The Story of George Lamberton & The Phantom Ship
George Lamberton & The Phantom Ship
Isaac’s 11th great-grandfather
George Lamberton was probably like many other men in his day and age – born in England around 1604 – a merchant gentleman, a business man, a sea captain, a husband (he married Margaret Lewen on 6 January 1628/29 in St. Mary’s Whitecchapel, London, England) and father (7 children-Elizabeth, Hannah, Hope, Deliverance, Mercy, Desire and Obedience)
For reasons I can only imagine, he moved his family to a new land – like many thousands during his time.
He carved out a new life for himself and his family – he was one of the original founders of the Colony of New Haven and was allotted land in block 7 and owned over 266 acres.
He made a profitable voyage to Delaware Bay where he traded furs with the Indians. When the Delaware Company was formed they sent Capt. Lamberton and Nathaniel Mason on a second trip to Delaware Bay. On this voyage, in 1640, the permanent settlement of Cape May was established.
He attempted more new settlements, but he came into conflicts with the Swedes and the Dutch.
So what makes this man’s story different?
Was it through his death? He was the captain of the first ship built in the new world, which left New Haven with a valuable load to make money for the colony in England. This ship was never seen and never heard of again. No, that was not it!
His claim to fame did not come until more than 200 years later, when the poet
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about Lamberton in his poem.
“The Phantom Ship”
Birds of Passage 1858
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 ships 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.
The story behind the poem:
In the mid 1630’s,the Massachusetts Bay colony was a strong economic hub in the New World. But, another group of wealthy and well connected Londoners founded a town in Connecticut and called it New Haven. They hoped New Haven would soon rival Boston to its north and New York to their south.
As New Haven grew, it sold its products to England, but used the Massachusetts Bay ships to get their goods to England. To save time and money, they decided to build their own ship to transport goods. So as early as 1644 Theophilus Eaton, Stephen Goodyear, Thomas Gregston and perhaps other merchants at New Haven entrusted the construction of an ocean-going vessel to John Wakeman, Joshua Atwater, Jasper Crane and Richard Miles. They built or had built a ship in Rhode Island (about 150 tons) to be used in trade with England and other countries. That sailors and ship builders called this ship ‘crank sided and walty’ (or in terms we understand today, very unstable), and wholly overloaded, was overlooked.
In the winter of 1645/46 the “Great Shippe” was chartered by “The Company of Merchants of New Haven” with Captain George Lamberton in command. The ship carried saleable goods: peas, wheat, hides from West India, plate and beaver pelts. hides, and peltry (raw undressed skins) and manuscript writings of John Davenport at New Haven and Thomas Hooker at Hartford.
Because the loading of the ship was delayed, it was not ready to sail until winter, and finally, about the middle of January 1646, seventy persons boarded the ship, among them were Thomas Gregson, Nathaniel Turner, George Lamberton, the wife of Stephen Goodyear, and Francis Austin.
The vessel was iced in so solidly at its pier, that in order to get to Sea every able man and boy had to help hand-chop a three mile channel out of Long Island Sound. Then the ship had to be towed stern-first through the ice out to the waters of the North Atlantic. This was a chillingly bad omen, and the crew members almost mutinied because of it. Once the ship made its three mile journey out to the choppy ocean waters, it rolled badly in any amount of swell. The ship’s master, George Lamberton, an experienced mariner, predicted many times that the “walty” ship would “prove their grave.” But, the “Great Shippe” finally sailed into the icy mists of Long Island Sound.
The spiritual leader of New Haven, Rev. Davenport, assured them that Divine Providence would protect the loved ones on the ship. The ship was never heard from again.
That was not the end of the story! In today’s time, with our electronic and communication devices, we would have known within minutes what happened to the ship. But in those days, family waved goodbye to their loved ones, and hoped to see them back in a few months. Other ships came from England, but no one had heard of the “Shippe”, it had never reached England, no one had heard of it. It was probably difficult to go on with life, with such uncertainty, and not knowing if your loved one was dead or alive. People prayed to God for a sign.
As one chronicler of this tale wrote:
“With the fate of the New Haven colony — not to mention the lives of many of her most influential citizens — riding on a successful voyage, little wonder that news of their trading ship was awaited with the keenest anticipation by the people of New Haven. Each new arrival from England was questioned anxiously, but the winter months passed, spring moved toward summer and no tidings of the vessel’s fate reached the Connecticut settlement. A contemporary at the time said, “New Haven’s heart began to fail her: This put the godly people on much prayer, both publick and private, that the Lord would (if it was his pleasure) let them know what he had done with their dear friends.”
Six months later, some would say that the Lord did let them know what He had done with their dear friends. On a humid June afternoon, heavy thunderstorms descended upon New Haven harbor. Excitement overtook the town as person after person saw their `Great Shippe´ emerging from the cloudbanks and sailing into the harbor. However, it was sailing against the winds and above the waves-in the fogged clouds and not touching the waters below.
As it approached the shore, and as dusk fell, the main topmast broke off, fell and entangled other sails on the deck. Pieces of the ship seemed to break off. Many watching from the harbor saw a human figure on the bow, sword raised and pointing to the sea, just before the ship, ragged, broken and haunted, rolled over on her side and disappeared into the mists.
Thirty minutes had passed. No debris-wood, casks, sails– from the ship was ever found. The water calmed and the mists lifted. The ship had vanished. Disbelieving at first, soon, all came to believe that Divine Providence had shown them what had happened to their loved ones.
New Haven UFO, 1647
Reverend Cotton Mather, in his “Magnalia Christi Americana”, recorded what can be described today as a major UFO sighting. Mather received a letter from a Pastor in New Haven, Connecticut, that described the “apparition of a ship in the air.” A large vessel was lost at sea in 1646, and one year later witnesses observed this ship appear in the sky above New Haven. Some readers may consider this a Flying Dutchman or ghost story. The following letter summarizes this most grievous incident:
“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 150 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 Reverend 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 publick 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 sun-set a Ship of like dimensions with the aforesaid, with her canvass and colours abroad (though the wind northernly) appeared in the air coming up from our harbour’s mouth, which lyes 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 cryed out, There’s a brave ship! At length, crouding 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 missen-top; then all her masting seemed blown away by the board: quickly after the hulk brought unto a careen, she overset, and so vanished into a smoaky cloud, which in sometime dissipated, leaving, as everywhere else, a clear air.
The admiring spectators could distinguish the several colours 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 thus was her tragick end: but Mr. Davenport also in publick 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 made continually. Thus I am, Sir, Your humble servant, James Pierpont.”
I myself consider this an answer to prayer.
Capt. George Lamberton’s Timeline
About 1604 – Birth of George to Christopher Lamberton & Mary Margaret Denis in
6 January 1628/29 – George married Margaret Lewen 29 in St. Mary’s Whitecchapel, London, England
About 1632 – Birth of daughter Elizabeth, born abt 1632, died 1716, (married first Daniel Sellivant, 2nd William Trowbridge)
About 1634 – Birth of daughter Hannah, born abt 1634, Married first Samuel Wells, second Capt. John Allyn
It seems that in 1635 he came to Boston, afterward returned to England, and came with the Davenport and Eaton company.
About 1636 – Birth of daughter Hope, born abt 1636, married first – Herbert, second William Cheney.
About 1637 – Move to America
About 1638 – Birth of son Deliverance (the only son), born abt 1638. died after 1662, without children
Winter 1638/1639 – most of the settlers retired to Boston and recruited additional members.
Capt. Lamberton, who had a house in Boston, presumably for his family, defected from the Rowley Puritans and threw in his lot with the New Haven settlers.
Lamberton was one of the original founders of the Colony of New Haven. There he was allotted land in block 7 and owned over 266 acres.
1639 – He made a profitable voyage to Delaware Bay where he traded furs with the Indians. His family, like the others, occupied a cellar for a year or so. The Delaware Company was formed and sent Capt. Lamberton and Nathaniel Mason on a second trip to Delaware Bay. On this voyage the
1640 – The permanent settlement of Cape May was accomplished in 1640.
1640 – Birth of daughter Mercy Lamberton Painter – baptised 17 Jan 1640/41
(Mercy Lamberton Painter – Isaac’s 9th great-grandmother)
About 1642 – Birth of daughter Desire, baptised 14 Mar 1641/42, marr. Lt. Thomas Cooper Jr.
1643 – Lamberton attempted another permanent settlement near Salem, New Jersey, after purchasing the region south of Trenton from the Indians. The Swedes resented this intrusion into their territory by dysentery caused the effort to be abandoned. Later Lamberton started a fur trading post at the mouth of the Schuylkill, now the site of Philadelphia, but the Dutch seized his men, burned down his buildings and took his property. The Swedish Governor Printz also tried him for trespassing, conspiring with the Indians and other trumped-up charges. Lamberton, of course, was convicted in a Swedish court and severely fined.
About 1644 – Birth of daughter Obedience, baptised 9 Feb 1644/45, married Lt. Samuel Smith
1644 – As New Haven grew, it sold its products to England, but used the Massachusetts Bay ships to get their goods to England. To save time and money, they decided to build their own ship to transport goods As early as 1644 Theophilus Eaton, Stephen Goodyear, Thomas Gregston and perhaps other merchants at New Haven entrusted the construction of an ocean-going vessel to John Wakeman, Joshua Atwater, Jasper Crane and Richard Miles. They built or had built a ship in Rhode Island (about 150 tons) to be used in trade with England and other countries.
Winter of 1645/6 – the “Great Shippe” was chartered by “The Company of Merchants of NewHaven” with Captain George Lamberton in command. The ship carried saleable goods: peas, wheat, hides from West India, plate and beaver pelts. hides, and peltry (raw undressed skins) and manuscript writings of John Davenport at New Haven and Thomas Hooker at Hartford.
Because the loading of the ship was delayed , it was not ready to sail until winter
January 1646 – 70 persons boarded the ship, among them were Thomas Gregson, NathanielTurner, George Lamberton, the wife of Stephen Goodyear, and Francis Austin. The vessel was iced in so solidly at its pier, that in order to get to sea every able man and boy had to help hand-chop a three mile channel out of Long Island Sound. Then the ship had to be towed stern-first through the ice out to the waters of the North Atlantic. This was a chillingly bad omen, and the crew members almost mutinied because of it. Once the ship made its three mile journey out to the choppy ocean waters, it rolled badly in any amount of swell. The ship’s master, George Lamberton, an experienced mariner, predicted many times that the “walty” ship would “prove their grave.” But, the “Great Shippe” finally sailed into the icy mists of Long Island Sound.The spiritual leader of New Haven, Rev. Davenport, assured them that Divine Providence would protect the loved ones on the ship.
The ship was never heard from again.
Capt George Lamberton was lost at sea aboard the ship “Fellowship”, immortalized by Longfellow in his poem “Phantom Ship”.
In the following year Lamberton’s widow, Margaret, married Deputy-Governor Stephen Goodyear, whose wife also perished on the “Great Shippe”.
Looking for wife of Sgt.John Clark born in England in 1612 and came to America in 1634.Some sources say her name was Mary lamberton. Would like more info on her. If she was married to him, she is an ancestor of mine.
Here is some information you might find helpful:
Isaac, George Lamberton is my 10th great grandfather. His daughter Elizabeth my 9th great married William Trowbridge. The Trowbridge descendants eventually married into my Scofield family. My 2nd great grandmother was Martha Scofield. If you get this could you email to me and tell me which child of George Lamberton you are related to. You have written a wonderful story about our grandfather. Linda Lucas Everett Washington
Isaac’s 9th great-grandmother was Mercy Lamberton, the 5th daughter of George Lamberton. She married Shubael Painter abt. 1661.
Thank you for sharing this sad/fascinating story. My 10th great-grandmother was the wife of Stephen Goodyear and went down with the “great ship!” thank you again
Thank you for so much for all the information. George Lamberton is my 10th great grandfather also. The poem by Longfellow will have a special place in my heart since I live in Louisiana and he has always been revered as a great poet. It seems he writes about so many sad situations, no matter where they happened in North America.
Thank you for this information. My ? Grandfather was Thomas Gregson that was on this ship.
My maternal ninth great grandfather, George Lamberton, will be subject of a book planned for 2020 with title: GRANDPA LAMBERTON AND THE SHIP OF GHOSTS by J (Johannes) Froebel-Parker in his AHNENTAFEL BOOKS SERIES