Wednesday, December 11, 2013

George "Jonah" Granville Short of Newburyport and Boat Builder Billy Bowen

Short Family of Newburyport by Laurie Short Jarvis and Facebook Group Short Descendants of Newbury MA Laurie Short Jarvis has been researching her ancestors and uncovered some great stories and information to help preserve the Port's history and the great families that made it so special.
George “Jonah” Granville Short, son of Samuel Short, JR and Lydia Maria Tenney Atwood on his boat The Joppiate, 23 tons, built in 1901 by Bowen Shipyard in Newburyport. He is on the Merrimack River setting his nets. He was born on New Year’s Eve 1867 in the south end of Newburyport, MA known as Joppa Flats or AKA Flat Iron Point meets Plum Island Turnpike. Many from the Short family line were fishermen, clammers and shoe factory workers

Samuel Short, JR. (1842-1929) son of Captain Samuel Short and Mary Jane Dana HarrisPhoto courtesy of Priscilla Noyes Price.

Captain Samuel Short (1822-1908) born to Henry Short and Mary True Morrill, D. of Jacob Morrill and Elizabeth Stickney Hunt.

The Short Family were among the first settlers of Newbury, Massachusetts. Jonah descended from a long line of Short seamen and learned to sail at an early age. Jonah’s father Captain Samuel Short Sr owned a fishing schooner named, Queen of the Bay. In John J. Currier's History of Newburyport the schooner Queen is listed as one of the first recorded fishing vessels to have run aground on the shifting sandbars in the mouth of the Merrimac River.

In 1636 the first Short to land in Newbury, Massachusetts was Henry Short from England. He was one of the seven men to be selected as a "townsmen" and held many important civil offices.

Judge Samuel Sewall was a resident of Newbury, MA. He was involved with the Salem Witch Trials. He later regretted his decisions. The Short Family is related to him via first settler Henry Short who married his daughter Ann Sewall. My great great grandfather and great great great grandfather were named Samuel Sewall Short. See More on Henry Short New England Mills 

Henry Short's role in the colony: The officials 'were chosen,' according to Rev Richard Brown, as noted in his diary, "from quarter to quarter by papers to discharge the business of the town, in taking in, or refusing any to come, into town, as also to dispose of lands and lots, to make lawful orders, to impose fines on the breakers of orders, and also to levy and distrain them, and were fully empowered of themselves to do what the town had power for to do. The reason whereof was, the town judged it inconvenient and burdensome to be all called together on every occasion."

From Daughters of the Revolution Magazine snippet from Longfellow article Ann Longfellow and Henry Short marriage. 


Jonah was the youngest of 10 children born to Captain Samuel Sewall Short Sr.and his wife Mary Jane Dana Harris. He was born just one week after his own nephew Charlie Short was born. Charlie was the son of his is eldest brother Sam, who was 26 years old when “Jonah” was born. 
Jonah grew up next door to his Uncle Hiram Short and there were several other Short family members on Union Street as well. It is documented that the two homes shared a well. Both were built in the late 1600’s. I have been told that 6 Union Street, which is still standing was built with wooden pegs as was 8 Union which was torn down in 1950 in disrepair. 

'Joppy" clam shacks along Water Street, Newburyport, MA Courtesy of Newbury Museum. The Union Street Shorts were fishermen and clammers. Hiram Short and Jonah’s older brother Moses Short each owned one of the now infamous clam shacks that once lined Water Street. Jonah and his nephew Charlie grew up along the water front with many of their siblings and cousins My great grandfather Charles Lewis Short and Jonah was very close. They were raised like brothers and were always about the town together. Charlie told his grandson (my father), that Jonah earned his nickname from the locals because he could swim like a fish. In the1800’s several swim races and contest were hosted the Basin of the Merrimac River and “Jonah” usually won whatever race he entered. 

Jonah and Charlie were known to get into a little mischief now and then along the water front too. When they were boys, the sailing ships and 3 masted schooners still came into Newburyport. They would often run down toward the Custom House to see what was going on. They spotted a beautiful big brass ball on the top of a mast one day while poking around the docks. One dared the other to try to hit it with a rock. It was pretty high up, but after a few tries, one of them hit it and dented it. The captain of the ship heard the noise and came out hollering at the boys to pay for the damage. Their school master was walking by and saw the incident unfold. He approached the angry sea captain and offered to pay for the damage if he would release the boys to his care. He let them know that they could pay him back by doing errands and chores for him until it was paid up. Their grades improved too. 

Jonah and Charlie joined their father, brothers and cousins as volunteers at the Plum Island Life Saving Stations. At one time there were 2-3 locations. They often fished with their cousins and brothers Jacob Emery Short and George “Tailor” Warren Short on Jonah’s steamer The Three Brothers, The Joppiate, and later The Billy Bowen well known fishing boats in Newburyport at that time. His first boat The Three Brothers was purchased from the Portsmouth Naval Yard, and was so named because it had 3 steam engines to power her. 

I have found several Newburyport News newspaper articles that report George G Short as part of the Plum Island Life Saving teams that rescued people on sinking ships in the mouth of the river and just off of Plum Island. 

One late afternoon June 28, 1892, while off duty and fishing with his cousin George ‘Tailor’ Short, the weather changed and the seas go rough. They and several other men spotted a bait boat that was navigating through the mouth of the river. It had swamped and was sinking fast. There were six men on board. There were among twelve men who attempted to save them. Two were drowned. These twelve men were later awarded Humane Society Life saving awards by the city of Newburyport and by the state of Massachusetts. The ceremony was held at the People’s United Methodist Church on Purchase Street.

The Joppiate was his longest running vessel, which he took as far as Cuba to fish in the winters. He often kept it in Gloucester, and eventually sold it to a Gloucester fisherman. He then had a new boat built by his close friend William Bowen, or "Billy," a well known Newburyport ship builder.

Below is an article from the Boston Herald, May 23, 1897 "Merrimac's Sailing Season: The American Yacht at Newburyport Making Great Preparations." Bowen is building a boat for Captain James Knapp:

Jonah and Billy were immersed in an industry that was thriving and put Newburyport on the map for shipbuilding. Below is an article from August 27, 1864 published in the Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph that describes the prosperous trade.
Among the builders mentioned, Billy apprenticed with William B Coffin & Co. at the end of Jefferson Street. However, the first Coffin to tap into this booming industry was Benjamin Coffin. He bought of Moses Coffin, June 6, 1763, about eight acres of land "on ye Lane commonly called Coffins Lane," now Jefferson street, Newburyport, and built several vessels there.

The boat that Billy built for Jonah was named the Billy Bowen. The launching day of the Billy Bowen was a big day, and my father told me that one of the ladies on board that day was his grandmother Bessie Perkins Hilliard, Charles’ wife. 

Charles Lewis Short (1868-1954) and Bessie Perkins Hilliard (1874-1938)

Down along the seawall, and Perkins slip was an old Shoe and Supply store owned by Lorenzo Phinney and his wife Mary Jane Short, George’s older sister. This was a popular gathering spot for local fisherman. There was a potbelly stove supplies could be bought and fish could be sold there. The house stands today facing the Seawall park. Most of the Short men were Mason’s and went regularly to meetings. Sometimes informal meeting were held at the store. There was also another secret society that may have been meeting there for even longer than that. It is told that Jonah would often show up at the Mason’s meeting wearing scaly fishing boots, right off the docks. He was not always a popular member because he refused to put change his clothes and ‘put on airs.’

Jonah lived with his brother Sam Short Jr and family at 8 Union Street when he got older. Eventually, his sister Mary Jane and husband Lorenzo Phinney moved in to 8 Union and Jonah moved to 200 Water Street to live with Charlie and his wife Bessie. They often shucked clams at the shanties and in the winter months would sometimes work in the Shoe factory nearby. The Newburyport Custom House curator located a letter for me written by George "Jonah" Short to protest the regulations and fees of the fishing industry. It was an articulate and well written. Jonah became sick in 1927 and died at the age of 59 and passed away at the Water Street home where he lived with Charlie’s wife and children. 

George “Jonah” Granville Short is buried in the First Parish Burying Ground on High Road in Newbury, Massachusetts. Below his father Samuel S Short.


  • "Merrimac's Sailing Season" Sunday, May 23, 1897 Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts)
  • Maritime history of the Merrimac : shipbuilding Robert K Cheney; Roland H Woodwell Newburyport Press 1964.
  • A sketch of the History of Newbury, Newburyport, and West Newbury, from 1635 to 1845 John J Currier
  • Mary Adams Rolfe Papers 
  • Diary of Samuel Sewall 1674-1729  
  • "The Longfellow Garrison" John Longfellow Scales 1911 Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine Volumes 38-39
  • Annual Report of the Commissioners on Fisheries and Game Massachusetts. Commissioners on Fisheries and Game 1905
  • Vital Records of Newbury, Massachusetts, to the End of the Year 1849: Births 
  • Ancestry.Com Short Family Tree 
  • Some New England Mills  
  • Custom House Maritime Museum & Newbury Museum located in Newburyport, Massachusetts


  1. Interesting journey through history!

  2. I just love all the old photographs and history. Its nice to think back and see how a family has evolved over the years, especially those around our old ports. The history of American industry is so interesting to me. Thanks for the great article.

  3. Two clarifications...Its Janvrins Slip of coruse, and Jonah was born in Joppa, not on Joppa flats lol!!! :)

  4. Magnificent web site. A lot of helpful information here. I'm sending it to a few friends ans also sharing in delicious. And obviously, thank you to your effort!

  5. Wonderful family history -- thank you for researching/sharing!

  6. I find it very interesting that my GGG Grandfather was drowned in November 1808 at Anticostie Island and that Mr Longfellow also died there in a different year. Do you have a contact on Anticostie who could help me with research Thanks Alan Mealey