Henry Grinnell

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Henry Grinnell
Henry Grinnell, head-and-shoulders portrait, three-quarters to the left.jpg
Born (1799-02-18)February 18, 1799
New Bedford, Massachusetts
Died June 30, 1874(1874-06-30) (aged 75)
New York, New York
Resting place Green-Wood Cemetery
Brooklyn, New York[1]
Occupation Merchant
Employer Grinnell, Minturn & Co.
Known for Sponsor of Arctic exploration
Spouse(s) Sarah Minturn
Children Henry Walton Grinnell
Sylvia Grinnell Ruxton

Henry Grinnell (February 18, 1799 in New Bedford, Massachusetts – June 30, 1874) was an American merchant and philanthropist.


In 1818, Grinnell moved to New York City where he became a clerk in the commission house of H.D. & E.B. Sewell. He married Sarah Minturn, who was from a prominent merchant and shipping family, in 1822. In 1825, Henry joined his brother Joseph Grinnell in Fish, Grinnell & Company. A few years later, with the addition of Henry's brother-in-law, this became Grinnell, Minturn & Company, a firm whose operations were greatly expanded by its entry into the general shipping business. This company became one of the strongest mercantile houses in New York City.

Henry Grinnell retired in 1850, around the time that he became very interested in the fate of the lost Franklin Polar Expedition. For the remainder of his life he corresponded regularly with Lady Jane Franklin and others interested in solving the mystery, as well as promoting and funding several expeditions.

The first of these expeditions was in 1850, when he purchased and loaned to the United States Navy the brigs Rescue and Advance to search the Arctic under the overall command of Lieutenant Edwin De Haven. After these vessels returned unsuccessful, he funded a second expedition with the Advance under Elisha Kent Kane which explored the region named Grinnell Land off the north-western coast of Greenland between 1853 and 1855, when the vessel, hopelessly beset in the ice, was abandoned.

In 1856, Grinnell was instrumental in having the recently salvaged HMS Resolute restored at the expense of the United States government, and returned to Great Britain as a good-will gesture. This was partly in the hope that the vessel would be used for a further search for the Franklin expedition.

On later occasions, Grinnell manifested his unabated interest in polar exploration by contributing to the voyage of Isaac Israel Hayes in 1860, and the three expeditions of Charles Francis Hall between 1860 and 1870. He was also a regular correspondent with the writer and unsuccessful explorer William Parker Snow.

Henry Grinnell was also one of the founders of the American Geographical and Statistical Society.

Personal life[edit]

Grinnell died in 1874. In 1880, the British Government presented his widow with a lady's desk made from timbers from the recently demolished HMS Resolute. This was not the Resolute desk, but a companion desk made from other timbers from the same vessel.

Grinnell's son Henry Walton Grinnell (November 19, 1843 – September 2, 1920) had a distinguished naval career. A daughter Sylvia (born 1838) married William Fitzherbert Ruxton (born 1830) who became an admiral in the British Royal Navy. Their daughter Sylvia Leith-Ross was an anthropologist and writer who worked in Nigeria.[2]


  1. ^ "Henry Grinnell". New York Times. New York, New York. July 2, 1874. Retrieved 30 August 2011. 
  2. ^ Helen Callaway, "Sylvia Hope Leith-Ross" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press 2004).
  • Edinger, Ray. Love and Ice: The Tragic Obsessions of Dr. Elisha Kent Kane, Arctic Explorer. Savannah: Frederic C. Beil, Publisher, 2015.
  • Henry Grinnell Letters (Grinnell, Henry, 1799–1874) G. W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport
  • Loomis, Chauncey C., Weird and Tragic Shores: The Story of Charles Francis Hall, Explorer, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc, 1971.
  • McGoogan, Ken (2006). Lady Franklin’s Revenge: A True Story of Ambition, Obsession and the Remaking of Arctic History. London: Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-81643-8.
  • Parker Snow, William (1886) Science, trade & humanity combined, personal ideas, plans and labours in connection with such from 1849 to 1886, privately printed 1886.

External links[edit]