Monday, February 18, 2019

Honoring Isaac S Mullen

Wednesday, July 25, 1888 – Worcester Spy
Isaac S. Mullen of Boston, the first colored man ever appointed to the Massachusetts District Police Force, was duly qualified on Tuesday. He served in the navy during the Civil War, was afterward a mail agent in the south, and later had a position in the Boston Custom House under Collector Beard.

ISAAC S. MULLEN was born on July 15, 1841 in Stonington, CT, son of Abby and George Mullen (Mullan). In the 1860 census the Mullen family was living in Salem, Massachusetts and Isaac was educated at the Phillips School.  In 1859, at age 18, he enlisted in the United States Navy. 
USS Portsmouth
He was assigned on the sloop-of-war Portsmouth and was stationed on the west coast of Africa running down ships engaged in smuggling slaves to the United State. 
Isaac re-enlisted on January 22, 1862 on board the gunboat Chocorua, and served on the gunboat Lillian during the blockade of the James and York rivers, and later off Wilmington, NC during the Civil War. He was hospitalized in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and was discharged in 1865. While aboard the Portsmouth he kept a log book that included the taking of Pirate Ships and first-hand information regarding the manner in which the slave traffic was conducted and how Negro men, women and children were thrown overboard from the slave ships to prevent the spread of disease. Another interesting story in his ledger was the branding of a sailor with the letter “M” because he mutinied during the voyage. His ledger is available for review at the Strawberry Bank Museum in Portsmouth, NH. 
Mr. Mullen was also a “bones player” and was a member of a minstrel troupe. He had the distinction of playing for Abraham Lincoln in early 1862, on a visit by the President to the Union fleet assembled off Hampton Roads, VA. The President and his party came on board the Chocorua, and the ships officer gave the signal for the band, composed of young Mullen with the bones, and two other buddies with banjo and accordion to get busy. Seated on top of three overturned nail kegs, the musicians played “Boston (Buffalo) Gals,” “Possum Up A Gum Tree” and “Turkey in The Straw.” 

The President was clapping in time with the rhythm along with cabinet members and generals. When the musicians had finished, the President shook hands with the sailors three and said to Mullen in the most-fatherly manner – “Son, I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.” (Springfield Daily Republican – April 5, 1927)

Isaac married Mary Francis Whiting, daughter of Selma Bird and Frank Whiting of Portsmouth, VA on April 15, 1865, and they had three sons, Clarence, William and George. His wife and sons all predeceased him. 

In the 1870 census, Isaac and Mary were living in Portsmouth, VA with their son William and he was working as an inspector in the Custom House there. In the 1880 census they we living on Grove Street in Boston and Isaac was employed as a clerk in the Custom House through 1887. In 1888, Isaac was appointed to state district police and assigned to Suffolk County. According to a March 20, 1895 headlined story in the Boston Herald, “State Officer Mullen Confiscated a Large Quality Shipment from Nova Scotia. An important seizure of short lobsters was made yesterday by state officer Isaac Mullen. It is claimed by the fish and game commissioners and the district police that for a long time the law has been violated by parties shipping quantities of lobsters from Canada to this city, and thence to New York.” 

Mullen served on the district police for twelve years and retired at age 58 in 1899. During his lifetime, Isaac Mullen was a very active citizen of Boston. He served as past commander and adjutant of the Grand Army of the Republic, Commander and Adjutant of the Robert A. Bell Post 134 GAR, Colored National League, Colored Odd Fellows, the Wendell Phillips Club, Secretary of the Veterans Protective League, and Secretary of the International Association of Factory Inspectors while he was on the state police. 

On May 31, 1904 Mullen read Lincon’s Gettysburg address at the Memorial Day service on Boston Common in tribute to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the first all-black regiment, the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry. His wife Mary died on November 20, 1907 and Isaac died in 1930 and they are buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery.

In The News

A Good Record (Boston Herald -Tuesday July 24, 1888)

Isaac S. Mullen of Boston, has been appointed one of the members of the district police, was born in Stonington, Ct., July 15, 1841; was educated at the Phillips school, Salem; enlisted in the United States Navy in 1859, on the sloop-of-war Portsmouth and was stationed on the west coast of Africa. He re-enlisted January 22, 1862 on board the gunboat Chocorua, and served on the gunboat Lillian, and was discharged in 1865. January 2, of that year, at Norfolk, VA he was appointed a mail agent from Newport, VA to Raleigh, N.C., but was compelled to resign on account of the Ku Klux Klan, and was afterward appointed clerk in the Norfolk Custom House. He was a member of the city council of Portsmouth, VA., and also 2ndlieutenant of the Langston Guard of Norfolk, VA. On coming north, he was appointed as a messenger in the custom house in this city under A. W. Beard, and served under R. Worthington, and was removed April 2, 1887. He is now commander of Robert A. Bell post 134 G.A.R. of this city, being his third term. Mr. Mullen is also on the staff of Myron P. Walker, commander of the department of Massachusetts G.A.R. He has the honor of having held the highest position of a colored comrade, that of inspector for North Carolina and South Carolina and Virginia under General Burnside. He is a prominent Odd Fellow, having been district secretary for several years, which position he now holds in the order. (Boston Herald July 24, 1888)

In The News

Marines On The African West Coast in 1860

To The Editor of The Herald:

In the Herald of Sunday June 3, in the history of the United States Marine Corps, I noticed that they saw service on the west coast of Africa, at Kensemba in 1860.

Some time about February 19, 1860, a report came to the captain of the U.S.S. Portsmouth, then lying in the port of St. Paul de Loando, that a disturbance had occurred among the natives, and that the Americans who owned factories would be killed on account of some alleged cruelty. On the 19th of February the ship’s launch was ordered to Kensemba under command of Lt. T. Abbott and Lt. John J. Broome, who commanded the marines on the Portsmouth, to proceed at once to Kensemba. Sailors, together with the marines, arrived at the port some 20 hours after debarking. On the 20th, the next day, the Portsmouth set sail for Kensemba. At about 6 A.M., arriving at the port in eight hours, on the  arrival of the Portsmouth, there was lying at anchor the English sloop-of-war Falcon, the U.S.S. Marion and two Portuguese men-of war.

Thousands of natives of various tribes could be seen from the deck of the Portsmouth. The guns of each ship were double-shotted to be used in case of emergency. But the timely arrival of the marines of the United States, which were few, prevented a disturbance. If it had happened that would have caused much bloodshed. On the 26th the trouble was ended and the owners of not only the American factories , but of the other nations, secured protection for which they asked.

Being present when the above incident occurred , and one of the crew on board the U.S.S. Portsmouth, Captain John C. Calhoun, I can vouch for the part taken by our gallant marines.

                                                            Isaac S. Mullen
On board of U.S.S. Portsmouth 
from May 1859 to October 1861, west coast of Africa 
227 West Canton Street Boston, MA

From Ron Guilmette and I added a few photos and have several PDF articles on Issac S Mullen please contact me. Ron is an author and the curator of the Massachusetts State Police Museum and Learning Center

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