Captain Cornelius Grinnell

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Cornelius Grinnell

Birthdate: (92)
Birthplace: Little Compton, Newport, Rhode Island, USA
Death: April 19, 1850 (92)
New Bedford, Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States
Place of Burial: New Bedford, Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Daniel Grinnell and Grace Grinnell
Husband of Sylvia Grinnell and Sylvia Ann Grinnell
Father of Cornelius Grinnell Jr.; Joseph Grinnell; Sylvia Grinnell; William Palmer Grinnell; Abraham B. Grinnell and 5 others
Brother of Ruth Fish (Grinnell); Alice Shell; Aaron Grinnell; Patience Austin; Moses Grinnell and 3 others
Half brother of Penelope Knight

Occupation: Captain
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Captain Cornelius Grinnell


It is from Cornelius that the legendary New Bedford Grinnells originated. Cornelius, born 11 Feb 1758 at Little Compton, RI, was the son of Daniel4 Grinnell (continuing back to Richard3, Daniel2, Matthew1). As a boy, Cornelius left Little Compton to apprentice in the hatter’s trade in New Bedford, MA. The boy saw better opportunities in the seafaring trade (New Bedford was a major whaling town). He served in the American Revolution on land and sea. While at sea, and early in the war, he was taken prisoner. Freed after a prisoner exchange, Cornelius joined Capt. George Claghorn’s company, in Col. Abiel Mitchell’s regiment.

By 1791, he was back on the seas as first mate on the Rebecca, When the captain became ill, Cornelius took charge. He soon became a captain in his own right. He is reputed to be the first captain to “double” Cape Horn. By 1796, he had accumulated a large investment, and retired from the sea to manage his financial affairs. In 1785, he married the former Sylvia Ann Howland, born 4 Aug 1765 at Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Gideon and Sarah (Hicks) Howland. Cornelius joined his brother-in-law, William Howland, in business. They built ships, engaged in commerce in flour, corn, iron, and other provisions, as well as commercial shipping.

Although Cornelius' interests were supported by whaling, he was also involved in privateering, maritime trade, and shipbuilding. There were many other Grinnell men who were more intimately involved with whaling however. For some it was their only occupation. More often, it was a one-voyage challenge. Grinnells sailing out of New Bedford had positions ranging from greenhand to harpooner to captain, embarking on one tell-tale voyage or several, proving their manhood at sea, or making their fortunes. The whaling trade launched several Grinnell family fortunes.

He proved to be a sound and prosperous businessman. His interests were wide and he was a director on several bank boards. Cornelius and Sylvia raised eight sons and a daughter, so descendants are numerous. Many of the children became active in the Unitarian Church. Sylvia, however, was a lifelong Quaker. She died on 1 Aug 1837 at New Bedford. Cornelius died on 19 Apr 1850 at New Bedford.

Source: "Grinnell Family Association of America"

Photo and info ref.: < >, Capt Cornelius Grinnell, Oak Grove Cemetery, New Bedford, Bristol County, Massachusetts.

Revolutionary War Service ~~ Private in Capt. George Claghorn's Co., Col. Abiel Mitchell's (Bristol Co.) regt.; enlisted August 5, 1780; discharged October 31, 1780; service 2 mos. 28 days; regiment raised to reinforce the Continental Army for three months. _______________

Capt. Cornelius Grinnell, born Feb. 11, 1758 in Little Compton, Rhode Island, and located in New Bedford, Mass.

He married in 1785 to Sylvia Howland, a woman of lovely character. She was born on the August 4, 1765, daughter of Gideon and Sarah (Hicks) Howland, he being a direct descendant of Henry Howland, of Plymouth, probably as early as 1625, his lineage being through Zoeth, Benjamin and Barnabas Howland.

Captain Grinnell located at New Bedford about 1780. In 1810 he established the house of Fish & Grinnell, New York, which was the first American firm to start a regular line of packets to Liverpool and London; and the house, under the name of Grinnell, Minturn & Co., exists to the present day. Captain Grinnell served his country both on land and sea in the war of the Revolution. He was a vessel owner and commander and built a number of ships, one of which, the "Euphrates," built in 1803, was famous in her day. She had a long history and was destroyed by the "Shenandoah" in the Pacific in 1864. For the entire sixty years of her use she was in the hands of the Grinnell family.

Captain Grinnell had good business talents, and his capacity for devotion to mercantile pursuits was transmitted to his sons. He died April 19, 1850, at New Bedford, in his ninety-third year. His wife died on August 1, 1837.

Their children were: Cornelius, Jr., born Feb. 8, 1786; Joseph, born Nov. 17, 1788, who was a member of Congress from 1843 to 1851; Sylvia, born Aug. 11, 1791, who married William T.Russell; William P., born Sept. 1, 1797; Henry, born Feb. 18, 1799, who resided in New York, and became a very distinguished man, in 1850 equipping at his own cost an Arctic expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, and in 1853, associated with George Peabody, sending out a second expedition,while he was a generous contributor to the Hayes and Polaris enterprises, and a lasting memorial to him is Grinnell Land, named in his honor; Abraham B., born June 14, 1801, who died in young manhood; Moses H., born March 23, 1803, who was a resident of New York, identified with the Grinnell, Minturn & Co. line of packets, and like his brothers, Joseph and Henry, became very prominent, numbering among his warmest friends Daniel Webster, U.S. Grant and Washington Irving, and he himself being a member of Congress from 1835 to 1841, president of the New York Chamber of Commerce in 1843, president of the Phenix Bank and of the Union Club, and Commodore of the New York Yacht Club; Francis H., born Aug. 11, 1805; and James M., born Oct.30, 1807.

~~Source: Representative Men and Old Families of Southeastern Massachusetts... J.H. Beers & Co., 1912

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Captain Cornelius Grinnell's Timeline

February 11, 1758
Little Compton, Newport, Rhode Island, USA
February 8, 1786
Age 27
New Bedford, MA, USA
November 17, 1788
Age 30
New Bedford, Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States
August 11, 1791
Age 33
September 1, 1797
Age 39
New Bedford, Massachusetts
February 18, 1799
Age 41
New Bedford, Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States
June 14, 1801
Age 43
Massachusetts, USA
March 23, 1803
Age 45
New Bedford, Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States
August 11, 1805
Age 47