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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Captain Sisson: Is he reaching beyond the grave to tell where he hid his gold?

I first became intrigued by Mystic’s dead while researching the “back stories” for my article, "The 7 Wonders of Mystic.” Deciding that the Memorial Arch of Elm Grove Cemetery was a “Wonder,” I drove past the markers of the 13,000 souls buried there, many on the “Who’s Who” list of 19th century ship builders and sea captains, and looked for one to highlight. I became intrigued by a tall obelisk along the Mystic River depicting the steamship, City of Waco. The grave marker tells how Captain Thomas E. Wolfe died piloting her when it caught fire off the port of Galveston in 1875. Articles in the New York Times gave an account of Wolfe’s command of a vessel during the Civil War that transported supplies from New York to New Orleans until his capture by the Confederate navy. His boat burned, he was taken prisoner, but made a daring escape with some companions over a year later. After the war, he became a pilot for the State of Texas until his steamship exploded in flames and sank, killing all on board. His body was recovered and shipped back to Mystic.

With “The 7 Wonders” article finished, and a vote for the 8th Wonder conducted, I was curious to learn about other potential “wonders” suggested by the public. I began by purchasing a copy of the Mystic River Historical Society’s walking tour booklet, Curbstones, Clapboards and Cupolas. Reading about the historic homes and former residents of West Mystic Avenue, which now extends to Allyn St. where I live, I was intrigued when I read, "Contractor Allyn built #12 for his brother-in-law (who could not make payments). Captain Charles Sisson bought the house in 1858 after an unsuccessful search for gold in California.” Could that Sisson be a long-ago relative of mine? And, did he really fail to find gold given that this house was one of the largest on the block?

I contacted David Sisson, my cousin who has done extensive research on the Sisson line. Yes, Captain Charles Sisson was my cousin--and he had lived only 10 houses down from me. (Captain Charles Sisson and I are fourth cousins five times removed, both descending from Thomas and Jane Sisson of Rhode Island--see end for next Sisson conference in R.I.)*

Not only were we cousins, which was enough to thrill me, but after his wife Ann died at sea in 1876, he married the widow of Captain Thomas E. Wolfe—the Civil War hero in my "Wonders” article! It turns out that Charles and Captain Wolfe were boyhood friends who searched for the California gold together—and married sisters! I couldn’t wait to visit the graves of Captain Charles Sisson and his first wife Ann at nearby Lower Mystic Cemetery, because I wouldn’t just be visiting interesting people, I’d be visiting family.

Their grave markers were not difficult to find in this small cemetery on Route 1. Charles’s tall stone, engraved with a sailing ship, declares that his "voyage is ended.” Ann’s marker is similar, but states she died on the ship, Jeremiah Johnson, and gave coordinates in the Atlantic Ocean. When I saw a small grave marker nearby, I felt this must be the reason my research led here. On it was the name of their 10-month-old daughter. Engraved with “Our Little Ida,” I felt I was finally given a place to grieve for my own daughter, whose marker is engraved, “Our Little Girl.” We had to leave her grave behind in New York when we moved to Mystic in the summer of 2010.

Taking my husband Jim there the following weekend, I thought I was going to show him where I had some dead relatives. Standing in front of their markers, we saw another couple walking around looking at stones. “Excuse me,” the man yelled over to us, “Would you happen to know if there are any Sissons buried here?”

Stunned, I yelled back, “Yes, there are—and we're standing in front of them! I’m related to them!”

The man replied, “My name is Matthew Sisson.” A captain in the Coast Guard, Matthew and I were related too as distant cousins. He just happened to stop at this little cemetery on the off-chance he would find some Sissons there.

I went to Matthew’s Change of Command Ceremony at Fort Trumbull State Park in New London a few months later—and met a lot more cousins!

End Note:
I have since done a lot more digging to find out if Captain Charles Sisson was still working from beyond the grave to reveal Mystic's secrets to me--such as that he buried his gold somewhere in Mystic (maybe even on my property since my property was so close to his). I researched  his gold-seeking friend Captain Wolfe looked for clues as to why Sisson's first wife, Ann, died at sea at the age of 45. I looked further into the circumstances of Captain Wolfe's death in the steamship explosion because the inquest included some disturbing eye-witness accounts.

If you would like to know what I uncovered through reading Captain Sisson's logs and eye-witness accounts of Captain Wolfe's daring escape from a Confederate prison during the Civil War, read my book, Mystic Seafarer's Trail, which is available online and Mystic area shops.

Captain Charles Sisson’s home on 12 West Mystic Ave, Mystic, which looks very much the same today, can be seen at: http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~dasisson/richard/images/7dda06.jpg

*If you are interested in Sisson genealogy and the lives of the Sissons in this country, I will be speaking about Captain Charles Sisson and what his logs revealed at the following conference:

June 19-21, 2014! (Registration deadline is May 31)
The 11th Biennial Sisson Gathering of those researching the Sisson surname will be held at the Hampton Inn, T.F. Green Airport, Providence, June 19-21, 2014.  Featured will be displays of Sisson-related artifacts, short trips to Sisson-related sites in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts, presentations on results of recent Sisson-related research, and more. To get more information and a registration form, contact David Martin at davidchina_2000@yahoo.com or call 508-527-0460. Registration deadline is May 31. If you only want to go for Saturday, June 21, the cost is $75 for the day, including two meals. The cost of overnight at Hampton Inn is $99 special rate for the Gathering, per room, if people register by mid-May.

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