Dr. Hiram Griswold
- Born: 1785, Vermont 45
- Marriage: Lucina Clark
The brothers Griswold, Nathaniel L. and George, hailed from East Lime, Connecticut, and had arrived in New York in the 1790s, and soon made a fortune shipping flour to the West Indies and bringing back sugar and rum. Eventually, they got into the tea trade because that's where the money was. N. L. & G. Griswold, by the 1840s, had acquired a fleet of forty-three ships, all flying the checkered blue and white house flag. The Panama was their most well known ship and her picture along with "Ship Panama" and "N. L. & G. Griswold," was printed on all her tea chest and carton labels and they were in every country store in America. Their firm was so prosperous that in jest people said that the initials stood for "No Loss and Great Gain." Three ships in succession were named "Ship Panama."
A Griswold ship being loaded at their East River Pier.
The Griswolds fit the mold of lanky, hatchet-faced New England Yankees with ruddy complexions, and both were over six feet tall. The younger brother, "Old Nat," was the shipping expert and wore a slouch hat, instead of the silk topper worn by other merchants. George was the bookkeeping wizard who also dabbled in banking and real estate. The Griswolds kept a tight rein on their captains and drove them hard. Both brother's penmanship was so bad as to be indecipherable even to themselves and this drove their clerks crazy. One clerk of the firm was considered indispensable, for he alone could understand George's scrawl.
Nat also branched out into other business and won a $100,000 dredging contract from the New York State legislature for the dredging and deepening of New York Harbor.
They owned their entire fleet, did little chartering, and auctioned off their tea independently, receiving up to $700,000 per cargo. Now, they wanted to get into the California trade in a big way and had commissioned William Webb to build a sharp new clipper for their firm that was to be the largest yet to slide down the ways, to be called the Challenge.
George Griswold soon took notice of Robert Waterman about town and approached him with a most intriguing offer, one that he knew Waterman would find hard to refuse, and offered him the chance to come out of retirement and set a record breaking California passage as captain of the largest clipper ship in the world. To sweeten the offer even further, George Griswold offered Waterman a $10,000 bonus if he took up the challenge of winning the Cape Horn sweepstakes with the Challenge and succeeded in making a passage of 90 days or less. George Griswold knew that this kind of talk would appeal to Waterman, and encouraged him to go up to William Webb's shipyard and take a look at the Challenge for himself. Griswold assured Waterman that there was still time enough for him to supervise the final layout of the rigging.
Like a moth drawn to the light, Waterman found this too hard to resist and went up to William Webb's shipyard, and was soon walking around the huge sharp hull of the Challenge, that was twice as large as the Sea Witch, checking her out from every angle. He had set all the early records in the China tea trade and they still stood unbroken and would stand the test of time, but he had yet to race a California clipper around the Horn to the Golden Gate for the laurels of that race as well.
Before long, Robert Waterman was quivering with anticipation and returned to the Griswold's counting house to take a look at the rigging plans and soon proposed adding additional sail. He had taken up the challenge of the Cape Horn sweepstakes not knowing at the time that he had just made the biggest mistake of his life.
Dr. married Lucina Clark.