Armorial Bearings granted to Robert Lord alias Laward of London in 1510; College of Arms MS L10 folio 105b; copyright of the College of Arms, London. Used by permission.

Lords of the Sea...

Being a summary of the seafaring ventures of Richard Lord and his son, out of the Connecticut River from 1640 to 1680.

17th century ship

This image of a mid-17th century trader returning to Connecticut from Long Island replicates the same voyages by Richard Lord in the 1630s.

The Lord Family, being Thomas, Dorothy and their eight children, lived in Towcester in the first quarter of the 17th century. Thomas was the only son of Richard and Joane Lord of Towcester, who died during the winter of 1610. And it is Richard, the eldest son of Thomas, who is the pivotal character in this tale.

In 1633, Richard Lord, then 21, sailed from London to Boston, Massachusetts. We will set aside his motivations for the time being, but he was clearly an adventurer in his own right. By 1634 he had established himself at Newtowne (today, Cambridge) a short way upriver from Boston, and had a “house and shoppe” on a waterfront location with ready access to inland shipping, having a wharf  and landing. At this time, however, his attachment to shipping cannot be confirmed.

In 1635, the rest of his family – all nine of them – joined him, leaving Towcester and sailing by way of London on the ship Elizabeth and Ann. The following spring, the entire family joined the expedition of Rev. Thomas Hooker, to found a settlement on the west bank of the Connecticut River, thereafter known as “Hartford”. A Dutch trading post, with its own landing for ships and boat engaged in the coastal trade was already there when they arrived, and probably offered Richard some inspiration.

But his primary role in the Colony has always been seen as connected to the military, engaged in the infamous Pequot War of 1637 and forming the first troop of cavalry in Connecticut in 1658. He died in 1662 at age 58, and most references to Connecticut River maritime trade by the English pertain to the 1660s.

The logistics of shipping out of Hartford were complex and very constrained.

“A market was also found in the West Indies of pipe staves, provisions and livestock. All trade was sent to Boston on small ships and transshipped from there. Generally however, trade from Hartford was limited and risky due to the long river journey required and constant hazard of going aground...”(2-2)

 west indies

“With the island of Barbadoes the commercial relations were more intimate than with any other distant port. Two voyages were made by a vessel yearly. Horses, cattle, beef, pork and sometimes pipe-staves were exchanged for sugar and molasses and at a later period rum….”(3-234)

A contemporary observation from the 1660s states: “In the colony there are about 20 petty merchants. Some trade only to Boston, some to Boston and the Indies, other to Boston and New York, others to Boston, the Indies and Newfoundland.”(5-319)

While the Dutch were clearly engaged in coastal trade by ship before 1635, mention of English trade by water prior to 1660 is rare, and yet in such mention we find Richard Lord a prominent figure. The first evidence is tangential, referring to Thomas Stanton, not Richard.

“In 1638, Thomas Stanton and William Whiting were given exclusive right to the beaver trade with Indians at one shilling per skin. Beaver skins were in great demand in England so this trade was lucrative.”(1-15)

That Thomas Stanton should obtain a special role in the Indian trade is to be expected given his background:

 indian interpreter

"Thomas Stanton sailed from England on the Merchant Bonaventure on January 2, 1635, landing first in Virginia, and probably arrived in Massachusetts before the end of 1635, making his way to Hartford. He learned the fur trading business and became conversant in the Algonquian language which led to important assignments as an interpreter. The first official record of Stanton was his participation in a conference with the Pequot Indians at Fort Saybrook (40 miles south of Hartford) in July, 1636. He quickly affiliated with the Thomas Lord family whom he may have known in England and who had recently emigrated from Towcester, England. He married Ann Lord, probably in 1636 and established a merchant business alliance with Richard Lord.”(summarized from various  genealogical sources)

So Richard’s introduction to maritime enterprise appears to be through his brother-in-law, who was there from the first days of the Hartford settlement and a member of the family almost immediately.

 But in the citations above one notices no specific mention of “shipping”, merely of “trade”. This could involve landward trade to the Indian settlements surrounding Hartford, or the “merchant business alliance” could merely involve financial investment in vessels operated by others.

 But clear evidence of Richard’s direct “feet-on-the-deck” involvement comes in 1642:

 "The business relationship formed by Stanton and Richard Lord continued for several years. In April 1642, Connecticut placed a moratorium on all trade with Long Island Indians but made an exception for Thomas Stanton and his brother-in-law, Richard Lord (then age 31). They were allowed one trip to deliver goods already committed and collect old debts."(4-55)

(See actual order below from Colonial Records.)

 colonial record

Long Island Sound
For those not familiar with New England geography, Long Island (C) forms the southern boundary of “Long Island Sound”, a major body of water, the northern boundary of which is Connecticut. Ships sailing out of the mouth of the Connecticut River (B) were just ten miles from the northern arm of Long Island, and easy access was open westward along the entire 150 miles of the island, in waters protected from the Atlantic and thus navigable in small boats. At small cost and smaller risk, lucrative beaver skins could have been obtained through this coastal trade from Hartford (A).

Why the Colony slapped a trade embargo on this market is not clear, but that only two men in all of New England were granted a temporary exemption from that embargo, one of them being Richard Lord, speaks to the position he had in the Colony at that time.

 There is a gap in the record, perhaps yet closed with further research, from the period of 1642 to Richard’s death in 1662. Yet from the following reference, he appears to have been actively expanding his commercial maritime interests:

"Another early merchant was Captain Richard Lord. He had a warehouse in which he stored grain soap, salt, lime, pitch, deerskins, whalebone, cotton, wool, axes, shovels, spades, and forks. A supply of kettles, brass, tin, wooden and earthen vessels, trenchers and pewter ware he kept in the great closet of his house. At the time of his death he had debts due him in the surrounding towns in New London, Norwich, Long Island, Delaware Bay, Newfoundland, Barbadoes and England. He died in 1662 at New London."(6-301)

 And the record shows that “At his death in 1662, Richard Lord owned one-sixteenth of the Society and one-eighth of the Desire.”(5-319)

Were the story to stop here, Towcester might well take pride in their native son, his military exploits and his maritime adventures. The final line of his epitaph reads:

 To Marchantes as a Pattern he might stand,

Adventuring Dangers new by Sea and Land

 One might wonder how a boy who lived in landlocked Towcester from birth to adulthood (1611-1633) could have become so much attached to sailing ships. Perhaps the family spent time in London? Perhaps young Richard and his boyhood friends spent idle afternoons sailing toy wooden boats in the Tove? Or perhaps it was genetic, because as much as Richard accomplished, his son, Richard, accomplished even more in a shorter lifetime.

 Born around 1641, Richard (Jr.) lived only to age 44, in the year 1685. His introduction to shipping, other than, of course, by watching his father, came in the 1660s, after his father’s death.

 His mentor appears to be Governor George Wyllys, who became governor of Connecticut in 1642, the year they established the embargo on Indian trade. In the late 1660s he was one of the Connecticut Commissioners for the United Colonies.

sugar plantation
"He was extensively engaged in trade, and often absent from the Colony. He had an interest in several sugar plantations at Antigua, in partnership with Richard Lord, and frequently went to the West Indies. His speculations proved unprofitable; and as he had borrowed considerable money, his affairs became deeply involved, so that pecuniary assistance was granted him by the Assembly." (5-271)

 It may be possible the “Richard Lord” cited here is the father, not the son, but evidence suggests the son. Ironclad evidence of his occupation comes in 1669, where referring to Richard Sr. the 19th century history states: “It is said that his son Richard Lord and John Blackleach bought the ship America in 1669, and it was then in the Connecticut River.”(6-299)

 To this the author adds; “As the ship Mary and Elizabeth was of Hartford in 1671, it is conjectured that the owners renamed the America after their wives: that Richard Lord subsequently sold his interest to Giles Hamlin of Middletown, and that this was the ship of the same burden registered there in 1680.”(6-299)

 Another 19th century historian sheds additional light on this from primary sources he discovered:

 "In April, 1669, an English vessel, probably built and sent to New England purposely for sale, and called the America, was sold by 'John Prout, of Plymouth, county of Devon, in Great Britain, mariner' – who appears to have been both commander and owner – to Richard Lord and John Blackleach, of Hartford, for ₤230. She was seventy tuns burden, and was then 'riding at anchor in the harbor of New London'.”(3-235)

And the author adds a note: “This probably notes the first arrival in this country of Capt. John Prout, afterward of New Haven.”(3-235)

 Thus Richard’s first ship was built in England, sailed to America by the owner/captain as a means of getting himself to New England as a colonist, anchored in the mouth of the Connecticut River at New London, and sold off to Lord and Blackleach. John Blackleach was a late arrival in Connecticut, not setting foot there until 1661: “He was master of the Hartford Merchant in 1677, and partner with Richard Lord in his enterprises.”(5-273)

So Richard’s interest has transferred from the America (or Mary and Elizabeth), to the Hartford Merchant, an appropriate name considering the history of the new owners. But his relationship with Blackleach had its negative moments:

"Richard Lord (Jr.) and John Blackleach, partners in the Hartford Merchant and its cargo to the West Indies in 1678,… argued during the loading over a missing barrel of tar. Loading resumed and the ship sailed after Blackleach gave Lord his written promise to submit the matter to arbitration upon their return."(7-125)

This confirms shipping between Hartford and the West Indies, and we are reminded that in this trade apparently “Two voyages were made by a vessel yearly.” Either Richard’s ship was the only one engaged, or one of two.

Some technical details on the ship are found scattered in the primary sources.

"This was probably the “Hartford Merchant”, a “ketch”, bought in Boston by Richard Lord and John Blackleach about 1676….Between 1660 and 1680, we find the names, as of Hartford, of the “Ship Entrance” (Sept 1664), “Ship America”, about 70 tons, bought by John Blackleach and Richard Lord, May 1669, and then in the Connecticut River…"(5-273)

And from another source: "In 1680, only one ship was registered at Hartford. It was of ninety tons burden. Probably this was the Hartford Merchant, which Lord (Jr.) and Blackleach bought in Boston in 1676."(6-299)

From the Colonial Records, the list of vessels belonging to New London, as returned by the magistrates at Hartford to the Lords of Trade and Plantations, in 1680 (3-237):

“Two ships, one 70 tons, the other 90; three ketches, about 50 tons each; two sloops, 15 tons each.”

A word here on the interchangeability of the locations “Hartford” and “New London.” Hartford was the capital, so to speak, of the Connecticut Colony, so something recorded as belonging to “Hartford” could well mean only belonging to Connecticut. New London was the harbor at the mouth of the river and clearly had the advantage over the upriver passage in avoiding shoals and rifts, yet it required overland transport from upriver, or transport in small boats to supply the vessels anchored there. The Dutch, in the 1630s, ran ocean-going ships inland to their trading house at what would later be Hartford, so having a landing and access there is not unthinkable. And some early maps show Richard Lord buying riverfront lots just south of Hartford with indication of a landing on the river itself.

The fact that Lord’s ship was described as a “ketch” is itself interesting from the standpoint of maritime history:

17th century ketch

Typical mid-17th century English ketch.

"The ketch developed around the middle of the 17th century. The ketch design has a short bowsprit with at least one triangular headsail, the main mast stepped abaft with a topmast carrying square course and topsail -- later versions added a topgallant -- and a mizzen mast with a triangular lateen sail. The hull form was relatively stubby with a round stern and a narrow transom like the Dutch flute and a plain curved stem."(Edited from online references.)

And this vessel being a ketch also underscores the fact that Richard, and his father before him, did not just stand by on land as these trading ventures evolved:

Almost every merchant that sent out vessels at this period made an occasional voyage himself. Either as master or supercargo.”(3-238)

 “Another vessel owned at this time in New London…was the Success, a ketch, rated at fifty-four tuns. A captain, mate, boatswain and one sailor, formed the full complement of men for a vessel like this. The coasters had seldom more than two men and a boy.”(3-236)


Richard Lord (Jr)

"He was one of the wealthiest merchants of his time, made many trading voyages, and was lost at sea November 5, 1685... leaving a large estate to his widow and his only child; the inventory of his property amounted to 5,786 which was, with one exception, the greatest, up to that time, in Hartford.

But this particular extension of Towcester’s history into the maritime evolution of New England came abruptly to an end in 1685. 

One can only speculate what additional influence Richard may have had in the maritime history of the New World had he lived longer. But what he, and his father, accomplished – historic by any standard - can be traced back to the streets, and perhaps streams, of Towcester.


 1. Richard A. Radune, Pequot Plantation: the story of an early colonial settlement, 2005 citing William A. Stanton, A Record, Genealogical, Biographical, Statistical of Thomas Stanton, 1891.

2. Richard A. Radune, Pequot Plantation: the story of an early colonial settlement, 2005 citing Roland Hooker, The Colonial Trade of Connecticut, 1936.

3. Richard A. Radune, Pequot Plantation: the story of an early colonial settlement, 2005 citing History of New London, Connecticut: From the first survey of the coast in 1612, to 1852. Frances Manwaring Caulkins.

4. Richard A. Radune, Pequot Plantation: the story of an early colonial settlement, 2005 citing (UConn Libraries CCR, Colonial Connecticut Records, 1636 – 1776, Vol. 1. 72.)

 5. The Memorial History of Hartford County Connecticut, 1633-1884. J. Hammond Trumbull.(Connecticut Historical Society) 1886.

 6. The Colonial History of Hartford: gathered from the original records By William DeLoss Love, p.299

 7. "Memorandum by John Blackleach, 16 Mar. 1678, Lord v. Blackleach, Conn. Arch., Priv. Controversies (2nd ser.), 2:37 (1682)." Cited in Neighbors and Strangers: Law and Community in Early Connecticut By Bruce H. Mann, p.125.

 8. History of New London, Connecticut, from the first survey of the coast in 1612 to 1860 Frances Manwaring Caulkins, Cecelia Griswold, 1895.

 9. (State Archives: Private Controversies, II: 34, 44.) From The Colonial History of Hartford: gathered from the original records By William DeLoss Love

10. Genealogy of the Descendants of Thomas Lord...By Kenneth Lord, 1946.

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