her shrouds give way, and her masts break and fall, as though a hurricane had struck her, and slowly she careened and plunged beneath the surface of the water.

The people turned to their pastor. “What does it mean?” they asked. “It was the form of Master Lamberton. Why is this vision sent us?” And he replied that doubtless God had sent it in answer to their prayers, to show them the fate of their friends and to set their hearts at rest, for “this was the mould of their ship, and thus her tragic end.”

—Caroline Clifford Newton, Once Upon a Time in Connecticut (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916), pp. 38-44.

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Winthrop on the Great Ship

Mr. Lamberton, Mr. Grigson, and divers other godly persons, men and women, went from New Haven in the eleventh month last (January) in a ship of 80 tons, laden with wheat for London; but the ship was never heard of after. The loss was very great, to the value of some 1000 pounds; but the loss of the persons was very deplorable.
—Winthrop’s Journal, Volume 2, (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1908), pp. 275-276.

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 100 tons set out from New Haven in the middle of the eleventh month last (the harbor there being 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 200 West India hides, and store of beaver, and plate, so as it was estimated in all at 5000 pounds. There were in her about seventy persons, whereof divers were of very precious account, as Mr. Grigson, 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.
—Winthrop’s Journal, Volume 2, (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1908), pp. 286-287.

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Rockey on the Phantom Ship (1892)

About this time an effort was made to create an interest in agriculture. But the people of New Haven were little inclined to its arts, and having no skill for this avocation, failed to reap profitable crops. Their commerce, also, further declined and their large estates were wasting away. An uncommon effort was now made, in the fall of 1646, to retrieve these broken fortunes, by gathering up whatever was merchantable and shipping it to England. A vessel of 150 tons burden was brought from Rhode Island and fitted up for this voyage, upon which such high expectations were based. That her mission might be the more properly fulfilled Captain Turner, Mr. Gregson, and several more of their principal men decided to accompany Captain Lamberton, the master of the vessel. The fate of this ship has been graphically portrayed by Longfellow, in his poem, the “Phantom Ship.” Another account of this ill-fated vessel is concisely given by Henry Howe:

“Captain Lamberton and about seventy others embarked in her, among whom were six or eight of their most valued citizens. They sailed from New Haven in January, 1647. She was so ‘walty,’ i.e. rolling, that Lamberton, her master, said she would prove their grave; and she did. They cut their way out through the ice of the harbor for three miles, and with many prayers and tears and heart-sinkings set sail. Mr. Davenport, in prayer, 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.’ Months of weary waiting passed over and no tidings from Europe of ‘the great shippe.’ She was never heard of—foundered at sea. The next June, just after a great thunder storm, the air being serene, there appeared about an hour before sunset, though the wind was northerly—there appeared in the air, coming up the harbor’s mouth, a ship just like their ‘great shippe,’ with her sails all set as filled under a fresh gale, and continued sailing against the wind for half an hour, coming near to the people standing on the shore, when suddenly all her sails and masts seemed blown overboard; quickly after her hulk brought to a careen and she overset and vanished in a smoky cloud. The people declared this was the mold of their ship and this her tragic end: and said Mr. Davenport, ‘God has condescended for the quieting of our afflicted spirits, this extraordinary account of his sovereign disposal of those for whom so many prayers had been made continually.'”

The loss of this ship was most disastrous to the hopes of the people of New Haven, and as the sea had now swallowed up most of their estates, they became greatly discouraged. In this state of affairs they were led to think of abandoning the country and settling themselves elsewhere; but all these purposes came to naught. For years they struggled on, a poor people. But the uses of adversity were not in vain. Their posterity learned to adapt themselves to the conditions which prevailed in this country and many of them having learned to become respectable farmers, New Haven flourished no less than her neighbors.

—John L. Rockey, History of New Haven County (New York: Preston, 1892), pp. 104-105.

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Hubbard on the Phantom Ship

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. The loss of persons and goods was sadly bewailed by all that Colony, it being attended with so many solemn circumstances that they were all at a loss to know how to understand the mind of God therein, but were forced after all to acquiesce in the sovereignty and wisdom of the Almighty, who worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will, and rendereth to none account of his ways. God can make contentment with poverty greater gain to his people than riches and wealth without his presence and blessing.

William Hubbard, A General History of New England (Boston: Little and Brown, 1848), p. 527.

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Atwater on Lamberton’s Ship (1881)


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.

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Bacon on the Phantom Ship (1839)

For a while, the colonists here adhered steadfastly to their original plan, of supporting themselves in their exile, and building up their town, by commerce. They built some shipping. They purchased lands on the Delaware, and at some other places, and erected trading-houses to buy beaver of the natives. They sent their cargoes into foreign parts, and expected to make such gains as would support and extend their town, so beautifully planned. But soon it began to appear that their commercial enterprises, undertaken perhaps on too large a scale at first, and with too little knowledge of the particular nature of the business, were likely to be involved in disaster. Some of their number seem to have returned to England; while not a few, who had been expected to bring large accessions of wealth and strength, never came. Those that remained found their estates sinking so fast, that something must be done to retrieve their fortunes, or all their hopes would fail. Accordingly, about eight years after their arrival here, “they did, as it were, gather all their remaining strength to the building and loading out one ship for England, to try if any better success might befal them.” The ship, whose name no record and no tradition has retained, seems to have been the property of an association. The “company of merchants in New Haven,” consisting of Mr. Eaton, Mr. Gregson, Mr. Malbon, and Mr. Goodyear, appear to have united their resources in building, equipping and loading the vessel. “Into this ship,” says an ancient historian, “they put in a manner all their tradeable estates, much corn, and large quantities of plate;” and among the seventy that embark for the voyage, are several “of very precious account” in the colony. In the month of January, 1646, the harbor being frozen over, a passage is cut through the ice, with saws, for three miles; and “the great ship,” on which so much depends, is out upon the waters, and ready to begin her voyage. Mr. Davenport and a great company of the people go out upon the ice, to give the last farewell to their friends. The pastor, in solemn prayer, commends them to the protection of God, and they depart. The winter passes away; the ice-bound harbor breaks into ripples before the soft breezes of the spring. Vessels from England arrive on the coast; but they bring no tidings of the New Haven ship. Vain is the solicitude of wives and children, of kindred and friends. Vain are all inquiries.

“They ask the waves, and ask the felon winds,
And question every gust of rugged wings
That blows from off each beaked promontory.”

Month after month, hope waits for tidings. Affection, unwilling to believe the worst, frames one conjecture and another to account for the delay. Perhaps they have been blown out of their track upon some undiscovered shore, from which they will by and by return, to surprise us with their safety:— perhaps they have been captured, and are now in confinement. How many prayers are offered for the return of that ship, with its priceless treasures of life and affection! At last, anxiety gradually settles down into despair. Gradually they learn to speak of the wise and public spirited Gregson, the brave and soldier-like Turner, the adventurous Lamberton, that “right godly woman” the wife of Mr. Goodyear, and the others, as friends whose faces are never more to be seen among the living. In November, 1647, their estates are settled, and they are put upon record as deceased. Yet they were not forgotten; but long afterwards, the unknown melancholy fate of those who sailed in Lamberton’s ship, threw its gloomy shadow over many a fireside circle.

[Ten members of the Church were of the company in

“That fatal and perfidious bark,
Built in the eclipse, and rigg’d with curses dark.”

“Divers manuscripts of some great men in the country, sent over for the service of the Church,” were also “buried in the ocean.” Among these were Hooker’s “Survey of the Sum of Church Discipline,” and Davenport’s “Power of Congregational Churches;” both of which were afterwards re-written by the authors.]

Two years and five months from the sailing of that ship, in an afternoon in June, after a thunder storm, not far from sunset, there appeared over the harbor of New Haven, the form of the keel of a ship with three masts, to which were suddenly added all the tackling and sails; and presently after, upon the highest part of the deck, a man standing with one hand leaning against his left side, and in his right hand a sword pointing towards the sea. The phenomenon continued about a quarter of an hour, and was seen by a crowd of wondering witnesses,—till at last, from the farther side of the ship, there arose a great smoke, which covered all the ship; and in that smoke she vanished away. Fifty years afterwards, while several of the witnesses of this strange appearance were yet alive, the story was great in the traditions of the colony; and it was reported by some of the survivors, that Mr. Davenport publicly declared “that God had condescended to give, for the quieting of their afflicted spirits, this extraordinary account of his disposal of those for whom so many prayers had been offered.”

[Hubbard (321) gives a full account of the building and sailing of Lamberton’s ship, but says nothing of the famous atmospheric phenomenon which the traditions of New Haven colony connected with the loss of their great ship. Winthrop, whose history is like a newspaper of the times, mentions the sailing of the vessel (II, 254.) at the time, mentions also the loss, (266,) when the loss became certain, and afterwards repeats the whole story with corrections. He says, she was of “about 100 tons,” “laden with pease and some wheat all in bulk, 200 West India hides and store of beaver and plate, so as it was estimated in all at 5000 pounds.” There was a tempest not long after she sailed. According to Pierpont, she was “of about one hundred and fifty tons.” The account of the phantom-ship is given by Winthrop, (II, 328,) under the date of June 28, 1648. His story is the story as he heard it at Boston. Mather (Magn. I, 25) gives, in a letter from Mr. Pierpont, the story as it was reported at New Haven, half a century afterwards, by “the most sensible, judicious and curious surviving observers.” The identity of the two accounts seems to me more striking than the comparatively slight diversities. The mistake in Mr. Pierpont’s letter respecting the year in which Lamberton’s ship was lost, is rationally accounted for by Mr. Savage, in his note on the passage in Winthrop. I may add, however, that the records of the town, might mislead a hasty reader as to the time when Lamberton and Gregson disappeared from the scene. But the probate records, as they contain a will made by one of the passengers when she was about to embark, confirm the date given by Winthrop. Another great ship was built at New Haven in 1646, and some more diligent explorer may find that I have not distinguished between that and Lamberton’s with sufficient accuracy. Lamberton’s is said to have been built at Rhode Island. Magn. I, 25.]

Leonard Bacon, Thirteen Historical Discourses on the Completion of Two Hundred Years from the Beginning of the First Church in New Haven (New Haven: Durrie and Peck, 1839), pp. 105-108.

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Beardsley on the Phantom Ship

I presume very few of the more intelligent people now residing in New Haven are ignorant of the sequel. The story as told is like romance. The colonists finding their commercial enterprises threatened with disaster, and their estates melting away, attempted to retrieve their fortunes by a great effort; and, “gathering together,” so the record runs, “almost all the strength which was left them, they built one ship more, which they freighted for England with the best part of their tradable estates; and sundry of their eminent persons embarked in her for the voyage.” In the month of January, 1646, when the harbor was completely frozen over, “a passage was cut through the ice with saws, for three miles,” and the “great ship,” with George Lamberton for the master, and Thomas Gregson as a commissioner “to procure a patent from the Parliament for these parts,” floated out amid the prayers and benedictions of the people, assembled to witness the departure of their friends. That ship, with “the divers godly persons, men and women,” who embarked in it, was never heard of again. Month after month elapsed, and finally a year, and still no tidings were received of their fate. It was a painful suspense, relieved by no hope. The legend of the Phantom Ship is doubtless familiar to you all. This was nothing less than “the mould” of Lamberton’s vessel coming up the mouth of the harbor after a great thunder storm in June, long subsequent to the sailing, first appearing with “her main-top blown off—but left hanging in the shrouds,” then with “all her masting” gone, and finally with the keel only, which quickly “careened,” and vanished out of sight. And so the “afflicted spirits” of the Colonists were quieted, because they superstitiously believed that God had in this way condescended to give an account of His disposal of those for whom so many prayers had been offered.

All expectation of seeing them again having ceased, their estates were settled according to law.

[Eben Edwards Beardsley], “Address of the President,” Papers of the New Haven Colony Historical Society, Volume 2 (New Haven: Printed for the Society, 1877), p. xx.

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How a Great Ship Went out through the Ice and Came Back in a Summer Cloud.

From E.H. Baldwin, Stories of Old New Haven (Taunton: C.A. Hack, 1903), pp. 71-83.

In proportion to the number of its inhabitants, New Haven was the richest colony in New England. Some of its Puritan settlers were quite wealthy for those early days. Many of them had been merchants and traders in England, and wished to engage in the same business in America and make their new colony a commercial city. One reason Quinnipiac was chosen as the place for their settlement was because of its deep and sheltered harbor, where ships could safely anchor and land their cargoes. And then, in laying out the town, the central square, or “quartter,” was reserved for a public “marketplace” where goods of all kinds could be bought and sold.

The colonial town-meeting made a number of laws to encourage commerce and aid traders. Ship captains were forbidden to throw ballast overboard into the channel of the harbor lest it should become filled up. Ship carpenters were excused from military service that they might spend their time building ships. No one was allowed to cut a spruce tree without the consent of the governor, for they wanted to preserve them, and use them all for masts. As the “flattes” prevented large boats from coming up to the shore, a wharf was built; this was near where the old City Market formerly stood. So, in these different ways they tried to help those who went down to the sea in ships.

It was not long before Captain Lamberton was making voyages to Delaware and Virginia; and others to Massachusetts Bay, Salem, Connecticut and Manhattan. Then a little later New Haven vessels sailed to the Barbadoes, the Bermudas and the West Indies. They carried away furs, clapboards and shingles, wheat, pork, and other products, and brought back cotton, sugar, and molasses. But these voyages were not very successful. The expense of building or buying new ships was so heavy, and the cost of sending out a trading expedition from a new colony was so great, that there was little left for profit. And then at first they were apt to make mistakes, and so meet with misfortunes. It they sold lumber that was not well seasoned, people in the West Indies would not buy any more of them. A man in Milford made flour and biscuit and New Haven traders shipped it to Virginia. It was such poor stuff that it did not sell well, and the traders complained of it. So the Milford baker had to go to New Haven and explain matters. He confessed the fault and declared it was due to bad grinding; but he promised to do better in the future. The damage had been done, however, and it was hard for New Haven merchants to sell flour or biscuit in Virginia after that.

But the worst misfortune that came to the New Haven traders during the first few years occurred at Delaware. The Indians at Quinnipiac were so few in number, that the trade in furs, there, did not amount to as much as was expected. So Mr. Lamberton and a few others decided to build some trading stations at Delaware Bay where they could carry on the fur trade with the Delaware and Susquehannah Indians. For a few hundred dollars they bought all the land in New Jersey, from Cape May to the mouth of the Delaware river. Some twenty men went down there to build a few huts and engage in trade. On their way they stopped at Manhattan where they met the Dutch Governor, who promptly ordered them to go home again. He said that New Jersey belonged to the Dutch and no Englishmen could settle there. This did not frighten the New Haven men, however, and they went on. But they promised to acknowledge the Dutch Government if they found that they were in Dutch territory.

Mr. Lamberton and his companions soon learned that not only was the land they had bought claimed by the Dutch, but the Swedes who lived near, said it belonged to them, also. Nevertheless they went to work, built their huts and began to trade. In 1642 the Swedes and Dutch united to drive the English away. A few Dutch ships sailed around to Delaware Bay and landed a small force. With the help of the Swedes they attacked the New Haven men, made some of them prisoners, drove the rest away, seized their goods and burned their huts. The Swedes captured Mr. Lamberton and put him in prison. They charged him with the crime of trying to stir up the Indians to war; but they could not prove it. They fined him heavily because he had traded at Delaware and then sent him home.

This affair was a severe blow to the New Haveners and cost them many thousands of dollars. They tried to persuade the other New England Colonies to help punish the Dutch and Swedes but without success. Mr. Lamberton was sent down to Delaware again to demand satisfaction from the Swedes but nothing ever came of his visit, and the New Haven men never recovered damages for the loss of their goods and huts. The claim to the land which had been purchased was not given up, however, and several years later another unsuccessful attempt was made to build a settlement at Delaware Bay. A few of the New Haven people were quite discouraged by the failure of this enterprise and feared that their ambitions to build up a successful commercial city at Quinnipiac would never be realized. But the rest, although discouraged, did not despair and bravely went on with their plans.

New Haven merchants had always been very desirous to have ships sail direct to England and return, and thus save time and trouble; for so far, they had had to go to Massachusetts Bay first. This was an enterprise which required large ships and no one person could afford to build them. In 1645, to make good the losses they had met with at Delaware and other places, the leading men of the town formed a company and bought a large ship, which, it is said, was built in Rhode Island, and would carry one hundred and fifty tons cargo. All who could possibly spare any money took stock in this company. Then Mr. Eaton, Mr. Goodyear, Mr. Malbon and Mr. Gregson formed a second company, called the “Company of Merchants of New Haven,” and hired this ship of the first company to make a trading voyage to England. So, nearly everyone in the town was interested in this enterprise and did what was possible to make it a success.

Just what the name of this vessel was is not known. Some have thought that it was called the “Fellowship.” In the old records it is always mentioned as the “great shippe.” When it sailed into New Haven harbor, people went down to the wharf to look at it. Many rowed out to examine it. Old sailors did not like the looks of it. Mr. Lamberton, who was made the captain, thought it was a “cranky” boat, and would easily capsize in the middle of the ocean. But whether they thought their new ship was seaworthy or not they went right to work and made ready for the voyage. The captain rigged the masts to suit himself and had a fine new set of blocks or pulleys made for the tackling. Then they filled the hold with everything they could find to sell. They put in lumber and hides, pease and wheat, and a lot of beaver skins. Some put in their silver plates and spoons; for they needed other things more, and their silverware was all they had left with which to buy them. Besides these there were some of Mr. Davenport’s sermons which were to be printed in England. This cargo was worth many thousands of dollars, and, if the voyage was successful, would bring a handsome profit; but if it was a failure, the loss would be ruinous, for it was like putting all their eggs in one basket.

The passengers who sailed in this ship formed the most precious part of its burden. There was a large number of them, all going home to England, and for various reasons. Mr. Gregson was one. He had charge of the cargo and was going to see if he couldn’t get a charter for New Haven Colony from Parliament. Nathanael Turner, who was captain of the military company, was another. Mrs. Stephen Goodyear was going home to see friends and relatives. And Mrs. Wilkes was going to see her husband who had gone the year before and had sent for her to join him. Then there were many others who were homesick for old England and anxious to see their native land again.

It was in the month of January, 1646, when the “Great Shippe” sailed away. The harbor was frozen over and a passage had to be cut for the vessel three miles through the ice. A crowd of people followed along the side on the frozen surface, bidding farewell to friends and loved ones with many a tear and many a fear. Mr. Davenport was there and prayed for their welfare and safety, but with an anxious heart. “Lord, if it be thy pleasure,” he said in a trembling voice, “if it be thy pleasure to bury these our friends in the bottom of the sea, they are thine, save them.” At last the ship was free from the ice and out of the harbor. Her sails filled with the cold wind and she soon disappeared in the gray East. The people watched her until she was out of sight and then slowly and silently walked back to the town and their winter’s loneliness; but not without thoughts of the happy home-coming in the fall.

The months passed away very slowly that winter. The thoughts of all were on the absent ship. But summer came at last and with it the arrival of ships from England. But they brought no tidings of Captain Lamberton or his ship. This did not cause much anxiety, however, for often a vessel was driven far out of her course and was slow in reaching the end of her voyage. So they waited with patience and hope. But the months went by and still no news. Friends became anxious. Others tried to cheer them by suggesting reasons for the delay. “Perhaps a storm has driven them to a foreign shore,” they said, or “it may be they have been cast on some distant island and a passing ship will pick them up.” Fall came and the days grew shorter. Still no word from the absent ship. Hope gave way to despair. Many a home was filled with sorrow and mourners went about the streets. They realized at last that Captain Lamberton’s worst fears were come true, and the “Great Shippe” had been lost at sea.

Another sad and dreary winter passed in the stricken colony. And while all had given up hope of ever seeing their lost friends again, many longed and prayed to know if they had really been lost at sea, or had suffered some harder fate at the hands of savage enemies. When summer came again it brought an answer to their prayers, but”in a way they had never expected. During the afternoon of a warm June day, a thunderstorm passed over the town of New Haven and disappeared across the water to Long Island. Soon afterwards, about an hour before sunset, the people beheld a wonderful sight. The “Great Shippe,” whose loss they had mourned so long, came sailing in a cloud through the air into the mouth of the harbor. There could be no mistake about it. There were the keel, hull, masts and rigging of the same ship that had sailed away so many months before. And there on the deck, standing erect, was Captain Lamberton pointing with his sword out to sea. On came this wonderful ship, her sails bending before the wind, until one standing on the shore could almost toss a stone on board. Suddenly there came a change. Her topmasts seemed to be blown off and hung tangled in the rigging; soon all her masts fell overboard; then the hull capsized and all disappeared in mist and cloud. The people gazed upon this strange sight with great awe. But good Mr. Davenport comforted them and said that God had sent this ship of air to show them how their friends were lost at sea.

Just as the loss of so many precious lives crushed the spirit of the new colony, so the loss of so much valuable property destroyed all hopes of its commercial success. In fact, the disaster nearly put an end to the New Haven Colony. There was at one time serious talk of moving to Ireland. And then Oliver Cromwell, who was at the head of the English government, offered them a place for settlement in the island of Jamaica. But the people feared the plague in the West Indies, and many of them were now too old to again undergo the hard labor of building a colony. So they gave up their ambitions of becoming wealthy traders and turned their attention to farming. They soon found that they could make a comfortable living in that way and were contented. But they never forgot the sad year of 1646, and how their happiness and hopes had gone down in the “Great Shippe.”

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