Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Crank and Walty

Donald Rumsfeld said you go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish to have. That's the way one should approach family history, too, but I sometimes find myself devoting time and attention to the ancestors I wish I had. I'm not the only one: in years of poking around the internet, I've found wishful and quite erroneous information shoehorning famous people into our family. There was the hopeful family tree that imagined that Daniel Boone's sister was an ancestor of Nannie Shumate, and another that substituted one brother for another in order to bring Mayflower passenger John Alden into Silas Jones's line.

I don't want to make that mistake here, but I can't help telling you about an ancestor that I covet for our tree. George Lamberton was one of the earliest settlers of my adopted hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, which is reason enough for me to want to make that connection. But Lamberton was also central to a legendary episode in the early history of the New Haven Colony -- one that was immortalized in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Lamberton apparently died at sea in 1646 while captaining a "Great Shippe" that the New Haven colonists had loaded with goods bound for England, hoping to reverse their colony's failing fortunes through profits from the trip. The ship was never seen again. Well, sort of. More about that in a moment.

First I'll tell you a little about where he fits in: I've told you before about Ambrose Clark, the great-grandfather of Cal Jones. Ambrose ended up in Arkansas but was born in Ohio to parents from New England -- the only New Englanders I've found in my family tree. I told you in my last post a little about Ambrose's mother, Marcy Humes. All we know about the origins of his father, John Clark, was that he was born around 1783 in Vermont and married Marcy in Middlesex, Vermont, in 1810.

But I have reason to believe that John ties into a family of Clarks from Connecticut who are descended from George Lamberton. I'm not the only one to think so; a Clark historian in Vermont has also made the connection. But there is no proof and at least one "missing link" between the families. I'll explain all that at the end. Let's get back to the tale of the sea.

So the New Haven Colony (which later merged with Connecticut) was founded in 1638 by English Puritans who had first planned to settle in Massachusetts, but who decided that that colony was both too crowded and insufficiently pious for their purposes. They came instead to a beautiful natural harbor on Long Island Sound, inhabited lightly by friendly Indians, and set about building a colony that would operate strictly under biblical law. They also hoped to make a lot of money, but that proved easier said than done. After some initial attempts at trade and agriculture didn't work out so well, they decided in 1646 that they needed to make a big score. They had a large ship built to sail to England and carry all the crops and merchandise they could produce.

The ship, built in Rhode Island, was the first oceangoing vessel built in the colonies, and it was apparently of dubious seaworthiness. So the man they chose to be its captain. George Lamberton, was either brave or optimistic or burdened with low foresight. George, a former London merchant, was 42 years old; he had come to New Haven with his wife Margaret and four daughters in 1638. The Lambertons had three more daughters before his voyage. (Their names are worth noting: Elizabeth, Hannah, Hope, Deliverance, Mercy, Desire, Obedience.)

George had been involved earlier in another scheme to improve the colony's fortunes: he led a 1641 excursion to Delaware to try to set up an outpost of New Haven for trade, but the party was chased out by the Swedes who had settled there. Along the way, he is said to have purchased the land that later became Phildaelphia from the local Indians -- when he sailed for England, he supposedly had a deed for this purchase with him.

The Great Shippe left New Haven Harbor in January 1646 (as depicted in the painting at left. Sorry it's so small--I'll try to find a bigger one). Colonists had to cut a path for the ship through the ice in the harbor. In addition to Lamberton and the cargo, there were passengers aboard who were going back to England, either permanently or to visit. More than a year went by without word of the ship, which never arrived in England. After a while, the New Haven colonists gave up hoping for their return. Being good Puritans who believed that God had predestined everything, they did not pray for the ship's miraculous return; instead, they asked that God let them know what had happened to the ship and its passengers. The answer came in an apparition in the harbor one afternoon.

Here I should stop trying to tell the story and let Longfellow do it. His 1858 poem, reproduced below, was based on an account by Cotton Mather in 1702.

The Phantom Ship

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In Mather's Magnalia Christi,
Of the old colonial time,
May be found in prose the legend
That is here set down in rhyme.

A ship sailed from New Haven,
And the keen and frosty airs,
That filled her sails at parting,
Were heavy with good men's prayers.

O Lord! if it be thy pleasure--
Thus prayed the old divine--
To bury our friends in the ocean,
Take them, for they are thine!

But Master Lamberton muttered,
And under his breath said he,
This ship is so crank and walty,
I fear our grave she will be!

And the ship that came from England,

When the winter months were gone,
Brought no tidings of this vessel,
Nor of Master Lamberton.

This put the people to praying
That the Lord would let them hear
What in His greater wisdom
He had done with friends so dear.

And at last their prayers were answered:--
It was in the month of June,
An hour before the sunset
Of a windy afternoon,

When, steadily steering landward,
A ship was seen below,
And they knew it was Lamberton, Master,
Who sailed so long ago.

On she came, with a cloud of canvas,
Right against the wind that blew.
Until the eye could distinguish
The faces of the crew.

Then fell her straining topmasts,
Hanging tangled in the shrouds,
And her sails were loosened and lifted,
And blown away like clouds.

And the masts, with all their rigging,
Fell slowly, one by one,
And the hulk dilated and vanished,
As a sea-mist in the sun!

And the people who saw this marvel
Each said unto his friend,
That this was the mould of their vessel,
And thus her tragic end.

And the pastor of the village
Gave thanks to God in prayer,
That, to quiet their troubled spirits,
He had sent this Ship of Air.

Here's a prose version of the Phantom Ship story. And if you really want to go deep into the story, the original telling begins on page 83 of this book from 1702 by Cotton Mather.

So these Puritans could rest easier knowing for sure that their friends and family had died in a shipwreck. One of the lost was the wife of Deputy Governor Stephen Goodyear (ancestor of the man who invented vulcanized rubber). The widowed Margaret Lamberton married the widowed Stephen Goodyear a year later.

What makes me think we might be descendants of George Lamberton? It's all in the name Ambrose. George and Margaret's daughter Hope married Samuel Ambrose, and their daughter Abigail married John Clark. The Clarks ended up in Middletown, Connecticut, up the road from New Haven, and they had a son and several other descendants named Ambrose Clark. If some of these Clarks moved to Vermont -- which is perfectly plausible, as there was much emigration from Connecticut to Vermont in the 18th century -- our John Clark could be one of their descendants, which would explain the origin of "our" Ambrose's name.

The line, with a gaping hole, might look something like this:

George Lamberton (1604–1646) m. Margaret Lewen
Hope Lamberton (ca. 1636–ca. 1700) m. Samuel Ambrose
Abigail Ambrose (1666–1732) m. John Clark
Ambrose Clark (1696–1764) m. Elizabeth Ward
Ambrose Clark (1723–? ) m. Mary Kilbourn
[Missing Link]
John Clark (1783–1850) m. Marcy Humes
Ambrose Clark (1818–1896) m. Salina Hash
Esther Caroline Clark (1848–1922) m. Charles Matthew Jones
Silas Matthew Jones (1871–1940) m. Nancy Lucinda Shumate
Sherman Calaway Jones (1895–1967) m. Clara Paxton

I don't know if we'll ever fill in that missing link. You'd think it would be hard to learn anything new about people who lived 250 years ago, but I hold out hope that someone has information in a family bible or a trunk in the attic that will clear all this up.

There's a classic old map (left, click on it to enlarge) showing the land held by settlers in the nine-block grid of New Haven in 1641. George Lamberton's tract, in the lower left square near the red letter "C," is right across the street from our favorite Chinese restaurant. I think of him whenever we have sauteed string beans.


Anonymous said...

I'm desc. from George's great-granddaughter, Sarah Allyn (George, Mercy (Lamberton) Painter, Mercy (Painter) Allyn) who was just as interesting as her great-grandfather. She was kidnapped from Deerfield when she was about 12 and married off to a French tailor.

Next time I'm at Yale I'll have to visit that Chinese restaurant.

Heinz 57 said...

Nice to hear from you! The restaurant in question is the Royal Palace at 32 Orange Street. (Map: http://tinyurl.com/opdt7r)

Anonymous said...

Hi Crank,I'm Walty. I seem to be a direct descendant of Nathaniel Turner. I'd love to have a larger image of the "great shippe". Is is available? where did you find it? my wife and i have a blog spot,
3rd ave news.its private but if you'd like to hear what's going on in the wilderness of vermont we'll put you on the email listing.

Ray, Lynn & Truman said...

hey,-it's mrs. walty...what's located where nathaniel turner's house once stood? looking at your map on your blog, i suspect you know. it would be interesting to hear...both your ancestor and mr. walty's ancestor died on that lost ship...

Heinz 57 said...

Hello! I wish I had a larger image of the Ghost Shippe paintings. There are actually two of them, one showing the ship leaving the harbor in the winter and the other showing the phantom ship appearing in the clouds. They hang over the main staircase at the New Haven Colony Historical Society. I've tried photographing but the light and the angle are tough.

As for Nathaniel Turner's lot, it looks like it's now the home of a very tall phone company building at the corner of Church and Wall streets in New Haven.

Unknown said...

Hello Everyone. I just figured out this evening that George is my 10 times great grandfather though his daughter Mercy. This is a super cool story, I will certainly keep an eye on your Clark connection. I have done ancestry DNA...wonder if we are connected :)