The purpose of this project is to celebrate Samuel L. Clemens' life in Redding, Connecticut by documenting and showcasing his time here in multiple formats both online and offline. Your donations & site sponsorships will help me dedicate more time to these projects and allow me to get them online sooner.

Tuesday, September 29

Making Connections- Captain Ned Wakeman, Westport CT

The Mark Twain Centennial, to me, is all about celebrating the life of Samuel L. Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) and making people more aware of his time in Connecticut.

To connect Connecticut towns and cities to his friends, family, associates and the places he visited I recently asked for assistance from local historians. As it turns out I didn't need to look past my own personal rolodex! Portrait Artist Susan Durkee, my friend and fellow Twainiac, forwarded a real gem to me this week. Westport's Captain Edgar "Ned" Wakeman.

Captain Edgar "Ned" Wakeman was skipper of the steamship America(a ship Clemens sailed on from San Francisco to NYC in 1866-67), and one of the most colorful seafarers of the time period. Wakeman is reincarnated in several of Twain's book characters: Captain Ned Blakely, Captain Stormfield, and Captain Hurricane Jones.

In a letter to the Alta (Newspaper), Clemens speaks of him as follows:

"I will do him the credit to say that he knows how to tell his stirring forecastle yarns; with his strong, cheery voice, animated countenance, quaint phraseology, defiance of grammar, and extraordinary vim in the matter of emphasis and gesture, he makes a most effective story even out of unpromising materials.

He is fifty years old, as rough as a bear in voice and action, and yet as kind hearted and tender as a woman. He is a burly, hairy, sunburned, stormy-voiced old salt, who mixes strange oaths with incomprehensible sailor-phraseology and the gentlest and most touching pathos, and is tatooed from head to foot like a Feejee Islander.

He knows nothing of policy or of the ways of the world, but he can keep cheered-up any company of passengers that ever traveled in a ship. He never drinks a drop, never gambles, and never swears where a lady or a child may chance to hear him."

In a notebook entry he writes:

"I'd rather travel with that old portly, hearty, jolly, boisterous, good-natured sailor...than with any other man I've ever come across,"

In his memoirs he wrote:

"I first knew Capt. Wakeman thirty-nine years ago. I made two voyages with him and we became fast friends. He was a great burly, handsome, weather-beaten, symmetrically built and powerful creature, with coal-black hair and whiskers and the kind of eye which men obey without talking back. He was full of human nature, and the best kind of human and loving a soul as I have found and when his temper was up he performed all the functions of an earthquake, without the noise."

In a letter Clemens wrote to his brother Orion, from Hartford, Clemens notes helping the Captain in 1874. This letter and more like them can be found at

"Farmington Avenue, Hartford.

March. 18, 1874

My Dear Bro:

The enclosed letter [ it is ] from a remarkable man—old Ned Wakeman, mariner for 40 year.,—or 50, more like it. He hung the mate (see “Roughing It”) for killing the negro. It is a true story.

I have written him that you will edit his book & help him share the profits, & I will write the introduction & find a publisher."

Westport Connection

Edgar "Ned" Wakeman was born in Westport, Connecticut:

"My great-great-great-grand-father, more than two hundred years ago, settled at Green Farms, Fairfield county, Connecticut; taking up a farm, as was the custom then, by running two parallel lines in a northerly direction from Long Island Sound,
so as to in close a strip of land as long and as wide as he desired.

This grant, signed by the English king, and always to be exempt from taxes, extended, according to the record on parchment in the Hartford Hall of Records, from the Sound, through Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont. There were plenty of Indians in the country then, but neither roads nor fences, and the trees were marked with an ax to indicate the boundary lines.

The old house, the home of my fondest recollections, was built by this Joseph Wakeman, and lived in by five Josephs successively, down to my uncle Joe, who died in 1854. After his death it was sold to the Episcopalian society, and a stone church, the finest religious edifice in Westport, the town which has grown up around it, erected upon its site.

The old house measured fifty feet by forty, the stone chimney was eighteen feet square, the kitchen fireplace was ten feet wide at the back, twelve feet wide in front and six feet deep; a horse was employed to haul in the back-log, which was generally about nine feet long by three in diameter. The stone steps into the cellar were immense, and the oak timbers in the chamber floor and around the chimney were sixteen inches square. The original siding and shingles were never changed, but the last time I saw the old place the shingles were worn through in many places and were generally threadbare.

When the mail-stage road from New York to Boston came to be made, it ran close to the house, where the stage always stopped upon each trip, and when the British troops were in this country a number of officers made their headquarters at this house. My father was then a boy, and I have heard him say that he and the other frightened children ran and threw themselves into a bed as the troops approached; and I have seen him laugh as he remembered how he trembled when a soldier pulled back the covering, exclaiming:

"Here they are; black and white, all together!"

Down the road and across it, when I was young, stood an old building, which I have heard my father say was the house of a Jenning, a family which intermarried with mine. When the soldiers were leaving Westport they set fire to this building, and left a small squad behind to see that the fire was well kindled.

But the boys, my father among them, got an old King's tim and loaded it and then crept behind the stone fence, from which place they shot at the soldiers, wounding one and putting all to flight, so that the boys extinguished the flames and saved the house.

My grandfather Joseph and his wife Mary both died young. His family consisted of my father, whose name was Hezekiah, Seth, Joseph, Gideon and one daughter, Abigail; good, old-fashioned, names, that I love to recall, and family histories that my father used to relate to me when I was a boy at home, how I love to repeat them!

My father married Mary Godfrey on the eighteenth of February, 1798. He lived to the ripe age of eighty-seven, and my mother died at seventy-eight. My father was noted for his skill and strength in wrestling more than for anything else, unless it was for his sturdy honesty. On public occasions in our village, eighty years ago, wrestling matches were always held in which my father invariably, engaged, while report saith that he was never once thrown by his opponent. It was the custom then for the lad who was the best wrestler to wait upon the county belle, so it may be surmised that my mother was a very pretty girl; and I have often heard her say that Hezekiah was not only the strongest lad, and the only one of her acquaintance who possessed a double row of teeth all around, but also the best-looking young man in the country.

My first personal recollections carry me back more than forty years to a little tow-headed fellow living with his kind father and his loving mother in Westport, in the State of Connecticut..."

From: The log of an ancient mariner: being the life and adventures of Captain Edgar Wakeman. Library of Congress, American Memory.

Edgar "Ned" Wakeman, of Westport, of the "most winning and delightful" people Samuel L. Clemens ever met.

Does your Town have a "Twain Connection"???

I'd like to know all about it!

Make a Donation to the Project

No comments: