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What's Behind a Photo? The Lady of a Castle and Her Unexpected Ties to American Naval History
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At age 19, Gustavus Conyngham (1744-1819) immigrated with his father to the American Colonies to make a new home. He started his career as a merchant seaman with the shipping house of Conyngham and Nesbitt. Gustavus married Ann Hockley (1757-1811), an American woman, who purportedly gave birth to their American children. Conyngham joined the American struggle for independence from Great Britain, leveraging his experience as a merchant seaman to serve in America’s first navy. On two occasions, he was commissioned as a Captain in the Continental Navy; however, both commissions were lost during the war, the first when he was detained by the French and the second when imprisoned by the British. Without backup documentation of these commissions, Congress failed to recognize Conyngham’s service, and he would spend years seeking the recognition he deserved. A century after his death, proof of the commission finally surfaced and posthumous recognition of his contributions to American independence followed. To date, three U.S. destroyers have been named in honor of Captain Gustavus Conyngham; a man forgotten by the U.S. Congress in his own time. Research inspired by a recently discovered 1935 press photograph announcing the christening of one of these destroyers, USS Conyngham (DD 371) sheds new light on the ancestry of Captain Gustavus Conyngham and his familial ties to two relatives that sponsored ships in his honor. Newspaper accounts and Navy documents covering the sponsorship of USS Conyngham (DD 58) and USS Conyngham (DD 371) refer to Anna Conyngham Stevens and Alice Conyngham Gifford Johnson as direct descendants of Captain Gustavus Conyngham. Genealogical research indicates they are direct descendants of Redmond Conyngham (1719-1784), co-founder of the shipping house of Conyngham and Nesbitt and first cousin to Captain Gustavus Conyngham. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that Captain Gustavus Conyngham produced surviving offspring.
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