Living in St. Louis, I frequently heard about the unusual number of people who can be linked to the city. The phrase “the St. Louis connection” comes up in conversations and newspaper articles and is even printed on a T-shirt. As an outsider, I quickly found myself connecting far-flung people and places to St. Louis too: once you pay attention, you begin to notice a surprising number of references to the city, sometimes from the oddest of sources. They stand out, I think, because St. Louis is just small enough for it to evoke surprise when it turns up, but not so small that this never happens.
Waterford never struck me as the “connection” kind of place. But I’m almost starting to think of it that way, because although it doesn’t reach St. Louis levels, I’m discovering that where you would never think to look for Waterford, there it is.
Try Ohio - Warren, OH, to be exact. The town was named after former Waterford resident Moses Warren, who went West with the surveying team of the Connecticut Land Company in 1796. The Company had bought the land, a portion of the Connecticut Western Reserve, from the State of Connecticut, which had claimed it since John Winthrop, Jr.’s 1662 Charter granted the new Colony the land “from the Said Norrogancett Bay on the East to the South Sea [i.e., the Pacific Ocean] on the West parte.” (The leader of the surveying party, General Moses Cleaveland, was originally from Canterbury. The Ohio city named for him eventually lost its extraneous “a.”)
Or, if that’s not strange enough, try the Bering Sea at the tail end of the Civil War. No one tells you in school (or ever, really) that the last engagement of America’s deadliest war took place in Alaska. But it did, and a Waterford whaleboat captain was part of it. Samuel Greene, born in Quaker Hill, was commanding one of several New England whaling vessels that were captured near Little Diomede by the Confederate raider Shenandoah. In one year, the tenacious captain of the Shenandoah, James Waddell, sank or captured 38 U.S. ships and took 1,000 prisoners. Greene and his crew were taken in June of 1865, months after Lee’s surrender. Waddell refused to stop fighting until his British allies confirmed the War was indeed over.
Another Waterford-native-unexpectedly-meets-Civil War story involves not boats, but trains. Thomas Rogers grew up in Quaker Hill and worked on the railroad in New Jersey before forming the company that built the locomotive known as the General. This locomotive gained fame after its involvement in the dramatic 1862 Georgia raid known as the “Great Locomotive Chase.” A group of Union soldiers and civilians, attempting to capture Chattanooga, hijacked the General and drove it towards Tennessee, destroying tracks and telegraph wires while being pursued by the train conductor on foot, in a hand-car, and in other locomotives. They made it from modern Kennesaw almost to Chattanooga before they were caught. Some were executed, some managed to escape, and others were exchanged as prisoners of war. If this sounds like a movie, it was two: a 1956 Disney film, and a 1926 silent comedy starring Buster Keaton.
Sometimes, it’s not that Waterford residents go elsewhere and get mixed up in unusual happenings, but that unexpected things take place right here. In 1887, two farmers, Christopher Brown and Charles W. Payne, leased some of their Quaker Hill land (what is it with Quaker Hill?) to James A. Boss for the purpose of drilling for oil. But usually, locals in search of the earth’s buried treasures leave Waterford first. John Isham Chappell, John Keeney, David Austin, and Griswold Avery, for instance, got caught up in the frenzy of the Gold Rush and set out for California. They took a shortcut through the isthmus of Panama, walking through the jungle for 28 days.
There’s another Waterford to California via Panama Gold Rush story that’s far more exciting. It centers around a ship that...well, it’s too full of twists and turns to get into at this point. But tune in again next week.