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  • Writer's pictureJohn J King II

Irish Roots: Tracing A Family's Sailing Heritage

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

Recently I began to ponder a key question of King family lore. Where did our family's fascination and love of sailing, sailboats and seamanship originate? As far back as I can remember the arts of sailing, sailboat racing, and caring for boats, especially boats of wood seemed important.

Our parents, Ted and Wendy had a deep love for sailing and sailboat racing. Right along with learning to walk, to read and to ride a bike each of us kids, as soon as we could pass a swimming test, joined shore (seamanship) school and sailing classes each summer in Chatham. We learned the correct ways to commission, rig and handle boats for the summer season. The yearly process included how to carefully clean and sand wooden trim known as "brightwork" for varnishing; to apply oil based paints on the topsides of wooden boats without creating "holidays" or leaving "sags" and we did our fair share of sanding and applying antifouling bottom paint to the family fleet and later in local boatyards for clients. As fiberglass boats became more popular in later years the seasonal preparation chores became a bit easier but proper seamanship and boat handling was expected.

When it came time to make a sailboat go faster we absorbed much just by spending hours on the water during our summers on Cape Cod; much of it in competition among friends. The experiences all seemed very natural at the time but as I am now an old man I wonder how and where it all got started for us Kings.

Sadly, the older generations have all passed on without answering this question. So in honor of the memory of our father, Ted King, who would have been 100 years old this September 2023 I did some research. We may never know all of the facts but at least a working theory has emerged from some clues that were left behind and it seems our sailing tradition, at least in part, ties back to our King Irish ancestry.

In 1856 young Patrick O’ Grady (26) came to the United States from Ireland (via Canada) with his wife Ellen (Biernes) O’Grady (22) and together they settled in Rhode Island on Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay. They made a family which eventually included nine children, one of whom, Helen Josephine O'Grady born in May 1870 was to be our great grandmother.

Ellen Biernes O'Grady circa 1880 Prudence Island (Pictured above)

Patrick made his way by processing fish oil and other fertilizer products selling to family farms in the region. Like most families on the island the O’Gradys were subsistence farmers raising crops for their own use. One of their clients for the fish oil and fertilizer business was the Herreshoff family farm in Bristol a short boat ride away. An O'Grady family accounting ledger which was preserved and passed down clearly documents transactions, beginning in 1867, with the Herreshoff family. Over the period 1867 – 1873 the ledger book shows exchanges of goods and services for labor, as well as room and board charges between the O’Grady’s family, which now also included the labor of an elder son Daniel, and the Herreshoff Farm.

During this time Nathaniel Herreshoff was completing his engineering studies at MIT and embarking on his career as a marine architect, designing steam powered and sailing vessels of all sizes. Nat Herreshoff officially joined his brothers at the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company in 1878.

The O’Gradys had for many years the opportunity to work in the boatyard contributing to the business of boat building which included constructing various designs of Herreshoff's portfolio of smaller wooden sailing vessels. Since the Herreshoff yard began to design and build some of the most innovative and beautiful small sailing craft of the era (1875 – 1900) it stands to reason that O’Grady and his offspring had intimate experiences sailing in Narragansett Bay as the family grew up.

SPRITE - In the summer of 1860, twelve-year-old Nat Herreshoff steered this 20’ boat through Manhattan’s East River and its notorious Hell Gate after he and his 18-year-old blind brother, J.B., and a friend had sailed 175 miles from Bristol without stopping. Courtesy photo

(Pictured above) Helen Josephine Grady (Josie - age 15) circa 1885. Note: Josie would soon marry John J King the son of another Irish immigrant, Patrick King who had settled in New Haven, CT

Josie O'Grady King and her mother Ellen O'Grady marvel over her first born J. Harold King - 1892

Josie O’Grady married John Joseph King from New Haven in 1891 and over time gave birth to four sons (Harold, Frederick, Charles and Edward) and a daughter (Lucile). Her second son, Frederick seems to have acquired the deep appreciation of sailing and yacht racing from his grandfather through the O'Grady family connection. As best as I have learned Lucile King also got the sailing bug from her grandfather and her children learned to sail principally on lakes in Ontario as they were raised in Montreal.

By the time young Frederick was born in 1894 the Herreshoffs were already designing some of the fastest yachts of the era and were involved in providing design/build services to clients who were the mega wealthy of the Gilded Age who were caught up in Yacht Racing. Certain clients such as JP Morgan and Harold Vanderbilt were engaged in the expensive business of defending The America’s Cup from a host of challengers for the New York Yacht Club.

Young Frederick Elmer King with his grandmother Ellen O' Grady circa 1900

Frederick E King (age 11) circa 1907

Frederick E King (center) with friends circa 1912

Frederick, from a young age, enjoyed sailing and expressed a strong interest in the America’s Cup competition which he followed religiously through his lifetime as an active member of the New York Yacht Club. He was also known to have participated as a navigator on friend's boats who participated in offshore yacht races such as the Bermuda Race. Likely as a teenager, inspired by his grandfather Patrick, Frederick collected a remarkable assortment of Cup memorabilia including photographs, advertisements and history accounts of the Cup races on the eve of the10th Defense (by the Nat Herreshoff designed and built "Columbia" owned by JP Morgan) which occurred in 1899. King's private collection is unique and was preserved by his descendants for more than 120 years when it was finally reproduced and bound into a book by Natalie Dickinson King. (see inscription below)

Note: At some point around the turn of the 20th Century members of the O'Grady family dropped the O in their last name preferring the shorter surname Grady.

FE King (2nd from left) with his wife Noemia (left) and friends circa 1929

Ted King and Natalie Dickinson King aboard their Bertram Moppie 25 "Grover" in Newport, RI circa 1988

Frederick Elmer King's son Ted (my father) was a keen lifelong sailor and supporter of junior sailing programs and competitors at the national level. For his many contributions he was granted US Sailing's highest honor and awarded the Nathanael G. Herreshoff Trophy in 1997 shortly following his death. During his lifetime he passed on his knowledge, love of sailing and sailboat racing to his children as well. We in turn have in turn passed these traditions on to another generation of sailors with hopes that it continues for generations to come.

Ted King at the helm of #77

Following are some of the descendants of the O'Grady/King family line (and there are others not pictured), who learned to sail at a young age and share our family connection to the sailing traditions as they were passed down to us with much care.

Frederick Elmer King family's boat "Dowitcher". She appears to be a Cape Cod knockabout. It is possible that in subsequent years "Dowitcher" was repainted with red topsides and rechristened "Tailwind". Bass River, MA circa 1932

Photo by FE King

Ted King (age 13) rigging Cape Cod Knockabout "Tailwind" Bass River, MA circa 1935

Photo by FE King

Ted King with Cape Cod Knockabout #134 - "Tailwind" Bass River circa 1940

Photo by FE King

Photo by FE King

Photo by FE King

Maria (Mimi) King cleaning the bottom of her beloved Beetle Cat "Angel Puss"-

Bass River, circa 1942

Photo by FE King

Maria King Constantinidis sailing in the Med - 1950s

Ted Frothingham and son Bruce with Noemia King in Maine. Circa 1952.

Ted was the founder of Sailing Village a sailing school connected to Bass River Yacht Club and the Ship Shops boatyard in Bass River. A legendary Cape Cod personality & sailor he is credited with teaching a young Teddy King to sail in the 1930's.

His two books, “Once Upon a River” and “With A Grain of Salt” are delightful reads about his time growing up as Cape Cod summer kid, his time in the Coast Guard in New England waters as well as other adventures in the early 20th Century.

Photo by FE King

Ted King sailing Wianno Senior #77 - "Tailwind II" Nantucket Sound circa 1950

Note: "Tailwind" previously owned by Ted Frothingham was built by Crosby Boatworks in Osterville in 1929

Photo by FE King

Ted King raising the Main aboard "Tailwind II" 1960s

Wianno Seniors racing in Nantucket Sound - 1960s

Ted & Wendy's Excellent Adventure - The Beginning - Bass River 1951

Sam King (5) & John King (6) hanging off the stern of Wianno Senior #77

Stage Harbor - 1958

Photo by Wendy Howes King

Sam King & John King rigging an O'day Sprite in the Mill Pond - 1961

Photo by Wendy Howes King

Sprite racing in Stage Harbor, John King and Charlie King in #117

Photo by Alex Humphrey circa 1962

John King SHYC Junior sailing instructor 1966

John King racing Day Sailer #1880 "Tailwind III" Off Chatham in Nantucket Sound 1969

Photo by Dotty Crossley

John King & Mike Bevilaqua racing Comet Long Island Territorials - Comet "Rammer" was owned by Tim Tiernan - Shelter Island, NY 1971

Tom King skippering "Tailwind III" in Day Sailer National Championships with Nick Grey

Pleasant Bay, Chatham - They finished 2nd overall!

Tom King (foreground) Charlie "Bones" King and Pete Hosmer on a Morgan Out Islander 28

Sailing off Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, Bahamas 1975

Photo by JJ King

King Family New Years Day on the Wianno #77 Chatham 1980

Photo by Matt Wells

Tim King and Charlie King sailing an International 505 dinghy in the Shumagin Islands, Alaska - likely the first to ever do so. Unga Strait 1989

Spencer King heading out to race #117 at SHYC July 1994

Spencer King sailing Optis in Tacoma,WA April 1994

Mia King (7) with John King in #117 in Stage Harbor July 1994

Mia King sailing Optimist dinghy "Matrix" in Lake Washington Summer 1994

Spencer King and Mia King sailing DS #1880 in Stage Harbor - 2003

Photo by JJ King

Samuel Howes King sailing DS #1880 in Stage Harbor - 2002

Photo by JJ King

Sam King aboard Alberg 37 "Korovin" in Stage Harbor 2010

Photo by JJ King

Sam King sailing his beloved 30' wooden William Atkin designed cutter "Sarana"

Nantucket Sound 2004

Charlie King on his Alberg 37 "Korovin" rafted next to Tim King on Kiwi built "Chaperone"

Lake Washington 1988

Alan Ford Marshall, Pam King & John King aboard "Korovin" with Charlie King in Puget Sound - 1990

San Juan Islands 1991

Tim King sailing "Chaperone" in the San Juan Islands - 1991

"Korovin" under full sail in the San Juan Islands - 1991

Charlie King with Franny King aboard "Korovin" in the San Juans 1991

Spencer King aboard his English Channel 30' cutter "October" Puget Sound April 2015

Charlie King and nephew Spencer King aboard beautifully restored "October" Shilshole Bay

Spencer King and John King aboard "October" sailing on Puget Sound 2015

Andy King (skipper in green), Mary King Miller (standing) on Bristol 40 "Gatsby's Girl

Nantucket Sound - 2005

Photo by JJ King

Andy King aboard "Non Pareil" a sloop owned by Paul Gullette (aka Uncle Commando) 1966

Note: All red boats in this photo are King boats!

Photo by Paul Gullette

King Boys on the occasion of Sam King's wedding Seattle, September 1992

Alexa King racing Lasers in Stage Harbor 2003

Charlie King and John King racing the Day Sailer North American Championships

Nantucket Sound - July 2009

Tom King and Kent Richardson sailing Oday Sprite #117 Stage Harbor 1968

Photo by Dotty Crossley

Tom, Jessica & Alexa King sail #77 in Lake Geneva

Louisa Lucile King Rossano - Boothbay Harbor Yacht Club, Maine 2022

Note: Louisa is the Great grand daughter of Lucile King Wight (sister to FE King)

Photo by Penny Rossano

Sunday Race Day Stage Harbor Yacht Club 1968

Our blessing to be born into a true sailing family was greatly nurtured by our good fortune to be able to spend all of our summers in Chatham. Our mother Wendy's family (Howes) heritage also included a strong sailing tradition tracing back many generations. Wendy learned to sail in the late 1930s & 1940's and raced with championship level sailors at the Stage Harbor Yacht Club and elsewhere in New England into the 1960's.

Sailing Master David Hovey with Ted & Wendy aboard "Mother Crab", SHYC Committee boat Stage Harbor 1964

Legendary SHYC sailor Bill "Coach" Maclay (an adopted King family member) at the Wind Surfing National Championships - Master's Division Cape Canaveral - 2006

Photo by JJ King

Stage Harbor Yacht Club, Chatham circa 1940

Photo by Enid Gifford

SHYC Catabout racing in Stage Harbor circa 1940's

Photo by Enid Gifford

Wendy Howes - 1948

Wendy Howes King Terry - 2005

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