MILKOFSKY (Dir., Wethersfield Historical Society): The trade was an impetus for shipbuilding all over the state and
for all of the allied trades for the anchor forgeries for sail makers
for rope walks. It created a great deal of prosperity that a lot of
people shared in, farmers as well, coopers, and it really led to the
development of much of the great architecture that remains in
Connecticut and the furniture and paintings that we find in museums
WHALING CITY 1 - COIT/SHAW
RYAN (New London Municipal Historian): This is the home
William Coit 1763 But actually the Coit family in New London – goes
back to the 1660’s when Coit came here and became
involved in shipbuilding. The family was always involved in shipbuilding and
they had shipyards right down on this cove here. If you look, you see it’s
still land, you can see behind the houses across the way was where the Coit
had their shipyards.
People like Coit built the ships that the mariners used in the West
London, from the very beginning was a seaport.
Merchants like Nathaniel Shaw who lived here, this was his
home, he was involved in the West Indian trade and people like
Nathaniel Shaw became extremely wealthy.
the 18th Century the islands of the Caribbean, the West
Indies, most of them their one big crop was sugar and they completely
cleared the islands and planted every bit of land they had into sugar.
places like New London, supported the plantation system
down there in the West Indies.
MILKOFSKY (Dir., Wethersfield Historical Society): The trade lasts really
until the 1830’s when the plantation system in the islands begins to
break down and the London investors who were backing all of those
sugar plantations are looking to new industry for investment. The
slaves are freed down there and so the mass markets for agricultural
products and – and lumber begins to dissipate.
BOATS, NUTMEG BUILDERS
CRONKITE: Shipbuilding -- for pleasure, commerce and defense -- is an
enduring Connecticut industry, starting in the Colonial era and
continuing through today.
MILKOFSKY (Dir., Wethersfield Historical Society): Shipbuilding along the Connecticut River was one of the largest
industries with the exception of agriculture during the 18th
and 19th Century.
two dozen vessels were built across the river here in the Goodspeed
Shipyard between 1848 and 1881. Over
the years there were about 42 shipyards between Saybrook and
Springfield, Massachusetts. In the early period they built small
coastwise vessels, sloops and schooners many of them in response to
the – the stone industry, to carry brownstone and cobble and granite
from the Connecticut River Valley to New York.
the later years the
shipyards congregated in the lower valley and they began building 700
to 1,000 tonners. Many of those cotton packets for the cotton packet
trade that many Connecticut families invested in. Many of them whalers
…and vessels in the European packet trade as well.
PETERSON (Senior Curator, Mystic Seaport): In the 19th
Century I think of the principal activities as shipbuilding, fishing
and coastal commerce as the great sort of triumvirate of activity.
number of vessels sailing along the rivers and the Sound were just
tremendous …today we don’t really get a glimpse of it at all
because of the size of the vessels have changed, the types of vessels
CRONKITE: For a small state, in the 19th Century,
Connecticut had a far-reaching impact in the maritime industry.
Although most of the oceangoing long-distance vessels sailed from
large ports like New York City or Boston, ownership often was
PETERSON (Senior Curator, Mystic Seaport): Being so close to New York
which was the chief entrepot, chief port …of the nation …during
the 19th Century was very important to the development not
only of New York but of Connecticut itself. Connecticut built the
vessels that sailed out of the Port of New York, supplied the
merchants who operated the counting houses and the commission houses
on South Street and also supplied the ship captains who sailed many of
these vessels as well.
the era of the clipper ship, for example, Connecticut furnished 22
clipper ships to the Port of New York and these vessels would sail
from New York. A clipper ship actually
is a vessel that was designed to carry cargo …in the quickest
possible fashion to the ¾
to the gold fields of California.
They were very heavily sparred, heavily canvassed vessels,
carried a lot of sail.
clipper ship era lasted about 10 years, from 1850 to 1860,
essentially, …Connecticut participated in it principally through the
port of Mystic. The
Mystic clippers were ¾
were kind of a distinctive vessel.
In fact, the speed record from New York to San Francisco during
that 10-year period was held by Mystic built clippers three of those
of the clippers built here in …Mystic was a ship called the Andrew
Jackson whose master was also a Mystic man, Captain John E. “Kicking
Jack” Williams. And he is credited along with the famous
Massachusetts built Flying Cloud as making the fastest passage from
New York to San Francisco and he made that voyage in 89 days and 4
CRONKITE: There are few remaining shipyards in Connecticut today.
The building of wooden boats is all but a vanishing trade.
Howard Davis is a fourth-generation Connecticut shipwright
whose years of experience inform his work as an exhibit interpreter at
(Retired Shipwright): Well, you know, when you grow up next door to a
boat shop, your father and grandfather are both working in the
shipyard which is just over the hill, why, it just kind of came
natural to me that that’s what I wanted to do.
went in the shipyard as soon as I was out of high school at 18 years
old and I learned to be a ship carpenter.
By 1941, I was
ready to go to work in the Noank Shipyard.
So after I had been there a while I was moved into the
carpenter’s crew and worked on the building of the ships which were
97-foot wooden mine sweepers.
we finished the boats for the Navy we worked on pleasure boats,
fishing boats and all this general maintenance of all kinds of boats,
then I was offered a job at the Eldridge Boatyard in - down in Noank
in 1947. We built smaller
boats mostly in the 35-foot class, by 1958 though something had
happened to wooden boats. I spent 17 years learning to build them,
then they build them out of fiberglass and so the Eldridge shop closed
worked on anything but woodworking because I wanted to build wooden
boats. To me it’s the
best work anybody could get. You
start out with a pile of oak and a pile of cedar, two piles of wood
and by April, if you’d start around Christmas, by April you’ve got
a finished boat that’s ready to slide down into the water and the
sense of satisfaction, I can’t describe it, but you’ve got it.