Sunday, May 17, 2009


Several weeks ago I posted the company flag for Grinnell & Minturn's Red Swallowtail shipping line, the company that operated the packet ship, London, on which my great great great grandparents sailed the London to New York leg of their 1855 emigration from East Brandenburg in Prussia to Wisconsin.

A recent visitor to my blog found my post through a Google search for the terms "Grinnell & Minturn swallowtail line". The visitor didn't post a comment or send me an e-mail, but there was no real need to do so. Sitemeter records the URL for the sites from which my blogpost is accessed and in Google's case the search terms the visitor used. One of the search results listed on that page was a webpage headed Ship Yorktown, which is one of a number of pages that are part of the Forster Family Genealogy website.

It seems the first Forsters to come to America in their line arrived on the Yorktown in 1852. The Forsters weren't able to locate a portrait of the Yorktown, but they were able to find a painting of her sister ship, the London, built by Webb & Company at the same time and in the same location at the East River shipyards in New York. The two ships, according to their webpage, were identical in all but a few small details.

If you look carefully at the painting of the London you can see the Red Swallowtail colors flying from the top of the mainmast. You can see it up close if you click your mouse once on the picture.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Red Swallowtail Line

A year and a half ago I found the passenger manifests for the ships on which my German ancestors arrived in New York at Castle Garden in 1855 and 1856. I posted about that find on this blog and shortly after wrote another post about the New York Marine Register and the online information I had gleaned at Mystic Seaport about the ships on which my ancestors traveled.

I mentioned then that my great great grandparents arrived from Hamburg on a ship called the Ann Washburn in the summer of 1856 and that my great great great grandparents sailed the previous spring in 1855 from London on a ship called the London. I think it's likely that they would have all traveled together in 1855 except that my great great grandmother was about 5 months pregnant with my great grandfather at the time that the London sailed. I noted then that the owner of the London was listed as M. H. Grinnell and that the name of the ship's captain was Hubbard.

Since then I've located a little more information about the New York shipping line that transported some of my ancestors. It was called the Red Swallowtail Line and the symbol they used on their flag and sails is shown at the top of this post. The owner of the London, Moses H. Grinnell, was the youngest of three Grinnell brothers from New Bedford, Massachusetts, who were partners in a New York firm called Grinnell, Minturn & Company. The company owned the Blue Swallowtail Line, that sailed packet ships between New York and Liverpool, and the Red Swallowtail Line, carrying passengers, freight and mail between New York and London for six decades, from 1823 until 1881.

I learned about it from a webpage put together several years ago by Michael Carolan, whose ancestor, Thomas Carolan, emigrated from Ireland by way of Liverpool during the Potato Famine. His ancestor, a blacksmith, arrived in 1847 on a ship called the Patrick Henry. The London was one of about a dozen ships in service on the Red Swallowtail Line and the captain on that ship in 1855, Sheldon G. Hubbard, was listed in 1851 as owning 1/16th of the Patrick Henry during the several voyages when he was skipper of that vessel. Click on the Grinnell, Minturn & Company link to visit the Thomas Carolan webpage. It's a truly dazzling portrait of a 19th century shipping firm.

I still haven't been able to determine how my ancestors traveled to London in 1855 from the banks of the Oder fifty miles east of Berlin or why my great great grandparents and their two small sons booked their passage one year later from Hamburg instead of London.