Joel Root

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Joel Root
File:2015-11-05 1558 Joel Root in Connecticut History Illustrated.png
Born (1770-08-31)August 31, 1770
Southington, Connecticut, United States
Died January 12, 1847(1847-01-12)
Nationality American
Occupation Supercargo on the sealing ship Huron, author
Spouse(s) Eleanor Strong
Parent(s) Elisha Root
Lucy Curtis

Joel Root (1770–1847) was the author of a journal of his voyage around the world (1802–1806) while working as supercargo on the sealing ship Huron.[1] One version of Root's journey dated 1838, years after the actual journey, was a memoir dictated to Dr. Emile Gardette, his granddaughter's husband, while Root was visiting in Philadelphia for several months under the care of a Dr. McClellan.[2] While this account was interesting, it was written in the 3rd person, and lacked the immediacy of Root's own ship log, which recorded daily events as they occurred during the journey.[3]


Among Root's earliest American ancestors who settled in Connecticut were Capt. William Curtis (1618-1702) from Essex, England, and John Porter (1623-1688) and Mary Stanley (1631-1688) from Kent, England. On his father's side of the family his earliest American ancestors were John Root (1608-1684) from Northamptonshire, England, and Mary Francis Kilbourne (1619-1697) from Cambridge, England. Root's mother, Lucy Curtis Root, died when he was two, and when he was six, his father, Col. Elisha Root (1737–1776),[4] died of dysentery while serving in the Revolutionary War army in West Chester, Connecticut. Joel and his two sisters inherited their father's farm of one hundred twenty acres and the good country house in which they lived. He was then adopted and raised by his paternal grandfather, Jonathan Root (1707–1794), namesake of the Jonathan Root House in Southington, Connecticut, now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.[5] Jonathan Root was the son of Timothy Root and Margaret Seymour. Some early members of the Root family were members of the Connecticut Landing Holding Company. Deed Number 13 of the Connecticut Land Company was held by Ephraim Root.

When Joel was almost sixteen, upon the death of his aged grandfather, he and his two sisters, Hannah and Lucy, were left to make their own way in the world. He determined that he would go to college and prepared himself for that goal. He succeeded in entering Yale in about a year. However, he stayed only until the end of his sophomore year, leaving with an honorable dismissal.

At eighteen Root married Eleanor Strong, daughter of Revolutionary War soldier Col. John Strong of Torrington, Connecticut, and Mercy Newell Strong. Eleanor's father John Strong (1610-1699) was an early New England colonist and Puritan leader.

Joel Root then became a farmer for five years, afterward moving to Southington, Connecticut, where he began a dry goods business while also, at intervals, dealing in real estate. By 1800 he was the father of seven daughters and decided to move to New Haven, Connecticut, where he thought they would get a better education. The seven daughters of Joel and Eleanor Root were Olivia Ann Root (1788-1827), Lucy Curtis Root (1790-1821), Eliza Maria Root (1792-1886), Maude Eleanor Paris Root (1794-1873), Jeanette Francis Root (1796-1891), Charlotte Antoinette Root (1798-1888), and Susan Augusta Root (1800-1846). The last born and eighth daughter, Julia Root, died as an infant in 1807. Because he was aware of the vaccine recently invented by Edward Jenner (1749–1823) for smallpox, a disease then epidemic in the United States of America, Root insisted that his seven daughters be inoculated before he left for his journey around the world.

Journey around the world on the brig Huron

Root sailed out of New Haven harbor in 1802 on the Huron[6] with Captain David Montthrop (variant spelling Molthrop) in what he expected to be a lucrative adventure trading in seal furs. The port of New Haven was a frequent point of departure for sealing expeditions. The first recorded voyage to sealing grounds along the shores of the southern Pacific ocean was that of Captain Daniel Greene from New Haven in 1790.[7][8][9] Root's memoir, written in 1840, recounts his adventures and misadventures while engaged in sealing operations mostly on islands off the coast of Chile. He gives a "detailed account of efforts to take hair seal skins for the American market and fur seal skins for the Chinese trade, primarily from the islands of Mocha, St. Mary's and Masafuero [Mas a tierra], in the Juan Fernandez Islands." Masafuero was also known as Mas Afuero "further away," or Alexander Selkirk's Island, or the Robinson Crusoe Islands. Daniel Defoe based his novel Robinson Crusoe on the experiences of Alexander Selkirk's survival on the island between 1704-1709.[10]

Root tells of navigation disagreements with the Captain of the brig Huron. He tells how he was cast ashore on the Indian inhabited coast of Peru, and he tells of his imprisonment by the Spanish at Concepción, Chile and difficulty with the Spanish government while sealing on the Island of Masafuero. The Huron made the long voyage home via China and Europe, trading along the way in Canton, China, Hamburg, Germany and St. Petersburg, Russia. Root and his party arrived back in the United States at New York, their first home port, on October 26, 1806, four years after their departure. He arrived home in New Haven on October 30, where his wife and seven daughters were in good health, having survived the smallpox epidemic, and were overjoyed to see him. From his travels, he presented gifts of fine fabric for the trousseau of each of his daughters, linens for his wife's linen closet, and China tea cups for each of the girls.[11]

There is no record of his going to sea again. When Root died at age 76, he was buried at Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven. Some of his more harrowing experiences seem to presage the writing of Herman Melville, especially in Melville's novella, Benito Cereno, but whether Melville ever knew of Root's journey or not, Root's memoir in A Voyage Around the World 1802–1806,[12] is an interesting narrative in itself, and there are simmering conflicts and threat of mutiny and piracy in the writings of both authors.

Log and journal transcriptions

Without the dedicated efforts of the descendants of Root, his story would not have survived. One of his daughters, Charlotte Antoinette Root, was the mother of Susan Huldah Forbes (born on 6 March 1819 at New Haven, New Haven Co.). Susan was the daughter of William Jehiel Forbes and Charlotte Antoinette Root. Susan Huldah Forbes married Benjamin Silliman, Jr. (December 4, 1816 – January 14, 1885),[13] son of Benjamin Silliman (August 8, 1779 – November 24, 1864), May 19, 1840 at New Haven. Susan Huldah Forbes died in 1878, but Silliman descendants and family members such as Alice Belknap Hawkes, Eleanor Silliman Belknap Humphrey, John Lawrance Hawkes, and Mitzi Greene Humphrey kept his legacy alive in their own correspondence, limited edition publications, and study of genealogy, all of which are in the 21st century treasured by further descendants of Root.[14] Root was an ancestor of William Richardson Belknap (1849-1914) and William Burke Belknap, the younger (1885–1965), both affiliated with Belknap Hardware and Manufacturing Company of Louisville, Kentucky. Through Joel Root's daughter Charlotte Antoinette Root and her descendants Susan Huldah Forbes, Alice Trumbull Silliman, and Eleanor Belknap Humphrey, he was the 4th great-grandfather of historian of economic thought Thomas M. Humphrey and of Barbara Morgan Meade, co-founder and former co-owner (with Carla Cohen) of the popular Washington, DC independent bookstore Politics and Prose.

A daguerreotype of Root in his later years (c. 1844) may be seen at Connecticut History Online.[15] Some of Root's descendants have become antiquarians, genealogists, and cultural historians to the point of trading in or collecting rare books or other antique objects. Antiquarians in the usual sense of the word today are not necessarily dealers but often are students of ancient books, documents, paper ephemera, monuments, photographs, or other artifacts. Antiquarians among Root's descendants have in some cases built up extensive personal collections in order to inform their research about his journey and extant manuscripts relating to his life. This article is based largely on what they have learned, documented, and preserved or passed on by way of oral history. Auburn professor, literary critic, and author of books on the American short story, Eugene Current-Garcia[16] (1909–1995), said that, whether Root's journal was a source for Melville or not, it was such an interesting narrative in itself that it deserved to be published for a wider audience.


  1. Stackpole, Edouard A. (November 1935). ""The Voyage of the Huron and the Huntress: the American sealers and the discovery of the continent of Antarctica" Full text.". Marine Historical Association. 2Q. Retrieved 15 August 2014. 
  2. Reese, William. "A summary description of "A VOYAGE AROUND THE WORLD MADE BY JOEL ROOT 1802 - 1806" [cover title]. Root, Joel:". William Reese Co. William Reese Co. Retrieved 15 August 2014. 
  3. Hawkes, John Lawrance (2000). The Journal of Joel Root, Supercargo, on the Brig Huron, 1802–1806 (Limited to 250 copies. ed.). Dorset, Vermont: John Lawrance Hawkes. Retrieved 30 June 2014.  87 pp.
  4. Root, James Pierce. Root Genealogical Records 1600-1870. "Comprising the General History of The ...". 
  5. Root, Joel. "Memoir of Joel Root". East Carolina University Joyner Library. N/A. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  7. Johnson, Donald M. (2000). The Journal of Joel Root. Dorset, Vermont: John Lawrance Hawkes. p. 79. 
  8. Corrigan, Dave (Summer 2013). "Round the Horn in Search of Seals and Fortune". Connecticut Explored. 11 (3): 28–31. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  9. Seaport, Mystic. "Daguerreotype of Joel Root". Connecticut History Online. Retrieved 30 June 2014.  External link in |website= (help)
  10. Hawkes, John Lawrance, with transcription and notes by Donald M. Johnson. The Journal of Joel Root, Supercargo, on the brig Huron, 1802-1806, p. 83.
  11. Hawkes, Alice Silliman (December 1960). Notes to A Voyage Around the World Made by Joel Root 1802-1806 (private edition of 18 copies ed.). Alice Hawkes. pp. 50–51. 
  12. Gardette, Emile. A Journey Around the World by Joel Root. Alice B. Hawkes. Retrieved 4 July 2014. 
  13. Wright, Arthur W. "Biographical Memoir of Benjamin Silliman 1816–1885" (PDF). National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 4 July 2014. 
  14. Root, Joel. "narrative-of-a-sealing-and-trading-voyage-in-the-ship-huron-from-new-haven-around-the-world". WorldCat. Retrieved 4 July 2014. 
  15. "Joel Root daguerreotype". Connecticut History Online. Retrieved 11 July 2014. 
  16. Current-Garcia, Eugene. "Alabama Authors". Retrieved 28 July 2014. 

External links