A Note on the American Bushnells

Did Olympic gold medallist Bert Bushnell have relatives in America?

After HTBS has posted several blog posts on Bert Bushnell and Dickie Burnell and the BBC film Bert and Dickie, some days ago, HTBS received an e-mail from ‘an American Bushnell’, Steven E. Bushnell in California. Let it be said from the start, no one seems to really know the true connection between Bert’s family and Steven’s family on this side of the pond. But more about that later.

Steven writes, “Early American Bushnells were a largely Connecticut, Puritan family, first in Guilford and then longer and more prominently in Old Saybrook, and after reading about Göran’s outings with his children, here’s information about places not far from Mystic that everyone might enjoy. I’m guessing you’ve at least heard of them, and it may be you’ve visited those on the water, which have to do with some of the ‘American Bushnells’. Those are:

Photo: Connecticut River Museum

David Bushnell (1740 – ca. 1826) of Saybrook built the first practical submarine, which was the first used to attack a ship, and the engineering aspects of The Turtle (on the right) are simple and neat enough that particularly families with children might enjoy the full-size replicas at the Submarine Force Museum at Groton and the Connecticut River Museum at Essex, at which there are of course many other things for you all. Take a closer look at the Submarine Force Library and Museum and Connecticut River Museum and The Turtle.

“Still in the water, Cornelius S. Bushnell (1829 – 1896) born in Madison, Connecticut, is today best known as a result of his meeting with a Swede, the naval engineer John Ericsson, and of their roles in the construction of the U.S.S. Monitor. There’s a nice description of this history near the middle on the page here and a well-written biography of Bushnell, who had quite an eventful life beyond the Monitor here.

“It seems the Allis-Bushnell House at Madison is undergoing some changes, but at the Annex, there are things Göran’s children Ingrid and Anders, and other visiting children might enjoy seeing, just look here.”

Steven belongs to a branch of the family in California who is descended from those of Saybrook. He continues to write,

“In the end of the 1970s, my late father, David Pearsall B. (if you click on the link you will come to the Wikipedia entry for Steven’s father, and yes, the little baby in the photo is Steven), hired a boat from Bert Bushnell as part of his last, happy honeymoon. My Dad told me how he enjoyed their conversation and about their speculation over whether or not they were related. The evidence now compiled indicates that surname is attached to one family that originated in Berkshire at a place about six miles WSW of the Thames called in earlier times some variant of “the Bushenell,” today Bushnells Green. As I’ve seen comments by Bert’s daughters on HTBS, you might know that Bert’s grand-nephew David, who won the Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race in 1998, runs Bushnell Marine Services at Wargrave, his father, Paul, having been appointed one of the Royal Watermen. More on that family here.

“Göran, if you haven’t been to those places in Connecticut, I’m sure you’ll enjoy taking your children there. Thank you for everything that is written about Bert on HTBS!”

Update 20 Aug., 2 p.m.: Steven Bushnell sent a little extra note on Cornelius’ son: “Samuel Clarke Bushnell (1852  – 1930) was the President of the Yale University Boat Club in 1874, which participated in the races of the National Rowing Association of American Colleges on July 17 and 19 on Saratoga Lake; Ansley Wilcox of Yale winning the single sculls competition.”

Steven also adds: “Cornelius’ feelings about his Swedish colleague in the construction of the Monitor were such that he named a son born in 1861 Ericsson Bushnell.”

Dear Steven ~ thank you for all this interesting information about the Bushnells in Connecticut. I am sure the British Bushnells are now also wondering how they are connected to your family!

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