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The Legendary Clipper Ship, Flying Cloud

THE AMERICAN CLIPPER SHIPS built in the 1850s are widely regarded as the greatest sailing ships ever to grace the ocean. With huge areas of canvas flying on immensely tall masts above long, rakish hulls, they carved their way majestically through the waves at unprecedented speeds. One famous example sailed from New York to San Francisco in a record time that stood unbeaten by any wind-powered vessel for almost 140 years; several modern racing yachts were lost in the attempt to better it, until one finally did so in 1989. The builder of this record-setting clipper was a Nova Scotian who had trained in New York but spent his most productive years in East Boston. He moved there in 1845 from a shipyard in Newburyport, about thirty-five miles up the coast of Massachusetts, at the invitation of a merchant for whom he had just completed a ship. The merchant was so delighted with his new vessel that he insisted her creator move to Boston and open a shipyard there, for which he would provide the financing. He then became the builder’s best customer, commissioning many additional ships during the next decade—including the clipper that set the long-lived record on her way to San Francisco. That record-setting ship was one of many clippers the shipbuilder constructed in the early 1850s, winning him widespread renown. His name was Donald McKay, and his fame endures to this day. Many consider him to have been the greatest builder of sailing ships in history. But what of the merchant who played such a crucial role in launching McKay on the path to fame? In his day, he too was a prominent figure: the owner of Boston’s most successful transatlantic shipping line, noted for transporting large numbers of poor European immigrants to the city (including the great-grandfather of a future President, although that could not have been known at the time); a director of multiple financial institutions; an elected city councilor and state repre-sentative; an active member of the Whig Party, close to one of its luminar-ies, Daniel Webster; and the leader of a group that funded Webster to argue an important maritime case before the US Supreme Court. During his lifetime, his name appeared over 25,000 times in US newspapers. But in the many decades since, his accomplishments and his pivotal contributions to McKay’s success have largely faded from memory. He deserves better. His name was Enoch Train, and this is his story.

Chapter 1: Cousinly Collaboration


The Ancestral Home of the Train Family in Weston, Massachusetts

FOR A FUTURE MERCHANT destined to play a major role in Boston’s maritime history, Enoch Train had an unlikely start in life. He grew up as an orphan in a remote farming village at least two days’ travel from the sea. Strangely, though, this unpromising circumstance was crucial in launching his career, providing him a privileged entrée into the world of maritime commerce he could never otherwise have expected. Hillsborough, New Hampshire, the farming village where he grew up, was not his original home. That had been about sixty miles south in Weston, Massachusetts, much closer to Boston and its waterfront. But thanks mostly to his mother’s errant behavior, his family had moved repeatedly during his early childhood. When he arrived in Hillsborough, probably around the age of six, it was the fourth place in which he had lived. The family’s first move followed an incident when Enoch was two, in 1803. His mother, Hannah, was expelled from the local Baptist church in Weston. Its members “voted that the wife of Enoch Train [Enoch’s father] shall be cut off from all the privileges of church on account of misconduct.” The nature of her transgression was not recorded, but the severity of her punishment suggests it was serious. Her disgrace must have been particularly mortifying for her husband, whose family had been in Weston for generations, and whose brother was a founder and deacon of the church that had just expelled her. Possibly for that reason, Mr. Train moved the family out of Weston shortly afterwards; when the couple’s third child was born in the spring of 1805, they were living ten miles away in Needham. Alas for the three children—Elmira, six, Enoch, almost four, and Sally, the new baby—more trouble was on the way. In November 1805, barely seven months after Sally’s birth, their father died. What happened to them next is not exactly clear, except that by 1810 their mother had abandoned them. The known facts are these. In the spring of 1807, she married a man in Vermont by whom she was already pregnant. And when the national census was taken three years later, none of her children by her first husband were living with her and his successor. Although there are no contemporaneous records to show where the children had gone, decades later Enoch Train was mistakenly described as a native of Hillsborough, New Hampshire. And since his father’s brother Ephraim had moved there from Weston in 1781, it seems reasonable to conclude that this is where he and his sisters were sent by their mother. Given that Enoch was later assumed to have been born there, the transfer probably occurred when he was still very young—perhaps in 1806, soon after his father’s death. Effectively orphaned by their mother’s actions, the children attained that status formally when she passed away in 1814 at the age of forty-three. Enoch was almost thirteen at the time and would soon leave Hillsborough to embark on the career that would make him one of Boston’s most prominent citizens. Ironically, to prepare him for this career his delinquent mother could hardly have done better than to offload him onto her brother-in-law in New Hampshire, his Uncle Ephraim. For Ephraim had a son twenty years older than Enoch who had already established himself as a maritime merchant in Boston. Samuel was his name. And without the groundwork his cousin Samuel had laid, Enoch might never have been able to rise to the heights that he did.

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