It is from Cornelius that the legendary New Bedford Grinnells originated. Cornelius, born 11 Feb 1758 at Little Compton, RI, was the son of Daniel4 Grinnell (continuing back to Richard3, Daniel2, Matthew1). As a boy, Cornelius left Little Compton to apprentice in the hatter’s trade in New Bedford, MA. The boy saw better opportunities in the seafaring trade (New Bedford was a major whaling town). He served in the American Revolution on land and sea. While at sea, and early in the war, he was taken prisoner. Freed after a prisoner exchange, Cornelius joined Capt. George Claghorn’s company, in Col. Abiel Mitchell’s regiment.
By 1791, he was back on the seas as first mate on the Rebecca, When the captain became ill, Cornelius took charge. He soon became a captain in his own right. He is reputed to be the first captain to “double” Cape Horn. By 1796, he had accumulated a large investment, and retired from the sea to manage his financial affairs. In 1785, he married the former Sylvia Ann Howland, born 4 Aug 1765 at Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Gideon and Sarah (Hicks) Howland. Cornelius joined his brother-in-law, William Howland, in business. They built ships, engaged in commerce in flour, corn, iron, and other provisions, as well as commercial shipping.
He proved to be a sound and prosperous businessman. His interests were wide and he was a director on several bank boards. Cornelius and Sylvia raised eight sons and a daughter, so descendants are numerous. Many of the children became active in the Unitarian Church. Sylvia, however, was a lifelong Quaker. She died on 1 Aug 1837 at New Bedford. Cornelius died on 19 Apr 1850 at New Bedford.
That Cornelius was a successful and prosperous man was one thing, but the continued success of many of his sons was another indeed:
Cornelius Grinnell (1786-1830) was partner in the New York shipping concern, Grinnell & Minturn, where he managed the family fleet of sailing vessels, the Swallowtail Line. He also served in the Massachusetts legislature.
Joseph Grinnell (1788-1885) was a bank president for 46 years, founded the Wamsutta Mills, served four terms in the U. S. Congress, and was co-owner of a very successful shipping company, Fish and Grinnell.
William Henry Grinnell (1799-1874) worked with his brother Joseph at Fish & Grinnell, before working with brother Cornelius at Grinnell & Minturn in New York as a partner. William was very interested in exploration, and when Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin became lost, Henry financed a rescue mission, even outfitting two of his own ships which he loaned to the U. S. Government for the endeavor. For his efforts a portion of Ellesmere Island was renamed Grinnell Land. He also served as the first president of the American Geographical Society.
Moses Hicks Grinnell (1803-1877) joined his brothers at Grinnell & Minturn. He also contributed financially to the efforts to rescue Sir John Franklin and his expeditionary party in the Arctic. He served for one term in the U. S. Congress, and for two years served as Collector of the Port of New York. He served as president of the New York Chamber of Commerce, and was a member of the original Central Park Commission. He developed real estate around the U. S., including that of Key West, Florida, where a street is named after him. Key West was a popular winter harbor for the New Bedford fleet when their harbor was frozen. To this day, Key West maintains the look of a 19th century New England seaport. Moses gave liberally, and usually anonymously, to many charities. There is reason to believe Moses Hicks Grinnell was the benefactor of a homesteading project in Kansas, the result being the town of Grinnell, Kansas being named for him.
Cornelius’ grandson, Frederick Grinnell (1836-1905) invented the modern fire sprinkler system, and founded the Grinnell Co. of Providence, RI. Today’s fire protection sprinklers are still very similar to those designed by Frederick in the 1870s. Frederick’s son Russell led the company until his death in 1948. Russell served a four year term as a Rhode Island state senator.
Frederick and Russell were outstanding yachtsmen. Russell’s son, Russell Jr., was a commercial fisherman, operating a fishing fleet in Gloucester, MA.