New London and National Maritime Day

Stevens1

Gravestones of Mary (Mrs. Stevens) Rogers, Stevens Rogers

and their mariner son, Capt. James S. Rogers

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Close-up of the Savannah bas-relief 

on Stevens Rogers's  gravestone,

with the ship's name carved below

Savannah stamp

First Day Cover of the stamp issued in 1944

to commemorate the 125th anniversary of  Savannah's transatlantic crossing

Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library

(Enlarge to screen size with two clicks)

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Mayor's proclamation, 1944

In 1933 Congress declared May 22 to be National Maritime Day, authorizing the President to issue an appropriate proclamation.  The first to do so was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, inaugurated only two months before. May 22, the date of the Savannah's departure for Europe, was chosen to commemorate her voyage as a singular example of American maritime innovation.  

The first public observance of National Maritime Day took place that year in New London, Connecticut, at the tall gravestone of Savannah's sailing master, Stevens Rogers.

We know much more about the elaborate Maritime Day observance two years later, related by Ernest E. Rogers in New London's Participation in Connecticut's Tercentenary 1935 (New London County Historical Society, 1935.) After lunch at the Mohican Hotel, the official party, which included Connecticut Governor Wilbur Cross and Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge, drove to Cedar Grove Cemetery and the Rogers gravestone. Coast Guard Academy cadets served as escorts, the Academy band provided music, and representatives of the Submarine Base, New London Nautical Academy, Junior Naval Militia, and Pequot Council Sea Scouts marched in the procession.

A wreath was placed on the grave, Gov. Talmadge planted a dogwood tree, and Gov. Cross observed that three centuries after Columbus "...came the steam engine. Stevens and Moses Rogers were quick to make use of the new invention. Under its power they were not afraid to meet the perils of the ocean in storm as well as calm. Before their complete success Europe and America stood amazed."

Gov. Talmadge then relayed the news that while Moses Rogers's remains had rested in an unmarked grave for 112 years, "that resting place has been located in a quiet little churchyard of St.David's, in Cheraw, South Carolina, and at this very hour, similar ceremonies are being observed there for the first time."

An address by Ernest Prann, of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Connecticut, paid tribute to Stevens Rogers: "Throughout his life, Brother Rogers is said to have lived and demonstrated Masonic teachings and principles in his daily life, and we have confidence to believe that when the summons came for him to cross the bar, that his soul found safe anchorage in that harbor where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary shall find rest."

New London's 1944 observance took place at Williams Park, dedicated that day as Moses Rogers Square. Ernest Rogers again participated, sharing the honors with the commandant of the U.S. Maritime Service Officers School at Fort Trumbull, and a granite monument to Capt. Rogers bearing an image of the Savannah was placed in the park.

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National Maritime Day has more recently become an occasion to remember the sacrifice of merchant mariners who have died at sea in the cause of freedom.  A memorial to graduates of the Maritime Service Officers School had been erected on its Fort Trumbull campus during World War II and now stands in a waterfront setting near Fort Trumbull State Park.  

For National Maritime Day, 2006, the City of New London moved the Moses Rogers stone from Williams Park to a spot near the Maritime Service memorial, overlooking the harbor Moses knew so well. In recent years the annual observance has begun here, followed by a clam chowder lunch at the Custom House Maritime Museum, a building opened in 1835, just sixteen years after the Savannah's voyage.