The South Fork Jessups Looking for Adventure!

Written By: Sandi Brewster-walker

This summer sail into maritime history on a visit to the Men Who Hunted the Whale, an exhibit at the Southampton Historical Museum. This outstanding exhibit features a number of local whaling captains and their crew from the South Fork. Three of the men were Captain Henry Green, Captain Mercator Cooper, and crewman Pyrrhus Concer. John S. Jessup’s sons grew up hearing the stories told by these men about their adventures of hunted the whales!
John Schetlinger Jessup (1797-1878), and his wife Margaret “Peggy” Cooper (1799 – 1856) had six sons, and two daughters. The sons were: Franklin, Isaac, Nathan, Mercator, John E., and John H. The couple’s daughters were: Ann, and Sarah. As young men, who came of age between 1840 and 1860, the Jessups became farmers, whalers, gold miners, seaman, a western pioneer, and a soldier. Always seeking adventure!
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 6, 1899 reported on the retirement of the oldest son Franklin Cooper Jessup (1823-1909), of Westhampton.
Around 1841 when whaling was still at its peak, he left farming joining Captain Henry Green (1794-1873) on the vessel Huron. Captain Green had come to fame on August 26, 1839, as one of the first at Culloden Point, north of Montauk to have contact with the Africans of the Amistad Slave ship.
Franklin, probably was influenced to go to sea by his mother’s whaling family, as well as the many whaling captains and crew in the area. He was seeking adventure, or earning the right to be a man.
His 2nd whaling venture was on the Manhattan, a 440-ton ship, which left from Sag Harbor on a three (3) year voyage in 1843. According to the Eagle reporter, Franklin was fond of telling the story of the Manhattan, and his uncle Captain Mercator Cooper (1803-1872). The tale begun off the Island of St Peters in the North Pacific, when the Captain and crew were replenishing their fresh meat with turtles. They were approached by three men, whose nationality was not known. The three men frequently spoke the word “yeddo,” referring to the largest city in Japan.
Soon after, the Captain set sail for the forbidden waters of Japan with eleven Japanese seaman. About 10-days later, the ship Manhattan came across a disable junk and rescued two more men. Two attempts were made to enter the Bay of Yeddo, to allow the Japanese officials to retrieve their men.
Finally, after much dispute, the Manhattan was towed by several boats into Yeddo (Tokyo) Harbor. The Japanese took precautions to keep the Manhattan crew from landing, so small boats, three deep, encircled their whaling ship. For 3-days, Captain Cooper’s ship was well supplied with all necessaries, but at the end of this time she was forced to leave.
The Manhattan was the first US ship ever allowed in a Japanese port. It took almost 8 months for the ship to reach the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), and Captain Cooper made a detailed report to the American consul.
On the way back to Long Island, the ship Manhattan was almost lost because of a typhoon off Kamchatka between the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Sea of Okhotsk to the west. “But she managed to escape with 7-1/2 feet of water in her hold.” Franklin Jessup arrived back home on October 14, 1846, and just 3-years later, he was back at sea. But, this time he was in search of gold, not whales!
The Corrector, a Sag Harbor newspaper dated February 14, 1849, published a list of those who sailed for California with Captain Henry Green on the ship Sabina as a part of the Southampton and California Gold Mining & Trading Company, and Franklin Jessup was a crew member. He sailed with an old friend Pyrrhus Concer (Consor) (1814-1897), a black seaman, who had been aboard the Manhattan. Concer was born to Violet, a slave of Nathan Cooper of Southampton, a relative of Franklin’s mother! He would return from the gold mines, and lived the rest of his life in Southampton operating a small boat on Lake Agawam.
The Eagle, September 6, 1899 wrote Franklin remained at the California gold fields for 3-years. He is believed to have returned to Westhampton and farming in 1852, where he married Charlotte French (1832-1898).
Back on February 10, 1892, the Eagle had reported on the 15th Anniversary of Gold Hunters Celebration Dinner. This event was to commemorate the sailing to the California gold fields, however only Captain Franklin Jessup, and Noel Rogers attended.
At least four (4) of the Rogers clan had made the journey to the California gold fields in 1849 on the ship Sabina with Franklin. Horatio and Noel Rogers were passenger, however Noel worked for his passage as a seaman. Captain Albert Rogers, and James Rogers were stockholders in the venture.
As a family man back in 1869, Franklin took on the duties of the keeper for the Potunk Life-Saving Station for the next 30-years. Franklin retired as captain, and the oldest person in the service according to the Suffolk County News on August 18, 1899.
Ten years later, the Port Jefferson Echo on May 29, 1909 published the obituary of Captain Franklin C. Jessup, who died May 20, at his home in Westhampton Beach.
His brother Isaac Miller Jessup (1829-1904) did not chose farming, but taught school in Riverhead. Later, he followed his brother Franklin going on a whaling voyages. Isaac’s Journal dated, August 17, 1849 to June 16, 1850 was written on a voyage from Cold Spring Harbor to San Francisco on the ship Sheffield under the command of Captain Thomas Welcome Roys. Captain Roys is famous for discovering that the Bering Sea contained a species of whale called the Bowhead.
Isaac would sail several more times from Sag Harbor to the Arctic Ocean in search of whales before becoming dock master at the Atlantic Dock in Brooklyn for 30-years.
The death of Isaac was reported in the County Review, a Riverhead newspaper on September 30, 1904. The old seaman had died at the home of his sister, Sarah Jessup.
The Eagle, February 13, 1910 carried the obituary of another brother Nathan Cooper Jessup (1833-1910), of Westhampton Beach, known in connection with the Jessup Lane Bridge.
The bridge was built in 1887 across the bay at Potunk Point, where it is believed Nathan charged people to cross. The town unsuccessfully tried to have him remove it. In 1900, the US Supreme Court ruling awarded Nathan complete ownership of the structure. It seems Nathan did not follow his two older brothers on whaling adventures! He was a surf man, and had once secured a patent for a self-bailing lifeboat.
When the 1860 US Census was taken, the next brother Mercator Jessup (1836-1901), named after Captain Mercator Cooper, was not enumerated with the family. He probably had begun his journey west to Arkansas. The 1870 US Census enumerated Mercator, and his wife Sallie living in Dardanelle, Arkansas. By 1900, he was widowed and living with his son Isaac W. Jessup, a railroad fireman in El Paso, Texas.
The pioneer Jessups might have taken a variation of the heavily traveled Santa Fe Trail from Fort Smith, Arkansas across Plains Indian Territory and the Texas Panhandle into Santa Fe, New Mexico; then headed south to El Paso, Texas. Mercator died in 1901, and is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery, El Paso, TX.
Brother John Edward Jessup (1839-1840), died before he reached his 1st birthday. The youngest brother John Henry Jessup (1843-1864) served in the 127th Regiment (Union) during the Civil War, and was mortally wounded at the Battle of Davis Neck, SC. He died on December 7, 1864. His brother Franklin named his son in 1866, John Henry Jessup in memory of his brother.
Within the pages of Clement M. Healy’s book, The South Fork Cemeteries are found the graves of some of the local men that hunted the whales! You will also find the Jessup farmers, whalers, gold miners, seaman, a western pioneer, and a soldier family buried in the Westhampton Presbyterian Church Cemetery.
The Southampton Historical Museum is located at 17 Meeting House Lane, and its Men Who Hunted the Whale exhibit is co-sponsored by the Rogers Memorial Library. For more information, hours and directions go to