Bissell’s Really Cleans Up My Ferry List
Bissell’s Ferry Site, Windsor/South Windsor
“Site of the Oldest Ferry in the US”
Most Nutmeggers know about the oldest continuously operating ferry in the US that connects Rocky Hill and Glastonbury. About half of them probably know about the other old ferry – the second oldest in Connecticut – that connects East Haddam and Chester. I’ve ridden and reported on both, here and here. Both cross the Connecticut River and both are rather historic and steeped in lore.
But I’d wager not many know about an even older ferry crossing with an even larger cache: The oldest ferry in the United States; a service that began in 1648, well over a century before there even was a United States. That ferry was Bissell’s Ferry, and it connected Windsor and what is now South Windsor. The ferry service is no longer operational but the old boat launch roads allow us to get a good feel for what it was like here centuries ago.
From Historic Towns of the Connecticut River Valley by George Simon Roberts:
For thirty years there was no settlement on the east side of the river, the reason no doubt being, that the passage of the Connecticut was laborious in summer and difficult, or impossible, in winter; that the meadows on that side of the river being lower, were subject to floods and, too, there were the Podunk Indians to be considered, who occupied the land on the east side of the river.
The Bissell family is regarded by historians as the pioneer family of the east side. In 1648, it was granted a monopoly of the ferry, still called Bissell’s Ferry, between Windsor and the hamlet of East Windsor, in the Town of South Windsor. There is a tradition in regard to this grant, that is interesting, if not founded upon fact, as Stiles claims. This tradition is, that John Bissell was sent by the Colony to England, in 1636, to purchase and bring back a supply of cattle as the previous winter had been so severe that many of their cattle had died. Mr. Bissell returned with seventeen cows and a bull and as an equivalent for his services he was granted the monopoly of the ferry across the Connecticut.
It stands to reason that the oldest ferry in the country began in what Windsorites regard as the first town in Connecticut: Their own.
Although John Bissell originally operated the ferry so that he could graze his cattle on the East side of the river, it very quickly became a very important economic and transportation link between Boston on the East side of the river and Hartford, New Haven and New York on the West side of the river. The Bissell family had a monopoly on the ferry for 150 years.
The western landing was just off of Palisado Avenue at the end of the very short Bissell’s Ferry Road. In South Windsor, from Route 194, past the oldest post office in the US (which the Bissells are responsible for as well), and down the lovely Ferry Lane…
The ferry ceased operation after 269 years of service, in 1927. Knowing how much the Connecticut River floods, I imagine this was a rather difficult and spotty service for those first 200 years.
At least now know the origin of the name of Bissell Bridge (I-291) north of Hartford.
For the heck of it, here’s a cool story about a covered bridge that used to span the Connecticut a few miles north up in Enfield. I can’t really think of a better place to link this, so here you are.
CTMQ’s Airports & Ferries
CTMQ’s US Oldests
Jeff Feldmann saysSeptember 17, 2010 at 12:42 pm
Myself and 3 others and a dog, have finished a five year dream of paddling the entire length of the Ct River, from Pittsburg, NH to Connecticut. In doing some research for the trip, I found many towns that used ferry’s for crossing the river. Just recently, I found information on Bissell’s Ferry, in Windsor. Great reading. Thanks
Earl D. Wilson, Jr. saysSeptember 20, 2010 at 7:49 pm
Thanks for the info and pictures on this ferry started by my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. Look forward to seeing the site on my next visit to CT.
S K Moore saysAugust 6, 2011 at 12:07 am
I also appreciate the info. I too am supposedly related to John Bissell but have been unable to make the connection from him to Philemon Bissell who is my great, great, great grandfather… I believe.
Bob Berthelson saysApril 23, 2012 at 12:59 pm
I am preparing an illustrated talk on colonial Connecticut and would like to find a picture of the Bell that was once used to call the ferryman from the opposite side of the river. I am a Bissell descendent from Zebulon Bissell and have long been interested in the family.
Thanks for your help.
Sharon Kay Butler Kennedy saysApril 29, 2012 at 11:52 pm
Captain John Bissell was my 8th Great grandfather:
John Bissell (1591 – 1677)
is your 8th great grandfather
Thomas Bissell (1628 – 1689)
Son of John
Thomas Bissell (1656 – 1738)
Son of Thomas
Thomas Bissell (1683 – 1771)
Son of Thomas
Jerijah Bissell (1714 – 1806)
Son of Thomas
Jerijah Bissell (1751 – 1825)
Son of Jerijah
Alfred Bissell (1793 – 1870)
Son of Jerijah
Henry Bissell (1838 – 1902)
Son of Alfred
Sarah Elizabeth Bissell (1875 – 1963)
Daughter of Henry
Flossie Francis Nowell (1911 – 2002)
Daughter of Sarah Elizabeth
Sharon Kay Butler
You are the daughter of Flossie Francis
My 6th gg (Grandson of Captain John)Thomas Bissell, b.1656 CT married Hester Ester Strong b. 1661 CT. I found Strong’s website & ordered their Family History books, all 6 volumes. My Bissell family that came 1st to America in the 1600’s are in these books…others in my family are in there as well.
Mike Salvatore saysMay 25, 2012 at 4:22 pm
Great overview of Bissell’s Ferry. The original (1641) landing on the east side of the Connecticut River was in present day East Windsor; there’s an impassible Ferry Road opposite Southern Auto on Route 5, a little south of the Town Street Cemetery.
Bissell moved his ferry to what is now South Windsor in 1662, the site that you describe. East Windsor split away from Windsor in 1768 and included what is now East Windsor,South Windsor, Ellington, and parts of Vernon, Manchester, and Bolton. South Windsor separated from East Windsor in 1845; it still has the village and post office called “East Windsor Hill,” causing no end of confusion.
Matt Pool saysDecember 1, 2012 at 9:19 pm
Capt. John Bissell is at the beginning of my mothers family tree. All the people on Sharons list are on my tree!
Jeffrey Bissell saysJanuary 23, 2013 at 9:44 pm
We traveled to and saw the old farmhouse-I am of the 12 generation of Capt.John Bissell-We were allowed to see the inside of the home and the mainfloor pub. My father was John Bissell also, and we have several books of Stiles Geniology -also enjoyed the visit to the Green on the other side of the river, and found Capt. John’s gravesite-have a picture of it.Quite the historical past. There are now about 8,000 of us from his parentage.
Barbara Bissell Brock saysApril 7, 2013 at 12:00 pm
I am a direct descendent of David Bissell from Sharon, who went to Canada after the War of Independence. Really enjoyed this info.
Mary saysMarch 5, 2014 at 9:18 am
In the mid 1970s it was my privilege to live in the newer part of the Bissell Ferry house on Ferry Lane, exactly one mile from the nearest house. It’s a beautiful and peaceful place.
Royce Pate saysDecember 28, 2014 at 2:00 am
Captain John Bissell is my 8th great grandpa. Alfred/Alford Bissell daughter Mary Bissell Pate is my great great grandma. I live near Bissell Chapel Cemetery in Athens,Howard County, Arkansas
Claire Lobdell saysFebruary 6, 2015 at 4:15 pm
Great write up! At Wood Memorial Library & Museum in South Windsor, we have a number of materials related to Bissell’s Ferry, as well as the Bissell Tavern, which was located nearby at the intersection of Ferry Lane and Main Street. Here’s a photo of Bissell’s Ferry from our archives database: http://woodmemorial.pastperfectonline.com/photo/D53650CA-043F-4465-BFCD-869227173030
Rolf saysFebruary 21, 2015 at 3:50 pm
Thanks for the article on John Bissell’s ferry. Well done.
My name is Rolf Bissell Parker – Houghton. I am writing a book about T. P. James, a spiritualist and apparent con man from the 1870’s. The editor who revealed some of James’s shenanigans in his paper in Brattleboro, Vermont, was probably Daniel Bissell Steadman.
It is easy to assume that Daniel Bissell Steadman MUST be descended from Capt John Bissell, but is that definitely the case ? Is there really one and only one derived source of the Bissell name in America?
If so, that would be great to know. Among other things it would mean that T. P. James was written about by two different descendants of John Bissell, both of whom live in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Can anyone speak to this question? Are all Bissells liekly to be derived from Capt John? Or more specifically, if anyone can speak to Daniel Stedman’s descendance from Capt John Bissell, that would be great to know.
Frank Steven Bissell saysApril 14, 2015 at 9:27 am
It is true, as far as I know, that all U.S Bissells are descended from John Bissell of Windsor. Using the sources mentioned here I have traced my lineage through Benjamin Bissell. I am from the Pittsburgh branch, Frank Semple Bissell and his grandson by the same name.
Elizabeth Blackwell saysFebruary 1, 2016 at 11:09 pm
Absolutely floored with the ancestral connection we share….he is my 10th Great Grandfather. I come from the line of Clark Bissell the 34th Gov. of Conn. My Grandmother was also a Bissell. Cheers to all my cousins, many times removed!
Dennis Logan saysApril 16, 2016 at 6:20 pm
Capt John Bissell was my G Grandfather 11 generations back on my mothers side. We descend from Thomas, his second born son. I really enjoy delving into my relationship to Israel Bissell, Joseph Bissell(old north church), Melville Bissell(floor sweepers), William Bissell(Illinois Govr). I just learned that Capt Joseph Bissell is probably buried under The Old North Church! Fun Fun!
Royce L Pate saysJune 3, 2016 at 2:07 am
My lineage to Capt. John Bissell is
Royce Pate myself 1959 bprn in Indiana lives in Howard County, Arkansas
William Pate 1916-2003 Born and Died in Arkansas buried Bissell Chapel Cemetery
John Pate 1877-1928 Born and Died in Arkansas Bissell Chapel Cemetery
Thomas Berry Pate Sr. 1852-1929 Died in Arkansas Bissell Chapel Cemetery
Mary Bissell 1830-1891 Died in Arkansas Bissell Chapel Cemetery
Alfred Bissell 1792-1869/70 born in Conn. died in Arkansas Bissell Chapel Cemetery
Jerijah Bissell II 1751-1825
Jerijah Bissell I 1714-1806
Thomas Bissell III 1683-1771
Thomas Bissell II 1656-1738
Thomas Bissell I 1628-1689
Capt John Bissell 1591-1677
Gordon bissell saysJune 21, 2016 at 5:12 am
Found all this very informative will need to visit these !
George saysJuly 14, 2016 at 7:38 pm
My family the Ricketts were renters at the house from the 50-70s. I would leave the BRONX and spend summers with my cousins fishing, bailing hay and playing in the barns along Ferry RD. “KATE” was the landlord. The garages were a jail..leg irons and other prison gear was stored there. Before our births our Dads, post WW II VETERANS FROM JAMAICA
WEST Indies PICKED TOBACCO FRUITS Vegetables and boarded at the BFL house. The BFL was an important link in the mercantile process…tobacco nutmeg travelled the CT River to ports in Norwalk New Haven and transferred cargo to ships headed to BWI countries…then on to West Africa and Great Britain. Of course the slave trade was a major component of this system
Michael Brown saysOctober 10, 2016 at 2:53 pm
Thank you for this.
My line from John Bissell:
John Bissell (1591-1677), 9th GGF
Samuel Bissell (?-1700), 8th GGF & (1st wife) Abigail Holcombe (c. 1638-1688)
John Bissell (1659-1684/5), 7th GGF & Abigail Filley
John Bissell (1682/3-1770) 6th GGF & (1st wife) Hannah Denslow (1690-1751)
Elisha Bissell (1728-1804), 5th GGF & (2nd wife) Sarah Thomas (1741-1810)
Elisha Bissell (1779-1857, 2nd son of name – 1st son of name, by 1st wife d. 1776), 4th GGF &
(1st wife) Polly Briggs
Malinda Bissell (1818-1884), 3rd GGM & Daniel Cheney Chase (1816-1895)
Franklin Chase (1842-1926), 2nd GGF & Mary A. Elliot (1851-1915)
Winifred Cordelia Erdine Chase (1873-1962), GGM & Joseph Thomas Collard (1871-1962)
Clara Marie Collard (1897-1993), GM & George Watson Brown (1898-1962)
my dad & my mom
Barbara Bissell Erway saysDecember 3, 2016 at 3:15 pm
1960 Our Bissell family was at the dedication of the Bissell Bridge. Our entourage from New York City and NY State was attending the Captain John Bissell 1628 Association meeting. My paternal Aunt Dorthy was the family historian at that time.
2016 Joined the Facebook group for Captain John Bissell – Connecticut. One member has done considerable genealogy work. He recently found through both paper and DNA trails that his original theory of John Bissell’s family coming from France to England in approximately 1570 as Huguenot escapees, was incorrect. It seems that branch settled in Rhode Island and on other continents. The Captain John Bissell of Ferry and settlement of Windsor fame is instead of French descent prior to 350 years – 17 1/2 generations in Birmingham, England, arriving in Connecticut in 1628. TWO branches of Bissell’s in America’s New England, not ONE.
Here is our generational tree to date, a work in progress. Sadly our dear Aunt Dorothy’s trunk full of historic records were lost.
Father John Lee Bissell b 1912 Pittsburgh, PA burial Rochester, NY, Riverside Cemetery
Grandfather A Dix Bissell b 1872 Leroy, NY
1st Great Grandfather David Jackson Bissell b 1845 Leroy, NY
2nd Gr Gf Calvin Fitch Bissell b 1818 burial Leroy, NY
3rd Gr Gf Jabez Fitch Bissell b 1791 d burial Leroy, NY
Unconfirmed, but likely:
4th Gr Gf Jonathan Marsh Bissell 1762 Chicopee, Mass
5th Gr Gf John Fitch Bissell b 1721 Windsor, Conn
6th Gr Gf Daniel Bissell b 1694 ” m Jerusa Fitch 1717
7th Gr Gf Daniel Bissell b 1663 ”
8th Gr Gf John Bissell Jr died 1688 Windsor, Conn
9h Gr Gf Captain John Bissell Sr b 1591 England
Welcome to our Facebook page to anyone who believes themselves to be of our line of Captain John Bissell of 1628, his immigration date to Connecticut.
Bradford Sanders saysAugust 29, 2017 at 10:47 am
My line to Captain John Bissell is:
11th GGF -Captain John Bissell (1591-1677)
10th GGF -Lt John Bissell II (1633-1688)
Son of Captain John Bissell
9th GGF -Jeremiah Bissell (June 22 1677-Dec 1755)
Son of John Bissell II and Isabel Mason
8th GGM -Sarah Bissell (July 4 1711-June 12 1753)
Daughter of Jeremiah Bissell and Mehitable White (??-1772)
7th GGF -Elisha Crane (Aug 26 1743-Feb 16 1811)
Son of Elisha Crane (??-February 4 1809) and Sarah Bissell
6th GGF -Daniel Owen Crane (Sept 6 1769-Jan 21 1813)
Son of Elisha Crane and Lydia Anne Owen (April 11 1747-1769)
5th GGM -Betsy Pickering Crane (Aug 4 1794-May 30 1858)
Daughter of Daniel Owen Crane and Sarah Reed (July 30 1776-Dec 15 1851)
4th GGF -Abner Anthony Thompson (1814-Feb 15 1871)
Son of Jonathan Thompson (Aug 4 1791-May 30 1858) and Betsy Pickering Crane
3rd GGF -Abner B Thompson (Sept 29 1853-April 1 1926)
Son of Abner A Thompson and Elmira Dow (Aug 1828-July 10 1870)
2nd GGM -Eola May Thompson (Aug 2 1881-Sept 7 1967)
Daughter of Abner B Thompson and Francis Aurilla Borden (March 5 1855-March 12 1942)
GGM -Eilma Aurilla Hitchcock (Oct 23 1906-Dec 8 2004)
Daughter of Ira Amos Hitchcock(Aug 5 1871-Sept 2 1948) and Eola May Thompson
Grandfather – Willard Leroy Phillips (Feb 29 1924-April 27 2009)
Son of Ralph Edmund Phillips (March 30 1904-Feb 29 1980) and Wilma Aurilla Hitchcock
Mother – Nancy Marie Phillips (b. March 25 1948)
Daughter of Willard Leroy Phillips and Florence Marie Wolfe (July 13 1926-Jan 9 2016)
Me – Bradford Dale Sanders (b. February 13 1976)
Son of Dale Maurice Sanders (b. May 7 1948) and Nancy Marie Phillips
Steve Bissell saysNovember 9, 2017 at 5:33 pm
I am looking for anyone who was associated with the Captain John Bissell 1628 Association. Judge Pelham St. George Bissell III, New York, was the head of it while he was alive. All the descendants of Captain John Bissell could re-create the Association on-line. Thanks for a reply. Steve Bissell, Converse Access Television, Post Office Box 1314, Converse, Texas 78109 or go to- http://www.ConverseAccessTelevision.org
Barbara Bissell-Erway saysJune 16, 2020 at 11:20 am
The Captain John Bissell line of descendants is the largest one documented in America. Join us at our facebook group, Descendants of Captain John Bissell ~Connecticut to learn more: https://www.facebook.com/groups/211473375684066/
We have a photo of the ferry bell mentioned which is in the Windsor Historical Society collection. We also have a multitude of photos of his house, including the interior and the jail irons mentioned. It is privately occupied, but the owner has given access at times to descendants and groups of students.
Anyone wondering about how their line connects may be able to find out from our posts, files, and members.
Please do join us, Bissell descendants.
Mona Stryker saysSeptember 5, 2020 at 12:21 pm
Dennis Logan: Can you give me more information about Capt. Joseph Bissell (birth, death, parents, children). I am a Bissell descendant and want to tie him in to my ancestry. Mona Bissell Stryker
Jennifer Sotelo saysDecember 31, 2020 at 1:00 am
Very interesting! I’m his 9th great granddaughter!