Mystic’s Shipbuilding History
Early English colonists to Plymouth, to Boston and ultimately to Connecticut, initially hoped there would be mineral wealth or fertile, arable land to farm. It didn’t take long to realize that this coast had neither. New England’s primary resources consisted of two things: fish, and timber. Coastal Connecticut, and especially New London County, where Mystic is the center, was also blessed in another way.
Because Mystic is at the east end of protected Long Island sound, and because of its unique location along an estuary that cut northward into magnificent stands of massive hardwood trees in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was and ideal location to build ships. And dozens of Mystic shipyards built hundreds of ships.
According to noted maritime historian Carl Cutler, this little village on a 5 mile long river:
“…was to produce more noted captains, a greater tonnage of fine ships, and a larger number of important sailing records than any place of its size in the world…”
Cutler goes on to point out that the sprawling coves between Stonington and New London (with Mystic at the Center), were home to twice as many shipyards as even Boston Bay despite Boston’s much larger population. Sealing, whaling and merchant shipping were important parts of Mystic’s history, but the complex, detailed hard work of actual shipbuilding formed the core of the town’s character.
As one example, where the Mystic Seaport Museum sits today was once home to George Greenman & Company a sprawling shipyard that built 11 of the 21 classic Clipper Ships built in Mystic. The David Crockett (built 1853), was 215 feet long, 40 feet wide and drew 27 feet. This beauty “rounded the horn” more times than any other sailing ship, 27 round trips, and consistently averaged among the quickest times from New York to San Francisco.
Bill Pryor is the founder of Mystic Revealed, a blog and tour site. He runs a variety of guided-tours specializing in the history, food and local culture around Mystic. www.mysticrevealed.com [email protected]