House Stories – 46 High Street – The Mulliken House

I love the beautiful front of this Federalist house.   When we think of the typical box shape of this style, we forget that many in town have just two stories.  It also maybe that whatever is behind the tall fence is disappointing but I think all agree the picture on the left by the assessor’s office does not do it justice.


Hollywood tends to crystallize into stories filled with stereotypes.     Fortunately, to counterbalance, history is filled with the truth that eventually comes out.  


This home was built in 1800.   All the land that Allen & Parsons Street lies on today was owned by Captain Jonathan Parsons.    He was a revolutionary war captain and renowned in his own right but was also the son of the Rev. Jonathan Parsons who presided at the Old South Church during the same war.   Samuel Mulliken was a grandson of his and ended up putting up this house and that is how it ended up in the hands of the Mulliken family   But this house was noted most for Captain Moses J. Mulliken and for many good reasons.    First, he was Irish in an Anglo-Saxon land.       That is remarkable enough – and was considered a gentleman’s gentlemen.       But he was given to having a sweet disposition but on the other hand was known to be very strict in his own discipline.    Puritan in his upbringing which means he was a protestant!      


This man saw it all and travelled the world and then ended his final years in a quiet home taken care of by some of his unmarried daughters.      Living during the heyday of the sailing vessels that spanned the world, he ended up taking care of the amazing collections gathered by the many ship captains and which eventually ended up at the Custom House Maritime Museum or at the Historical Society’s Cushing Museum.


But he didn’t just take care vicariously of other’s mariner’s mementos of adventure, he lived it.


After, graduating from the High school, he began his seafaring life as a boy of sixteen on board the Medora, a ship just
built in Newbury. Capt. William Graves was master, James Clarkson mate, and nearly all the crew were from Newburyport.      

They sailed from Newburyport, bound to Havre (France), and from there went to Smyrna. Young Mulliken thus visited Asia before he had seen Boston, the capital of his own state.


His second voyage was on board the bark Thalia, Capt. Lunt master, and it was on this bark that he experienced his first and only shipwreck. The vessel was lost at the head of the Baltic, off the Isle of Dago. She ran on a reef, in the daytime, with a pilot on board.   To reveal how needless this was, a pilot was usually a local mariner who would when ships were coming into harbor take over the controls to avoid the sandbars and rocks and safely guide the ship into port.    The pilot was supposed to have an intimate knowledge of such dangers.      The point is this shipwreck was completely not the fault of Captain Lunt and should have been easily avoided.   


Fortunately, the crew was picked up by a Russian man-of-war, and Capt. Mulliken was fond of telling, in after days, how they breakfasted that morning from mush in a huge iron kettle hung from the middle of the forecastle. Each man was given a spoon, and pitched in with all his might. Landing at Cronstadt, the American consul found means of sending the sailors home. Capt. Mulliken saved only the clothes he wore at the time, and a little box he was bringing home to his sisters.

When second mate of the brig Corsica, Capt. Mulliken visited England. It was an unusually cold winter, and the Mersey
was frozen over, which was a great novelty to the Englishmen.   Everyone was out on the river trying to skate.


Capt. Mulliken, like all Newburyport boys, was an adept at the art, and as soon as he could leave, started out to see the fun. He hired a pair of skates, and circled about the river in a way which made the local Englishman stand around him, and clap their hands in amazement.    This unusual acclimation by the British was confirmed later by testimony by another captain from Newburyport, Isaac Bray and his accompanying wife.

These adventures turned more serious later as he went on one voyage and the food ran out – each person was reduced to having a piece of ship biscuit a day.     These hard-as-rock crackers were a challenge to eat in the first place and lacked the nutrition that our modern-day foods provide.      On his first ship to command as Captain, the bark John, he contracted yellow fever and almost died.      Finally returning to Newburyport, he lay in bed for six months!

He returned to the sea just when the gold rush began to really heat up in California.     People where so eager to reach the gold fields before they petered out that huge sums would be paid just to be passengers.    In a profitable venture, Captain Mulliken took on at Boston a shipload of gold-seeking adventurers in the bark Mary Wilder.     He should have known the ship’s name was foretelling his trip.    


First, the passengers were constantly brawling, gambling and reckless in their behavior.      On this huge journey that would take them down and around the tip of South America, he had his hands full – the bored passengers caught and then tried to eat a goony bird – which turned out to be highly inedible.       Then, after putting into San Francisco, the captain lost his crew to the gold rush.      He had to sell his ship, hitch a ride to the Isthmus of Panama, take a donkey across the continental divide and catch a ship back to Newburyport.


In May 1852, he took the bark Mary and Jane for an around the world journey leaving New York and journeying across the Atlantic and Pacific until he reached Singapore where they took on Tea and Pepper.     By the time he reached Newburyport in October of 1853, he claimed to have pepper in his clothes, in his luggage and to sweat pepper.   It got into everything on the ship.


But his greatest adventure was just before the Civil War broke out.


During the war Capt. Mulliken was master of the Blondel, an American ship, flying the stars and stripes, with a spread eagle painted on her prow. He sailed from, Baltimore in the last of 1860 before Fort Sumter was fired upon, and went to Rotterdam. He then went to Sunderland and loaded with a cargo of coal for Singapore. From Singapore he sailed to Mauritius. And then went on in 1863 to Calcutta.


As it happened, an English ship by the name of Blonden, was also in port.    At this time the Confederacy had sent out a privateer ship, the Alabama, to seize union shipping anywhere it was found.     The Alabama often would wait outside busy trading ports.   The English captain informed Captain Mulliken that the Alabama was nearby.   As a precaution, Capt. Mulliken did not advertise in the papers, as did the Blonden so the confederate raiders were unaware of his presence.    A few days previous the Blonden left for Liverpool.     Bound for Philadelphia, Capt. Mulliken had been at sea but a short time, when one dark night he was awakened by his mate, and told that a long, black bark, lit with lanterns, a propeller under canvas (to muffle the sound), was overtaking them.


Capt. Mulliken hurried on deck and the strange vessel was near enough to hail the Blondel, asking her name, where from and where bound. Capt. Mulliken, with quick presence of mind, remembering the English Blonden, advertised in the papers, answered Blonden, from Calcutta, bound to Liverpool. The steamer at once changed her course, and sailed away. The wheelsman spoke to the captain, and said: “Sir, did you know that was the Alabama? I have seen her before.” And the captain answered that he did.


To show his puritan upbringing, Capt. Mulliken always harbored guilt for not telling the truth that night!    Talk about having ethics to a fault!     Many of his friends knew though that he would have done it again to save the crew and ship from harm.


 In all he made sixty-three trips across the Atlantic ocean, visited nearly all the sea coast countries of Europe, Brazil, Argentine Republic, Peru and Chili in South America, made at least four trips around Cape Horn, was well acquainted with Asia, and had sailed around the world in one single loop.


Even with all his many ships he had served on or captained, he somehow did have time to court and marry.     He was wedded on March 14th, 1860 to Miss Sara D. Gibbs of Sandwich, Massachusetts.  (How on earth did they meet or was this an arranged marriage?)       They had four children born to them of which his daughters remained unmarried.   His one son went on to be a mariner also.


If you had a priceless collection of rare sea charts and exotic artifacts, who else would you put into charge than the extremely ethical and disciplined Moses J. Mulliken?      He became the Superintendent of Rooms in 1881 and continued in that role until his death in 1903 at the age of 87.


In recent years, there has been a steady line of homeowners who have each done their part to keep the home in relatively good condition.     Presently the most recent owner, Peter Herman, is selling the house.


I trust the new owner, whomever they will be, will honor the rich history of this important house and not destroy its interiors so closely linked to Captain Mulliken.


I pray no dumpster is lined up in the near future in front of this historic home!


-P. Preservationist


About P. Preservationist

Dedicated to the Enrichment & Preservation of Newburyport
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