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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