The Eventful Life of Seaman I. S. Mullen (1841-1930)

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John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
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Isaac S. Mullen​
ISAAC S. MULLEN was born in Stonington, Conn. on July 15, 1841, of mixed African-American and Native American ancestry, his mother being a Connecticut Mohegan (not to be confused with J. F. Cooper’s Mohicans).

The family had moved to Salem, Mass. by 1857, at which time 16-year-old Isaac was appearing onstage as part of the “Morris Pell and Trowbridge’s Boston Minstrel Troupe,” at Boston's School Street Ethiopian Opera House.

USS Portsmouth
Two years later, at the age of 18, he enlisted in the U. S. Navy, and was assigned to the sloop-of-war USS Portsmouth. His first cruise lasted from May 1859 to October 1861, on anti-slave patrol along the west coast of Africa. While on the Portsmouth, Isaac Mullen began to keep a journal recording interesting experiences. This journal, or “log” as he called it, is now at the Strawberry Banke Museum in Portsmouth, N.H. Although I have not seen the journal myself, something of its content can be seen in the following excerpt from the Boston Herald, August 24, 1888:
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Back in the U.S., on January 22, 1862, Isaac Mullen was transferred to the Unadilla class gunboat USS Chocorua. Not long afterward, President Lincoln visited the vessel, and, according to an interview Mullen gave the Springfield Daily Republican, April 5 1927:

The President and his party came on board the Chocorua, and the ship’s officer gave the signal for the band, composed of young Mullen with the bones, and two other buddies with banjo and accordion to get busy. Seated on top of three overturned nail kegs, the musicians played “Boston Gals,” “Possum Up A Gum Tree,” and “Turkey in The Straw.” According to accounts of the performance, the President was clapping in time with the rhythm along with cabinet members and generals. When the musicians had finished, the President shook hands with the sailors three and said to Mullen in the most-fatherly manner – “Son, I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.”​

Beginning that Spring, Chocorua was assigned the blockade of Yorktown,and patrolled up the York River. This duty lasted until November, when she joined the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron for service off Wilmington, N.C. He was on board the Chocorua until late 1864.

Blockade-runner Lilian at her capture,
soon to become USS Lilian
Seaman Mullen’s next assignment was the gunboat USS Lilian, a Clyde-built blockade runner captured off Cape Fear in August 1864, and taken into the Navy as a gunboat in October. The vessel was part of the fleet attacking Fort Fisher on 23-24 December, and again 13-14 January, 1865. In the latter attack,she landed troops above the Fort, and then joined in the bombardment. Lilian then patrolled the inlet, until returning to port for decommissioning on April 5th.

About this time, Isaac Mullen took sick, and was confined in the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Va. That June, he was honorably discharged from the Navy. That same year, Isaac married Mary Francis Whiting, of Portsmouth, Va.; they would have three sons, Clarence, William and George. Isaac’s wife and sons all predeceased him.

Isaac S. Mullen’s first post-war decades were summarized in a Boston Herald story in July, 1888:

Jan. 2 of that year [1866], at Norfolk, Va., he was appointed a mail agent from Newport, Va. to Raleigh, N.C., but was compelled to resign on account of the Ku Klux Klan, and was afterward appointed clerk in the Newport Custom House. He was a member of the City Council of Portsmouth, Va., and also 2nd Lieutenant of the Langston Guard of Norfolk. On coming North [1878], he was appointed Messenger in the Custom House in this city, under A. W. Beard and served under H. Worthington, and was removed April 2, 1887. He is now Commander of Robert A. Bell Post 134, G. A. R., of this city, being his third term. Mr Mullen is also on the staff of Myron P. Walker. Commander of the Department of Massachusetts, G. A. R. He has the honor or having held the highest position of a colored comrade, that of Inspector for North Carolina and Virginia under Gen. Burnside. He is a prominent Odd Fellow, having been district secretary for several years, which position he now holds in the order.​
He was also active in the National League of Colored Men, and at that organization’s January 23, 1888 Convention, Isaac Mullen addressed the members on “The National League; Its Duties,” during which he outlined the black man’s military participation in the Rebellion:

“In the four years of the war 2,600,000 men were enrolled in the Union armies, 180,000 of whom were Africo-Americans. The American Volunteer, white or black, viewed in more ways than one, seemed a living, breathing paradox. As a citizen he prided himself on his large liberty and peculiar privileges. Yet when duty called, this same free man of African descent promptly enlisted, and immediately surrendered two of the three inalienable rights spoken of by Thomas Jefferson -- liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- and with cheerfulness stood in constant prospect of losing the third -- life. What man of our race can read the story of these men and not have his heart swell with pride? The great war ended, amendments were passed by Congress for the purpose of protecting the rights,life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of the Africo-Americans. How well those amendments have accomplished their purpose I will leave for historians to record."​

Taking note of “the outrages to which the colored men of the South had been, and are now, subjected,” he asserted his belief that it was not enough to rely on “passive resistance” to effect an improvement of their condition, positive, united action was needed. “Here in the North, too, a prejudice is shown against us, and unless this organization says to the country that a stop must be put to all this, it will ever be our lot in the future.”

Mullen’s April 1887 “removal” as messenger in the Boston Customs House was attributed by the press to political motivations. He was a vocal supporter of President Grover Cleveland, and local Republicans sought to discredit the Cleveland administration with the colored voters by arranging the dismissal of the Customs House’s only colored employee on a trumped-up charge of “incompetence.”

But, his fortune bounced back the very next year, when he was appointed an officer in the Massachusetts District Police Force (as the Massachusetts State Police was then known). Earlier this year, the M.S.P. held a ceremony celebrating Officer Mullen as the force’s first black officer, noting, in part:

In 1888, Isaac was appointed to the State District Police and assigned to Suffolk County. A March 20, 1895 story in the Boston Herald, headlined “State Officer Mullen Confiscated a Large Quality Shipment from Nova Scotia,” reported that “An important seizure of short lobsters was made yesterday by state officer Isaac Mullen. It is claimed by the fish and game commissioners and the district police that for a long time the law has been violated by parties shipping quantities of lobsters from Canada to this city, and thence to New York.” Mullen would serve on the District Police with exceptional devotion for 12 years before retiring in [1901 at the age of 60]. [in Facebook, age at retirement corrected]​

Throughout his lifetime, Mullen was a very active citizen of Boston. Besides his G.A.R. and Odd Fellows activities, he was an officer of the Wendell Phillips Club, secretary of the Veterans Protective League and of the International Association of Factory Inspectors (which he joined in conjunction with his police duties). On May 31, 1904, Mullen read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address at the Memorial Day tribute to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw on Boston Common.

Isaac’s wife Mary died on November 20, 1907 and Isaac died in 1930. They are buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery, Boston.
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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
This is a great post, thank you! Read another account by a British captain of life patrolling the African Coast, odd to see another within weeks. They didn't ' just ' run down the sea going slave ships- small coastal craft ( dhow? ) that transported kidnapped African citizens along the coast to various ports were a problem. What Isaac saw during his lifetime must have kept the man up at night.

Dhow, as remembered by a Royal Navy captain, hold crammed with humans on their way to yet another floating h***.
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What an astonishing life. There's that running series of threads here, ' Was Someone Great And Honorable '? Found one, thank you Isaac Mullen.
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