This small burial plot dating from the late 18th century is located in the rear of a private residence in the Great Neck section of town.

On the north side of Lamphere Road, almost opposite the entrance to the Great Neck Country Club are two burial sites lying side by side. One is the site of Esther and Caleb Beckwith. Their graves between the granite posts and their stones are lying flat.

The second contains the graves of an unknown number of slaves from the large Taber Family farm from the Great Neck area from colonial days. It is difficult to determine the location of the stones because of the heavy plant growth. No indication of the number or names of those buried have been found. Further treatment of slave burial grounds in Waterford can be found in another chapter.

The site is not easily seen from the road because it is located far in the rear of the yard and is accessible only by trespassing through the private property o f the two homes on 49 and 51 Lamphere Road. Surrounding the burial area is a low stonewall that is part of a large stone network that runs all through the area. The Hale collection notes only two stones marking the graves of husband and wife, Caleb and Esther Beckwith.

Caleb Beckwith, Jr.

Nov 4, 1788- March 12, 1860

Esther Beebe Beckwith

March 18, 1787-Sept 5, 1847

Caleb, a great grandson of the first Beckwith to arrive in New London, was a fisherman who died of consumption after having been ill for six months. His wife, Esther Beebe Beckwith, was a daughter in the large Beebe family. Few other details about Caleb Beckwith’s life are known beyond the fact that he was a member of the large Beckwith family that can trace its roots all the way back to Normandy around the time of William the Conqueror.[1]

Founders of the Beckwith Family in New London

Matthew Beckwith (1610–1681):

Sixteen-year-old Matthew Beckwith arrived in the New World with his parents in 1637, when their ship, said to be the “Sparrow Hawk,” crashed upon the shore on Cape Cod.[2] The passengers were unharmed, but the ship remained buried in the sand and marsh mud on a beach at Orleans, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Years later, in the spring of 1651 the young Mathew chose to make his own way to the New London area where, like all newcomers to the fledgling town, he was given a home lot.[3] Matthew’s was on Coit street. A prosperous future in shipping was assured when he married Elizabeth Lynde, from a shipping merchant family in the Netherlands. Later, he acquired a much larger quantity of land in the outskirts of New London.

Matthew, along with several wealthy partners, owned the bark “Endeavor,” the first vessel ever built and launched in New London. Built by Mould & Coit, it was involved in trade with the Caribbean island of Barbados. As a ship owner with two other partners, Matthew travelled between New England, Amsterdam, and Barbados, and was away from home a great deal of time. Matthew’s property is today Rocky Neck State Park, the port from which his three ships were based. He also owned large tracts of land along the west side of the Niantic River.

Matthew Beckwith became a prosperous ship and land owner with an oversized personality. One biographer writes: “Matthew was not a quiet, obscure man!”[4] His name appears several times on the pages of the recorded history of Connecticut.”[5]

He was fined once for “unreasonable & immoderate drinking at the Pinnace” (a small boat upon a larger vessel)”[6] and was a defendant twice for “slander” and for “assault.” Each time he paid a fine and did public penitence. He in turn brought suits against two others for debts owed and for killing his “swine.” One biographer gives a long list of minor court cases involving Matthew. Even his death occurred under curious circumstances, when at the age of 70, he accidentally fell off a cliff in New London![7] A record of his death in a journal reports:

“October 21. Matthew Beckwith, aged about 70, missing his way in a very dark night, fell from a Ledge of rocks about 20 or 30 foot high and beat out his brains against a stone he fell upon.”[8]

The estate of Matthew Beckwith was appraised at 393 pounds, indicating him to have ranked among the “well circumstanced class of that day.” He was able to give “somewhat liberally to his family,”[9] including his wife, Elizabeth and their twelve children. Most of the family were seamen.

Beckwith’s Son’s Encounter with John Rogers

Matthew’s first son, also named Matthew (1637–1728), found himself in the middle of a marital drama involving John Rogers, a radical religious leader in New London. While John’s wife, Elizabeth, had divorced him several years earlier, Rogers was desperate to win her back. He pleaded with her; however she rejected him repeatedly and married Beckwith. When Rogers next encountered the couple, he appeared “overcome with grief and rage.”[10] He grabbed Elizabeth and warned Beckwith that he should never have “meddled with her.”[11] Fearing for his own safety, Beckwith had Rogers thrown in jail, where he languished for several months, refusing to post bond and guarantee Beckwith’s safe being. In a state of dread, Beckwith begged the court to keep Rogers confined, “for I have as much reason as ever to fear his attempts against my life.” When Rogers was finally released six months later, Rogers turned his attention to the demands of his other children, his farm, and his large body of faithful followers. Little more was heard about his feud with Matthew Beckwith.

Beckwith Sons: Shipyards

Matthew’s son, Jason, purchased a half acre site on the Niantic River in 1800 and his large family established a shipbuilding company early in the seventeenth century.[12] Three generations of the family produced hundreds of crafts, fishing smacks, sloops, and schooners in the Niantic River and in a yard in East New London.

Upon the death of Jason in the 1840s, two of his sons, James and Elisha, ran the yard after their father’s death. Sons Gordon and Elisha, began a second yard at Strait’s Bridge on the east side of the Niantic River, at Golden Spur.[13]

One of the brothers, John, who worked in the shipyard, was a deacon with the Darrow Church in Waterford. John Darrow was buried in the church’s burial ground on Mullen Hill Road.

Eleven members of the Beckwith family were buried in the Golden Spur area in Riverhead cemetery.

Revolutionary War: Beckwith Betrayer

While the history of eastern Connecticut contains many heroes, it also has its share of those who choose the wrong side of the conflicts. The story of one Beckwith son, Elisha (1761–1849), is one of those who betrayed his community and may be responsible for some of New London’s destruction during the Revolutionary War. Known as a British sympathizer, it is likely that Beckwith was a major source of intelligence for Benedict Arnold’s attack on New London.

The place at which his duplicity was discovered is called the “Tory House,” which still stands today on Pattagansett Road in East Lyme. In the eighteenth century, this area was part of New London. The house was rented to Elisha who was in frequent contact with the British. Secretly “members of the British force at Sag Harbor, New York, would row across Long Island Sound at night, hide their boat at Crescent Beach, spend the next day gathering news from Beckwith, and leave the following night with fresh supplies he had given them.”[14]

One day in November 1781, the scheme was discovered by Ensign Andrew Griswold who happened to be stationed in Lyme who came upon a whale boat in a pond near Black Point. Suspecting it came from Long Island he set guards over the boat. The next night Ensign Griswold and four others approached the suspected house and discovered ten armed people inside, including Beckwith. A scuffle ensued and after some time, six men including Beckwith were taken prisoner, four escaped into the woods but were taken prisoner the next day.[15]

Elisha Beckwith and the others were held in the Norwich Jail and then the Hartford Jail. On January 1, 1782 Beckwith was sent to Newgate Prison in Simsbury, but at some point in the next three years, he escaped and settled in Nova Scotia, eventually reuniting with his family. It was possible that Elisha, a New London resident and businessman had been a major source of intelligence for Benedict Arnold’s attack on New London on September 6, 1781. A published record of the family states that Elisha is buried on the west bank of the Niantic River in an unmarked grave.[16] The private house in which Beckwith was taken prisoner still stands on East Pattagansett Road in Niantic.

The War of 1812

During the War of 1812, as the British blockaded Long Island Sound, the Beckwiths became concerned about the safety of the shipyard and its crafts. With the help of neighbors, the boats were brought farther up into Keeney Cove. Saplings were then cut and placed upright in the water, arranged across the mouth of the cove in an attempt to disguise its existence. Fortunately, no British ship came up the river, so the yard remained intact. However, one boat became so embedded in the mud that it had to be abandoned.[17]

Beckwith Family Business 1850–1871

The Beckwith family continued their family business on the Niantic River for many years until 1850, when in response to a demand for larger vessels, James and his son Daniel moved the business to East New London where they established one of the most active of the area shipyards between 1850 and 1871.[18]

Yachts, cargo, and fishing vessels between 100 and 400 tons were built, and the yard employed 15 to 20 men year round. The business continued to flourish, even when the panic of 1857 led to a general depression. Even through the difficult years following the Civil War E. P. Beckwith continued to build fishing vessels through the 1870s. [19] Another member of the Beckwith Family, Wallace A. Beckwith (1843–1929) fought in the Civil War and was awarded the country’s highest honor for bravery during combat for his actions during the Battle for Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862.[20]

Among the boats produced by the shipyard at Golden spur, was a vessel that sailed from New London to San Francisco in 1849, under Captain James Rogers. The shipyard also built fishing schooners such as the Niantic, Belle of the Bay, and North Star.

Notes

[1] See The Beckwiths by Paul Edward Beckwith. Joel Mussell’s sons, Publishers, Albany, NY. 1891, The ruins of the Sparrow Hawk can still be seen at Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Francis Caulkins, History of New London, Connecticut: From the First Survey of the Coast in 1612, to 1852.

[4] “Capt. Matthew Beckwith.” Miner Descent, 14 May, 2010. https://minerdescent.com/2010/05/14/matthew-beckwith/

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] The exact location is unknown.

[8] As recorded in the journal of Simean Bradford. https://minerdescent.com/2010/05/14/matthew-beckwith/

[9] Matthew Beckwith, I. Geni. https://www.geni.com/people/Matthew-Beckwith-Sr/6000000003243276924

[10] p. 107 For Adam’s Sake

[11] p 107

[12] Records of J. & D. D. Beckwith; Manuscripts Collection 38. Mystic Seaport. https://research.mysticseaport.org/coll/coll038/

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Local Landmarks: Beckwith Shipyard.” East Lyme Historical Society. https://eastlymehistoricalsociety.org/index_files/Page1095.htm

[15] Ibid.

[16] The Beckwiths by Paul Edward Beckwith. https://books.google.com/books?id=8JcxAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA220&lpg=PA220&dq=Paul+Edwards+Beckwith&source=bl&ots=MB3aAAC6zo&sig=ACfU3U1FskCi8iNiZsHrPw1qKhXWPZh1hw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiI49bJwZnkAhVIxVkKHYiMADUQ6AEwB3oECFsQAQ#v=onepage&q=Caleb&f=false

[17] https://eastlymehistoricalsociety.org/index_files/Page1095.htm

[18] Decker, Robert Owen. The Whaling City: A History of New London. p. 167

[19] The Whaling City p. 168.

[20] Wikipedia contributors. “Wallace A. Beckwith.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Apr. 2020. Web. 2 Jul. 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallace_A._Beckwith

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