A Killingly Man Goes to Sea and Other Adventures

A Killingly Man Goes to Sea and Other Adventures 

     Research can be fun and can lead to intriguing facts and stories about individuals, their histo- ries, and events in the histories of our town of Killingly, our state and our country. 

     My adventure started with a search of the local newspapers at the Killingly Historical Society for information on local men who went to sea on the whaling ships. One of the results of my search was the obituary of William H. Shippee in the Windham County Transcript of July 16, 1931. 

Here is that obituary: 

“William H. Shippee, Civil War Veteran, Dies at 87 

     “William H. Shippee, sailor, Civil War veteran, hunter, trapper, and fur trader, reached the end of a long and adventurous life when he died Saturday evening, 11 July, [1931] at his home on North street. Mr. Shippee was 87 years of age and had been a resident of this town all his life, except for periods during his youth and young manhood when he sailed with whaling expeditions and fought for his country. For several years past he had been totally blind and confined to his home. 

     “Funeral services at the home Tuesday afternoon were largely attended, those present includ- ing four of the eight living members of McGregor Post, G. A. R., Benjamin E. Rapp, Harry B. Beers, Emory L. Tubbs and Henry W. Babson, as well as representatives from other patriotic and fraternal organizations. There were many beautiful flowers. 

     “Rev. Chester J. Armstrong of the Baptist church conducted the service, being assisted by Rev. Almer F. Gallup of the Nazarene Church. Burial was in the Westfield cemetery. The bearers were Deacons Frank T. Preston and William J. Craig of the Baptist church; DeForrest Wells and Ells- worth C. Babson of Colonel William Anderson Camp, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War; Winthrop Ballard of Putnam and Arthur Bennett of Canterbury. A. F. Wood, funeral director. 

     “Born in Killingly, March 26, 1844, a son of Willis H. and Alma Watson Shippee. William H. Shippee was educated in the town schools and at the age of sixteen, on October 9, 1860, shipped from New Bedford on the bark Cicero, a vessel of 252 tons which was built at Rochester, Mass., in 1823 and broken up at New Bedford in 1883, for a whaling voyage to the Pacific Ocean and Japan Sea. Being the youngest aboard, Mr. Shippee became cabin boy and later steward. One of his prized possessions was a log kept by the officers of the Cicero, describing in terse, salty phrases the voyage around the Horn and the successes and failures of whaling, as well as the ships hailed, ports touched and occasional difficulties with deserting and obstreperous sailors. 

     “Near the Sandwich Islands, Mr. Shippee was taken ill with a fever and was placed in the Mohi hospital. After recovering, he shipped on the bark Charles W. Morgan and spent a season in the Sea of Okhotsk and Japan Sea, where the crew captured one polar whale which stowed down 265 barrels of oil. Discharged at Honolulu, Mr. Shippee again signed up with the Morgan, as the vessel was homeward bound for New Bedford. 

     “The Charles W. Morgan, of which Mr. Shippee was steward before he reached his majority, became one of the most famous of all the great fleet of New Bedford whalers. Built 90 years ago, she sailed the seven seas for four score years, becoming New Bedford's oldest and last whaling vessel. At the present time the bark is owned by Col. E. H. R. Green and rests in a bed of concrete at his estate in South Dartmouth. In order to preserve this historic relic, Col. Green is having repairs made this sum- mer, replacing rotted planking and ribs. [See end notes] 

     “Returning from his sea adventures, Mr. Shippee found the country in the throes of the great Civil War. He did not delay in offering his services for the preservation of the Union, enlisting Jan. 4, 1864, and being assigned to Battery D, Heavy Artillery, 1st Conn. Vols., with which he fought during the remainder of the rebellion. Mr. Shippee was appointed corporal July 10, 1865, was discharged Sept. 25, 1865 and mustered out at Hartford Oct. 1, 1865. 

     “During his service with Battery D it was engaged in northern Virginia, being in several bat- tles around Richmond and on the Peninsular and playing an important part in the long siege of Peters- burg. After the fall of that Confederate stronghold, the Connecticut artillerymen removed the enemy guns and soon afterward Lee surrendered. 

     “Battery D had on its roster a number of men from this vicinity including Sergeants William B. Burgess, Edwin C. Kelley and Albert E. Shippee, Corporals James Day and Francis E. Gleason, Privates William S. Alexander, Prescott A. Bartlett, Lorenzo Bassett, John H. Colburn, Henry Copeland, John S. Davis, Dwight M. Day, John Day, Judson H. Fisher, Francis Frost, Edward H. Grosvenor, George H. Hutchins, Clark W. James, Henry K. James, James H. Joslyn, Norman N. Kelly, Charles King, George E. King, Herbert L. Law, John McDonald, Gilbert P. Nettleton, Thomas Newton, Joseph M. Oatley, Alanson Pratt, Henry W. Pray, William F. Pray, Frank S. Richmond, Ira P. Shippee, George O. Soule, George H. Spalding, Charles W. Starkweather, George T. Wilbur, Sam- uel H. Williams, Abram Willis, Henry Woodell, William Young and William L. Young, all of Kill- ingly, Corporal William H. Arnold, Wagoner Edgar Town, Privates Ira Burgess, Samuel W. Lawton, William H. Salisbury, Charles F. Showles and George M. Williams, of Brooklyn. 

     “Of Mr. Shippee it may truthfully be said that he was the only man who made General Grant remove his spurs. It was during an inspection of a powder magazine by commanding officers that Mr. Shippee said, ‘Hold on there, where are you going?’ to an officer about to enter the magazine. ‘To inspect this magazine,’ replied the man and to his astonishment Mr. Shippee said, ‘You don't inspect this magazine until you have taken off your spurs.’ 

     “’And why not?’ inquired the officer. 

     “’Because I am in charge of this powder magazine and have been given orders not to allow anyone to come in here with spurs on, due to the fact that the powder on the ground might be ignited by the spurs.’ 

     “’Young man, do you know who I am?’ asked the officer, trying to evade if possible the task of removing his spurs.

     “’No, I don't,’ replied Mr. Shippee. 

     “’I am General Grant,’ said the other. 

     “‘I don't care who you are. You will have to remove those spurs if you intend to come in here. Those are the orders.’ 

     The general did so and pleasantly remarked, ‘Here is one soldier who is not afraid to enforce orders.’” 

     Returning from the war, Mr. Shippee, being in none too robust health, followed in the footsteps of his father, who was well known as a hunter and trapper. Not content with the animals he could get through his own efforts, he established himself as a dealer in furs and built up a fine business, covering a regular route to obtain the skins and then taking them to the Boston market. For a time, Mr. Shippee successfully operated a skunk farm in Mashentuck, giving it up only when he was laid up for a consid- erable period when his horse ran away, injuring him seriously. His first attempt at raising the animals failed because most of the animals dug themselves out during the summer, but he replenished his breeding stock and continued the experiment for several years. During the last six months' period be- fore he abandoned the enterprise, Mr. Shippee made a net profit of $2,728. As late as the early part of the twentieth century there were numerous mink, fox, coon, skunk and muskrat furs to be had. When they began to be scarce, he entered the antique business and continued in that line for many years until blindness forced him to retire for all business activity. [Editor’s note--I remember as a youngster hearing him referred to as ‘Skunk’ Shippee.] 

     Mr. Shippee was a member of the Baptist church, McGregor Post, G. A. R., Moriah Lodge, A. F. & A. M., and Quinebaug Lodge, I. O. O. F., being active in their affairs until loss of his sight and the infirmities of age compelled him to remain at home. 

     Mr. Shippee leaves his wife, three daughters, Mrs. George Baker, Mrs. Louis E. Labossiere and Mrs. Meddie Harold, all of Danielson, and four grandchildren.” 


     After reading that obituary, I was curious about the reference to his prize possession of a log book from the Cicero. A subsequent search found a digitized copy of what may be that particular log book that is in the New Bedford Whaling Museum: 

     “Logbook of the Cicero (Bark) out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. On voyage Octo- ber 9, 1860 – May 25, 1865 to the Cape Verde, coast of Brazil, Falkland Island, coast of Chile, Japan Sea, Bering Sea, and Kamchatka Peninsula whaling grounds. Mastered by John R. Stivers. Kept by William J. Chadwick and Isaac Wrigley.” 

Following is a copy of the page that lists the names of the crew: 

     The ship William Shippee returned home on was the Charles W. Morgan. Research on that resulted in more connections to our state of Connecticut. It was an American whaling ship built in 1841 whose ac- tive service period was during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ships of this type were usually used to har- vest the blubber of whales for whale oil, which was commonly used in lamps. It has served as a museum ship since the 1940s, and is now an exhibit at the Mystic Seaport museum in Mystic, Connecticut. She is the world's oldest surviving merchant vessel, and the only surviving wooden whaling ship from the 19th century American merchant fleet. She was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966. 

     William H. Shippee’s descendants lived not only in this town but are now spread around the country. I hope they know what an interesting man he was. 

     As you can see, this man whose occupation on several national census records was listed as fur trad- er or antique dealer led a life that was much more diverse than the average person who lived in our town. But then, maybe, there are more stories to be uncovered if we only take the time to look for them. 

Natalie LaFantasie Coolidge 

For more stories be sure to explore our Museum section of the website.