The Phantom Ship Of New Haven Harbor, 1647


Phantom Ship

Taylor’s Corners is an old name for the intersection of Still, Stonehenge and Haviland roads.  The Taylor family had settled there by the 1780s, probably descended from Danbury Taylors who were descendants of John Taylor, who had come from England in 1639 and settled in New Haven.

In the 1640s, the New Haven Colony was having difficulty competing with colonies to the south in trade with England.  So, landowners pooled their money and had a 150-ton ship built in Rhode Island.  The vessel, loaded with goods for England, sailed in January 1647 from New Haven and was to become known as the “Phantom Ship”.  Aboard was John Taylor, who wanted to visit England.

Nothing was ever heard from the vessel; it probably sank in a winter storm.  But the following June, after a severe thunderstorm, many New Haven residents witnessed an eerie apparition.

The Rev. James Pierpont, a contemporary, wrote, “About an hour before sunset, a ship of like dimensions with the aforesaid, with her canvass and colours abroad (though the wind northerly), appeared in the air coming up from our harbour’s mouth, which lies 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 cried out: ‘There’s a brave ship!’

At length, crowding 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 mizzen-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 smoky cloud, which in some time 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 this was her tragic end; but Mr. Davenport (a minister who had blessed the ship’s departure in January) also in public declared to the 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 were made continually.’” Mr. Pierpont, incidentally, was a well-respected minister and a founder of Yale College.

Source: The Ridgefield Press