Gurdon L. Allyn (AM0120)

Gurdon was born December 23,1799 in Gales Ferry (New London Crew List says Groton) to Nathan and Hannah Lester Allyn. On October 13, 1822 he married Sarah Sherwood Bradford (born 1799) in Gales Ferry. She died August 8, 1988, he died August 16, 1891.  Census reports record Gurdon and Sarah living in Groton in 1830, Salem in 1840 and 1850 and Gales Ferry in 1870. They had four sons and one daughter, including a son who died at five months, a son who died at sea at age 25, and a son Gurdon Jr. (11/1/1826-11/3/1913), a farmer in Salem for 50 years.

Gurdon began his sailing career at an early age. In 1819 he shipped as mate on a sloop under Capt. Christopher Allyn (AM0119) as master (presumably Christopher’s THAMES) and in the following year was its master on a voyage to the West Indies.  His autobiography recounts his career at sea in detail. Tiring of the sea, in 1839 he bought a farm in Salem CT and moved there from Gales Ferry. He farmed for three years before concluding that his hard work was “by no means profitable to me” so he returned to sea in 1842. New London Crew List describes him as 5’7” tall, of light complexion with light hair.

​Gurdon was master of nine voyages on nine vessels with New London as home port:

​SPARK (AS2409): (schooner, 59 tons, built Waterford, CT 1825). Sailed in 1829 on a sealing voyage to the South Atlantic. AV13293.

​GENERAL PUTNAM (AS1440): (ship, built Beaufort SC 1810). Sailed in 1830 on a sealing voyage. AOWV shows SPARK and GENERAL PUTNAM as two separate voyages. Gurdon’s autobiography describes he and another master sailing the two vessels sailing together in partnership in what was a single 18- month voyage, 10/25/1829-5/10/1831. AV05503

​BETSEY (AS0979): (schooner, 118 tons, built Beaufort, NC in 1810). Sailed 1834-1836 to Havana. AV01834

​FRANKLIN (AS1406): (schooner, 99 tons, built Eastport ME in 1833). Sailed 8/13/1842-4/8/1844. Agent Perkins & Smith. Starbuck reports that she “was a tender and brought elephant-oil”. AV05243

​CHARLES HENRY (AS1083): (ship, 264 tons, built Boston MA 1826).  Sailed 7/15/1845-1847 to Indian and North Pacific. Agent Perkins & Smith Gurdon’s wife Sarah Sherwood Bradford and daughter sailed on this voyage. The vessel stranded and was lost near Montauk in the fog in August 1847 at the end of the voyage but the cargo was saved. Druett says “the over-eager mate … ran the vessel ashore”. Gurdon’s autobiography mentions more detail about this incident. AV02693.

​PALLADIUM (AS2137): (ship, 342 tons, built Salem MA 1816). Two voyages to Patagonia for guano: 11/1847-5/1848 (AV17276) and 6/1848-5/1849 (AV11209).

NATHANIEL S. PERKINS (AS2021): (bark, 309 tons, built New London 1852). Sailed 9/22/1852-3/15/1857 to the Pacific. Gurdon’s wife and the wife of the mate, George Pinkham, sailed with him on this voyage. In 1855 in Honolulu he received word of the death of his youngest son at sea at age 25. He arranged for he and his wife to return home by becoming replacement master of BROOKLINE see below) returning to New London. AV10293.​​​​BROOKLINE (AS1011): (ship, 120 tons, built Medford MA 1831). Sailed 7/11/1851-4/30/1856 to the North Pacific. AgentPerkins & Smith Gurdon was a replacement master for her return to New London. Note: MSM has in its collections a wood chest, circa 1845, with a label “… Per ship Brookline/Capt. Allyn” [Charles H. Allyn; ship BROOKLINE…” (#1996,133.17). AV02062.

​TEMPEST (AS2480): (bark, 330 tons, built Robinston ME 1855). Sailed 5/21/1857-4/11/1861 to the Pacific. Agent Frink & Prentiss Gurdon left the ship in San Francisco having sustained a loss according to autobiography of $7,000 on the voyage($203,000 in 2019 prices). AV13747.

​Starbuck does not list the voyages of SPARK, GENERAL PUTNAM, BETSEY or PALLADIUM, presumably because they were non-whaling related (sealing, guano).

​Gurdon was master of non-whaling-related voyages not listed in AOWV on two vesselswith New London as home port:

​TALMA (schooner, 65 tons, built Waterford CT 1830). Sailed 1832-3, possibly sealing. AOWV lists one later voyage (1834-6) under a different master.

​IRIS (bark, 245 tons, built Kittery ME 1823, two guano voyages to Patagonia, 11/1849-5/1850, 9/1850-5/1851.

​​After his whaling career he obtained a US Navy commission as acting master and coastal pilot.  Beginning in May 1861 he served 16 months during the Civil War aboard the US frigate ST. LAWRENCE along the East Coast and participated in the MONITOR – MERRIMAC engagement in March 1862. In 1863 he and his family returned from Salem to Gales Ferry where they remained for the balance of their lives. Both are buried in the Gales Ferry Cemetery. Gravestones found at Find a Grave.

​Sources: See Sidebar. Also: Gurdon’s autobiography The Old Sailor’s Story: The Life, Adventures and Voyages, Including Three Trips Around the World is an invaluable resource, adding or correcting information in AOWV; books on Gales Ferry history at Bill Library in Ledyard, including Avery’s History of the Town of Ledyard; Joan Druett, She Was a Sister Sailor mentions Mrs. Allyn with respect to both of her voyages. Gurdon’s autobiography and Druett are available at MSM Library.

George Shaw (Mystic Seaport Museum) December 2019