Captain Hypie Philpot, Rollinsford Gundalow Man

Hiram Philpot of Rollinsford, NH.  Was this Capt. Hypie Philpot? Hiram Philpot of Rollinsford, NH.  Was this Capt. Hypie Philpot? Photo from a Dore family album in the Counting House Museum archives
There was a heavy gundalow floating down the stream toward the lower warehouse, to be loaded with potatoes for the Portsmouth market, and this was coming across the slip. The men on board gave a warning cry as they caught sight of a slender figure in the fragile craft; but Mary only laughed, and, with sufficient strength to court the emergency, struck her paddle deep into the water and shot out into the channel right across their bow.

The current served well to keep her out of reach; the men had been holding back their clumsy great boat lest it should pass the wharf. One of them ran forward anxiously with his long sweep, as if he expected to see the canoe in distress like a drowning fly; but Miss Hamilton, without looking back, was pushing on across the river to gain the eddy on the farther side.

"She might ha' held back a minute; she was liable to be catched an' ploughed right under! A gal's just young enough to do that; men that's met danger don't see no sport in them tricks," grumbled the boatman.

"Some fools would ha' tried to run astarn," said old Mr. Philpot, his companion, "an' the suck o' the water would ha' catched 'em side up ag'in' us; no, she knowed what she was about. Kind of scairt me, though. Look at her set her paddle, strong as a man! Lord, she's a beauty, an' 's good 's they make 'em!" ....But at this moment the gundalow bumped heavily against the wharf, and there was no more time for general conversation. -- from The Tory Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett (Chapter X), 1901

Gundalow Capt. Adams near Jocelyn Cove on the Salmon Falls River in May 2004

The Revolutionary War-era gundalow boatmen Jewett portrayed were fictional, but she certainly may have had a real Capt. Philpot in mind. The archival record is not clear, but it seems that he may have been Hypie Philpot, who likely lived in Rollinsford at least for a time during Jewett’s life. This Capt. Philpot seems to have operated gundalows both under sail and powered by steam.

Gundalow researchers Richard E. Winslow III and Robert A. Whitehouse report a Capt. Hype or Hypie Philpot sailing the Newichawannock (Salmon Falls) and Piscataqua Rivers in the late 1800s.

“April 10, 1891 -- In the gundalow ‘Tippecanoe,’” reported a local newspaper quoted by Winslow and Whitehouse, “a Capt. Philpot of Dover brought a load of bricks down river Saturday and discharged them at Broughton’s wharf, Portsmouth.” The researchers also reported that Capt. Hype Philpot lived in South Berwick, at least for a time, and that in 1888 a newspaper reported the ‘Tippecanoe’ carrying a load of coal to South Newmarket, NH. Another newspapers quoted by Winslow and Whitehouse said, “May 18, 1891 -- The gundalow ‘Tippecanoe’ is to be converted into a steam lighter by having a small engine placed aboard to furnish motor power.”

The 1893 Portsmouth Journal reported, “Capt. H. A. Philpot has sold his steam gondola, Fannie P., to South Berwick parties, who will continue to use her on the upper river.”

Clyde Whitehouse built the model of the steam gundalow “Fannie P.” in the collection of the Counting House Museum.

So who was Capt. Hypie Philpot?

In 1892, a Hiram Philpot lived on the New Hampshire side of the Dover-Eliot bridge in what was known as Jocelyn’s Cove, according to The Landmarks in Ancient Dover by Mary P. Thompson. A gundalow dock is said to have also been at Fresh Creek, not far away.

Gundalow researcher Clyde Whitehouse wrote in the mid-1900s, “Capt. Hype Philpot lived in house this side of Eliott Bridge about 100 yards into what is woods at the top of Hill. Cellar is still there?” This note seems to indicate that Hiram and Hype were the same person.

A page from the journals of a Philpot descendant, Lillian Philpot O'Brien, notes a James Hiram Philpot, born July 20, 1851, the son of Ichabod and Ruth Ann (Dore) Philpot. He had a daughter, Fannie, born August 7, 1882. Perhaps this girl was the Fannie P. for whom the steam gundalow was named?

In the late 1800s, gundalow captain Hypie Philpot is believed to have converted a gundalow to steam by enlarging the aft cabin to fit a tall steam plant. Side boards allowed the heaping of loose cargo such as coal. This was the Fannie P.

Steam plants were heavy, complex and expensive, however, and the shallow rivers precluded the use of the necessary large propellers. Whitehouse's notes say that one of Philpot¹s steam gundalows was 50 tons and had two engines and screws, but the vibrations opened the seams, causing the vessel to self-destruct. The steam-driven gundalow was not a success.

"Captain Hypie (or Hype) Philpot of Salmon Falls was one of a kind," wrote Richard E. Winslow III in The Piscataqua Gundalow: Workhorse for a Tidal Basin. "A very large and dark man, Hypie was a superb pilot, 'half slammed' or not," according to one who remembered him.

"To test his new deckhands, Hypie would throw them overboard to see if they could swim. One man could not, and drowned."

Sketch by Clyde Whitehouse.

Philpot himself came to an equally bad end, said Winslow, when he was "shot dead in a Dover tavern." Whitehouse's notes suggest Philpot was dispatched by someone named Dolph Levy.

Sure enough, descendant Lillian Philpot O'Brien's notes say that James Hiram Philpot was also a saloon-keeper. In 1893, the notes say, he was "shot in his saloon, attempting to separate two quarreling men."

(Summary by Wendy Pirsig from archives at the Counting House Museum. Updated December 2020.)