Notes from Unkechaug History…

The Adventures of Solomon Ward: Unkechaug Deep Water Whaler 

by John Strong

Solomon Ward, born about 1820, was among the many Unkechaug men who went to sea on the long distance whaling expeditions that took them around the tip of South America into the Pacific and on north to the cold Arctic waters in search of sperm whales. Solomon and two other Unkechaugs, Philip and Jessie Smith, signed on the ship Konohassett in 1844. Solomon was the ship’s steward, Philip was a seaman, and Jessie was the cook. The Konohassett, a 426 ton ship owned by Huntting Cooper of East Hampton, was captained by T.B. Worth of Bridgehampton. Captain Worth kept a detailed journal of the expedition that served as the basis for a newspaper account many years later. The account is now in the archives of the Southampton Historical Society.

The ship left Sag Harbor on December 6, 1845 and made its way south around Cape Horn and north into the Pacific. They searched for whales in the waters south of Hawaii all spring, but made no sightings. In May the ship stopped at Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui for water and supplies. The small village of Lahaina was a favorite port for sailors who enjoyed the warm welcome of the Hawaiian people and a respite from the rigors and boredom of life at sea. The ship left Lahaina, heading for the north Pacific where the sperm whales often congregate during the summer months. They did not get very far. The Konohassett ran aground on a coral reef near the tiny island of Lisianski, located about 900 miles northwest of Honolulu. The dangerous reefs around this island had caused another ship to sink only a short time before this. The island, about a mile long and three quarters of a mile wide, was home to birds, seals, and turtles, and sparse vegetation. Fortunately the men discovered a shallow well for fresh water that had been dug by the survivors of a previous shipwreck. There was also a small abandoned shelter, described as a “cook house.”

Captain Worth, a resourceful man to say the least, ordered his crew to begin building a small sloop out of the wreckage on the Konohassett. The next day the crew rescued tools, planks, pitch, nails, and sailcloth and set to work. They labored for three wleeks, said Worth, “under every inconvenience. Had but one auger…two axes and very few other tools.” Among the crew were four men with the skills or knowledge vital to the construction of the sloop. Solomon Ward, as the ship’s steward, knew what tools were available and where to look among the wreckage for the necessary materials. These tools and materials were put to good use by Charles Hubbard, the ship’s cooper, Henry Hildreth, the ship’s carpenter, and Thomas Wood, the ship’s blacksmith.

Finally, on June 20th they completed a fast sailing sloop they named the Konohassett Jr. Now came a very difficult decision for Captain Worth. The sloop had room for seven men, twenty-eight would have to be left behind with the promise that he would return and rescue them. The captain does not tell us how the seven were chosen. Those left behind were a diverse group, including two of the ship’s officers, one of whom was second mate, T.J. Worth, a member of the captain’s family.

The Konohassett Jr. took thirty-eight days to reach Honolulu. The trip, described in an account by James S. Horton, one of the seven men selected for the crew, was “fraught with all kinds of dangers, difficulties and privations, owing to the small size of the sloop and the scanty allowance of bread and water.” Captain Worth, good to his word, outfitted a schooner named the Haalilio and returned to Lisianski to rescue the rest of the crew and to bring them to Honolulu. Unfortunately we have no account of the men stranded on the tiny island for at least two months. Solomon and the other Unkechaugs, who grew up in a maritime environment, may have used their traditional skills to procure food for the crew. They came from families that relied on fish, fowl, and turtle meat to supplement their diet.

Captain Worth took passage on a ship and landed in New London in the following spring, but we do not know how or when the Unkechaug men got back to Poospatuck. We do know that Solomon Ward returned to become an active participant in Unkechaug community life. It would be no surprise if none of the Konohassett survivors ever set foot on a ship again. In 1874 when Chief Jacob Ward called for people to support his petition requesting a school at Poospatuck, Solomon was among the signatories.

John A. Strong is Professor Emeritus of History and American Studies at Long Island University. He is the author of numerous publications, including The Unkechaug Indians of Eastern Long Island, The Montaukett Indians of Eastern Long Island, Algonquian Peoples of Long Island from Earliest Times to 1700, and “We Are Still Here!”: The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island Today. He recently served as an expert witness in the federal court case Gristedes Foods v. Poospatuck (Unkechaug) Nation.

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