Miss Caulkins and the Sailing Master


The 2007 edition, published by the

New London County Historical Society

Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library


First Mate/Sailing Master Stevens Rogers,

from S.S. Savannah - The Elegant Steam Ship

Courtesy of Dover Publications, Inc.

Frances Manwaring Caulkins's indispensable history of New London, first published in 1852, only thirty-three years after the Savannah's voyage, offers an account unique in its link to the other New Londoner who shared in the Savannah's achievement: Stevens Rogers, her First Mate, also known as her Sailing Master. Although Moses Rogers died prematurely in 1821 of yellow fever, Stevens returned to New London where he engaged in the coasting trade on Long Island Sound and other activities for more than forty years until his death in 1868.  In 1850 he was appointed customs inspector and thus worked in the historic Bank Street building that is now the home of the Custom House Maritime Museum and Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library. (James Rogers of New London, Connecticut, and His Descendants, page 202.)

Miss Caulkins obtained her information first hand from Stevens, and one of the things she wrote raises the question of just how many days the Atlantic crossing took, and how much the engine was used in lieu of sails. She writes that the crossing was made in twenty-two days: fourteen by steam and eight by sails, "to save the consumption of fuel, lest some emergency might occur, and the supply be exhausted." This is at variance with Frank Braynard's statement that the engine was used for eighty hours (three and one-third days) of a twenty-seven-day crossing. John Laurence Busch addresses this matter in Steam Coffin, pointing out that duration of a voyage could be calculated in various ways and asserting that the uncertainty of timing was overshadowed by "the most obvious point of all: the Savannah had made it safely across the Atlantic." (Busch, p. 297)

In several paragraphs describing the life of Stevens Rogers, the James Rogers genealogy mentions the interaction between Stevens and Sir Thomas Graham, Lord Lynedoch, a British passenger during the passage from Stockholm to St. Petersburg.  So impressed was Lord Lynedoch by the ability of the sailing master that he gave him a silver snuff box as a token of his admiration. Similarly, he presented Moses Rogers with an elaborate inscribed silver tea urn.

Stevens Rogers died in 1868 at the age of 74. The Rogers genealogy describes his gravestone in New London's Cedar Grove Cemetery (see below) with its bas-relief of the Savannah and reproduces the inscription: "From Liverpool the Savannah went to Copenhagen, and through the Baltic Sea to Stockholm and St. Petersburg. At these places she was visited and admired by kings, nobles and the people. Her machinery was constructed under the skillful direction of Capt. Moses Rogers, who was familiar and identified with Fulton."