The wide and deep natural harbor created by the Thames River has blessed New London’s commerce and helped to define the region from the beginning to the present.  Attractive to Native Americans as well as early colonists, the port town that developed here through the colonial period, thrived on the traffic entering this convenient harbor – with easy access to the Atlantic, but protected, just inside the eastern end of Long Island Sound.  From the privateering of the Revolution, to the days of whaling, to the industrialization of the later nineteenth-century, to the ship building and submarine base of the 20th century, New London’s dependence on the river is unique and overarching and should be remembered and honored.

But National Maritime Day has a more direct link to New London.  May 22, the day chosen to honor our Merchant Mariner Service – proclaimed by every president since Franklin Roosevelt – marks the date in 1819 when Captain Moses Rogers of New London began the first crossing of the Atlantic by a steam-powered ship.  He was ably assisted by a cousin, Stephens Rogers as his first mate, who later also served as captain.  Indeed, the first commemoration of National Maritime Day, in 1933, brought the Governor of Georgia (the ship named the Savannah, departed from that city) and the Governor of Connecticut to New London for graveside services at the Stephens Rogers site in Cedar Grove Cemetery.

Savannah

Although remembrance of the Savannah’s voyage is all but lost today, there is another much more recent connection between New London and the merchant marine which is honored at each celebration of National Maritime Day.  During the Second World War, the need for officers for the maritime service was acute; captains, mates and navigators needed to man the vessels transporting soldiers and war material from the United States to Europe and the Pacific.  The government established the US Merchant Marine Academy at Fort Trumbull, and between 1940 and 1946 trained over 15,000 officers there for service during the war.  There is a monument to this wartime service at the Fort Trumbull side of Waterfront Park, which is the location for the memorial service that will be held there beginning at noon on National Maritime Day, Friday 22 May.

For several years a group of organizations and historical societies have lobbied for a greater recognition of National Maritime Day in New London.  This year, with support from the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Trust, two events are scheduled: a recreation of the Jibboom Club parade on 16 May and the memorial service on the 22nd.

Jibboom Club No. 1 was a social club made up mostly of retired whalers and other merchant seamen in New London during the last quarter of the nineteenth-century and the first half of the twentieth.  Once a year they would parade through the city, towing a retired whaleboat and dressed as King Neptune and his minions.  They would march to City Hall where the mayor would distribute cigars, then proceed “around the horn” (around the Soldiers and Sailors monument) before returning to their club rooms on Bank Street for a dinner party.  This year that parade will be recreated on Saturday 16 May as the “Jibboom Club,” the Ladies’ Seamen’s Friend Society, a whaleboat from Mystic Seaport and the Ancient Mariners Fife & Drum Corps join the Hope Week Parade sponsored by the New London School District.

After the parade there will be a chowderfest at the Custom House Tent. Tickets are $8 in advance, and $10 on the day of the event.

JBC Parade

JBC Parade

A cannon salute at noon on Friday, 22 May, will signal the beginning of the memorial service honoring those who served in the Maritime Service during World War II.  Graduates of the US Merchant Marine Academy at Fort Trumbull will be joined by members of the US Navy Armed Guard.  All are invited to attend the service, which will be held at Maritime Green, the park on East Street near the US Coast Guard Station at Fort Trumbull.  Following the service there will be a luncheon at the Conference Center at Fort Trumbull. Lunch is $15, please RSVP to Chris Mullaney at 860.434.0313.

The following organizations have participated in planning this schedule of events:
Mystic Seaport
New London County Historical Society
New London Maritime Society
Friends of Fort Trumbull
State of Connecticut, DEP, State Parks Division
State of Connecticut, Commission on Culture & Tourism, History Division
Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, SeCTer
City of New London
New London Development Corporation
US Department of Commerce, NOAA
US Merchant Marine Academy, Alumni Association – CT Shoreline Chapter
Merchant Marine & Naval Armed Guard Associations
Maritime Studies Program, University of Connecticut, Avery Point Campus

For more information contact Edward Baker, executive director of the New London County Historical Society: edward@newlondonhistory.org, or 860.443.1209