Captain Cornelius Grinnell

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Cornelius Grinnell

Birthplace: Little Compton, Newport, Rhode Island, USA
Death: Died in New Bedford, Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Daniel Grinnell and Grace Grinnell
Husband of 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"

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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