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The USGenWeb Project Fairfield County, Connecticut


Benjamin L. Waite "Benjamin St. Leger Waite, son of Capt. Isaac Waite and Elizabeth St. Leger, was born in Liverpool, England, the birthplace of his mother, about 1805.

His father was born in Portland, Maine, about 1774, and was for a long time commander of the favorite packet ship "Anna Maria" running between New York and Liverpool. He was one of the oldest navigators engaged in the packet business, and even at that early day the foundation of the packet popularity, which grew to such a magnitude of prosperity, was strongly laid. He died at Westport, CT, Feb. 14, 1849, much respected.

Capt. B. L. Waite was trained to the sea from infancy, crossing the Atlantic repeatedly while but a child. His education, begun in England, was finished in New York. His taste for a seaman's life became so marked that at the age of sixteen, having finished the study of navigation, his father sent him in a ship to China, that by the discipline of so long a voyage he might be the better fitted for his life work. When only nineteen he was placed in command of the Liverpool packet ship "Superior." In 1832 he was made captain of the "Pacific" in 1834 of the "Britannia" and in 1835 of the "England"--all three of the once famous "Black Ball" line of Liverpool packets.

Capt. Waite very early acquired the reputation of a skillful and careful navigator, and the confidence reposed in him by owners and passengers was well justified. During his life he crossed the Atlantic more than one hundred and sixty times, and while captain of the "Black Ball" line conveyed over twelve hundred first-class passengers, yet never met with serious disaster, although he encountered some of the most severe storms, where promptitude, caution, and skill all were needed to save his ship. In the "England" he made some of the shortest passages ever accomplished by sailing ships. Numerous and valuable testimonials from his passengers show how highly he was appreciated. These comprised many of the most distinguished persons crossing the ocean in his day, and his urbane and gentlemanly character and thorough seamanship alike won confidence and regard.

As a commander Capt. Waite was unsurpassed. When his quick, clear, full voice was heard from the deck every man was on the alert, and his sailors became so attached to him that they would wait weeks to re-ship with him. Resolute and without fear in the hour of danger, he had a large amount of tenderness and charity, and never oiled his manhood by a cruel act. He fully exemplified the truth that "the bravest are the tenderest" and none who know him could breathe malice against him.

When steamships superseded packet ships in transportation of first-class passengers, and the "Black Ball" line was devoted to steerage passengers only, Capt. Waite retired from work a veteran, although not forty years of age. He was requested and solicited to assume command of steamships, but he did not favor them, and at the close of his last voyage, in 1843 ,retired to his home in Westport, CT. This was too far from the sea for one so long accustomed to its melody, and, selling his property there, he removed to Stamford, and for the last twenty years of his life resided at Sound View, where after an illness of more than two years he died, May 11, 1874.

Capt. Waite was married to Miss Eliza Hayes, of New York, Oct. 11, 1855. She died March 12, 1861. The captain subsequently married, June 17, 1853, Miss Margaret A. Flynn, of Kingston, NY, who died Jan. 23, 1908.

We append a few press notices and other testimonials as better tributes to his worth than any words of ours.

New York Herald, Mary 12, 1874: "When sailing ships were the only communication with Europe, he was known as one of the most intrepid as well as skillful and careful of navigators. Numerous stories of his feats while commanding the "Black Ball" ship "England" and still spun by old "sea-dogs" with a readiness and zest that are in themselves good tributes to Capt. Waite's ability. The affectionate references made in them to the "old man" apparently indicate a mariner of almost fabulous age, and yet Capt. Waite had but reached thirty-nine years."

New York Sunday Atlas: "The worthy commander of the "England" Capt. Benjamin Waite, is justly entitled to the cognomen "The Prince of Captains." In our foreign news we omitted to state that Capt. Waite had undoubtedly saved the lives of a ship's company, which he did by supplying them with provisions and a compass. This was done by means of his life-boat (one of the first constructed by Francis), and under circumstances when any other boat would undoubtedly have swamped, as it was blowing a gale and the sea was very high and breaking. We know this, that our old friend Waite felt more pleasure in relieving the wants of his distressed fellow beings with his life-boat than he ever could experience by receiving silverplate for stuffing his passengers with champagne and canvas-back ducks."

S. M. News, February, 1841: "The gentlemanly character of Capt. Waite, added to his consummate skill in the management of his vessel, has always insured the respect and confidence of those who have been his passengers, and elicited frequent and valuable tokens of well deserved compliment."

From a Liverpool paper: "The ship "England" arrived yesterday in nineteen days from New York, a remarkably short passage. On Saturday the cabin passengers entertained Capt. Waite at the "King's Arms," and the chairman agreeable surprised him by representing him, in the name of the company, with a beautifully chased, massive and solid gold snuff-box, valued at sixty pounds, assuring him that it was only an acknowledgment of his skill as a seaman and his courteous deportment as a gentleman, of which they had had abundant evidence during the voyage. The box bears a suitable inscription, and is the eleventh testimonial of the sort that Capt. Waite has received from passengers."

From a New York paper: "The bell rang; Capt. Waite, "a good fellow and true," made his appearance. His ruddy and good natured face, lighted up with a smile for every one, diffused a new feeling among the company."How is it," thought we, "that some men possess the faculty of making all around them happy and satisfied, while other people produce on the spectator a completely opposite result." We looked at Capt.Waite intently to see if we could unravel the anomaly. There he was, with his straw hat bound with a yellow ribbon, moving among the passengers, taking off the names with the utmost good humor, and being introduced to the ladies who were going in his noble ship. He was affable, courteous, and kind, and all seemed at once to repose confidence in his skill and judgment as a seaman. His passengers looked up to him as a commander into whose hands they would willingly commit their safety. The same feelings came over us, and we could not tell why. There is a something in the face of a man that bespeaks his character more broadly than all your phrenological lore."

An autograph letter from the renowned Charles Kemble contained the following:-- "Ship "Pacific" Sept. 1, 1832. "Resolved,--That we return our grateful thanks to Capt. B. L. Waite for his urbane and gentlemanly conduct during our passage, and take pleasure in expressing our full confidence in his skill and care as a navigator."--Charles Kemble, Frances Anne Kemble, and twenty others.

This was accompanied with an elegant silver pitcher, with an appropriate inscription. These are but a few of hundreds of testimonials that might be given."
SOURCE: Hurd, D. Hamilton. History of Fairfield County, Connecticut. Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis & Co. (1881).

* NOTE: This biography was published in 1881 and does not offer "proof" of family history. This information should be used only as possible clues to other sources.

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