New London History Notes: The Richard Douglass Family

The City of New London has a proud history that some know a little about and many know nothing about. From the time of first contact when the european explorers ventured along the coast to the Winthrop Jr. family designing New London as a society for the practice of alchemy and to the times when privateers raided British ships during the Revolution and War of 1812 to the burning of the city in 1781 by Benedict Arnold to the glory days of Whaling and then the industrial revolution New London has thousands of great history stories many yet to be told.

Each building, each street, and each family has a story or two that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks would love to make a mini series on. When was the last time you read the street sign, or the placard on an old house and wondered who were these people and what did they do?

On Historic Green Street just off State Street lies a perfect example of a late 18th century street. In the center between Golden Street and Green“s Alley are a couple of houses. Each built by the same family one from ca.1792 and the other from ca. 1801. The latter, the mustard colored Richard Douglass House was built by Capt. Richard Douglass a veteran of the American Revolution, founding member of the Society of Cincinnati (George Washington was a founding member). Richard a cooper (barrel maker) likely crossed paths with Nathan Hale, William Colfax (head of Geo.Washington“s Security Detail) and Richard Bulkeley (Bulkeley House in New London - a privateer).

Richard and his wife were the fist converts to Methodism after hearing a sermon from Rev. Jesse Lee of Lyme in 17901. Meetings were held at the Douglass house and in 1793 the church society grew and organized and in 1817 they had helped build a church on Methodist Street.

Richard“s sons became Whaling Masters (Alexander), Lawyers Richard II, War of 1812 Veterans Luke and led fascinating lives in the time of our country“s youth. So much was unknown, so much unsure.

Prior to the War of 1812 Merchants and Sea Captains were delivering a great deal of business to and from New London to ports across the world. In the early part of the 19th century Whaling became a growing industry. One Captain, Alexander Douglass along with William Barnes who built a state home on Granite Street had successful voyages on the Lydia. Said to have brought in the richest cargo ever for a whaleship. The War of 1812 ended all commerce and the city suffered because of it. At the end of the War of 1812 whaling began and quickly became the chief source of revenue for the city and it“s residents.

Alexander Douglass later sailed on the Dauphin, the ship said to have saved the crew of the Whaleship Essex (Moby Dick). Alexander captained ships owned by Doc.Samuel Lee of Lyme who had a stately home on State Street now home of the public library parking lot, Benjamin Brown - home and office still stand on Bank Street and are built of Granite now the home to curves opposite the Shaw Mansion and William Williams and Henry Havens who ran perhaps the largest firm Williams and Havens. Alexander retired to upstate New York and later Illinois where he is buried.

Richard II along with Jared Starr (Starr Street), William Williams, Jacob Gurley, Jonathan Hurlbut, Elisha Denison and Edward Hallam petitioned and started the Union Insurance Company of New London in 1805 with Richard II being a board member and director.

Some of the Douglass family stayed in New London while others took advantage of land grants issued to Richard Sr. for his service in the American Revolution. Richard Jr. later migrated to Tennessee and Ohio and became a well respected lawyer known for his tough and outspoken Yankee wit.

Albert Douglass son of Richard II became an Ambassador to Chile and Gov. of Ohio. Other Douglasses became doctors, merchants and soldiers from all corners of America.

It can be said that no other family has spread to so many corners of America than the Douglass family. Patriots, Whalers, Clergymen, fathers, brothers, mothers and sisters all in the pages of New London History.

Next time you see a street sign or a placard on a house just imagine how many great stories are yet to be told.