Transcriber's Note: General: Varied hyphenation is retained. In list of Illustrations DeLong is one word; in Table of Contents it is De Long; in text it is DeLong. More Transcriber's notes will be found at the end of sections.
AMERICAN MERCHANT SHIPS AND SAILORS
WILLIS J. ABBOT
Author of Naval History of the United States, Bluejackets of 1898, etc.
Illustrated by RAY BROWN
New York Dodd, Mead & Company The Caxton Press New York
BOOKS BY WILLIS J. ABBOT
Naval History of the United States
Blue Jackets of 1898
Battlefields of '61
Battlefields and Campfires
Battlefields and Victory
In an earlier series of books the present writer told the story of the high achievements of the men of the United States Navy, from the day of Paul Jones to that of Dewey, Schley, and Sampson. It is a record Americans may well regard with pride, for in wars of defense or offense, in wars just or unjust, the American blue jacket has discharged the duty allotted to him cheerfully, gallantly, and efficiently.
But there are triumphs to be won by sea and by land greater than those of war, dangers to be braved, more menacing than the odds of battle. It was a glorious deed to win the battle of Santiago, but Fulton and Ericsson influenced the progress of the world more than all the heroes of history. The daily life of those who go down to the sea in ships is one of constant battle, and the whaler caught in the ice-pack is in more direful case than the blockaded cruiser; while the captain of the ocean liner, guiding through a dense fog his colossal craft freighted with two thousand human lives, has on his mind a weightier load of responsibility than the admiral of the fleet.
In all times and ages, the deeds of the men who sail the deep as its policemen or its soldiery have been sung in praise. It is time for chronicle of the high courage, the reckless daring, and oftentimes the noble self-sacrifice of those who use the Seven Seas to extend the markets of the world, to bring nations nearer together, to advance science, and to cement the world into one great interdependent whole.
WILLIS JOHN ABBOT. Ann Arbor, Mich., May 1, 1902.
List of Illustrations
PAGE NEW ENGLAND EARLY TOOK THE LEAD IN BUILDING SHIPS Frontispiece
THE SHALLOP 2
THE KETCH 5
"THE BROAD ARROW WAS PUT ON ALL WHITE PINES 24 INCHES IN DIAMETER" 7
"THE FARMER-BUILDER TOOK HIS PLACE AT THE HELM" 8
SCHOONER-RIGGED SHARPIE 11
AFTER A BRITISH LIEUTENANT HAD PICKED THE BEST OF HER CREW 18
EARLY TYPE OF SMACK 21
THE SNOW, AN OBSOLETE TYPE 29
THE BUG-EYE 34
A "PINK" 38
"INSTANTLY THE GUN WAS RUN OUT AND DISCHARGED" 42
"THE WATER FRONT OF A GREAT SEAPORT LIKE NEW YORK" 55
AN ARMED CUTTER 57
"THE LOUD LAUGH OFTEN ROSE AT MY EXPENSE" 65
"THE DREADNAUGHT"—NEW YORK AND LIVERPOOL PACKET 69
THERE ARE BUILDING IN AMERICAN YARDS facing 82
"A FAVORITE TRICK OF THE FLEEING SLAVER WAS TO THROW OVER SLAVES" 95
DEALERS WHO CAME ON BOARD WERE THEMSELVES KIDNAPPED facing 98
"THE ROPE WAS PUT AROUND HIS NECK" 103
"BOUND THEM TO THE CHAIN CABLE" 114
"SENDING BOAT AND MEN FLYING INTO THE AIR" 128
"SUDDENLY THE MATE GAVE A HOWL—'STARN ALL!" facing 132
"ROT AT MOLDERING WHARVES" 140
"THERE SHE BLOWS!" 144
"TAKING IT IN HIS JAWS" 146
NEARLY EVERY MAN ON THE QUARTERDECK OF THE "ARGO" WAS KILLED OR WOUNDED 162
THE PRISON SHIP "JERSEY" 163
IF THEY RETREATED FARTHER HE WOULD BLOW UP THE SHIP facing 176
"I THINK SHE IS A HEAVY SHIP" 179
"STRIVING TO REACH HER DECKS AT EVERY POINT" 186
"THEY FELL DOWN AND DIED AS THEY WALKED" 199
"THE TREACHEROUS KAYAK" 203
THE SHIP WAS CAUGHT IN THE ICE PACK facing 204
ADRIFT ON AN ICE FLOE 206
DE LONG'S MEN DRAGGING THEIR BOATS OVER THE ICE 210
AN ARCTIC HOUSE 224
AN ESQUIMAU 227
THE WOODEN BATEAUX OF THE FUR TRADERS facing 236
"THE RED-MEN SET UPON THEM AND SLEW THEM ALL" 241
ONE OF THE FIRST LAKE SAILORS 243
"TWO BOAT-LOADS OF REDCOATS BOARDED US AND TOOK US PRISONERS" 245
A VANISHING TYPE ON THE LAKES 249
"THE WHALEBACK" 253
FLATBOATS MANNED WITH RIFLEMEN facing 266
"THE EVENING WOULD PASS IN RUDE AND HARMLESS JOLLITY" 271
THE MISSISSIPPI PILOT 286
A DECK LOAD OF COTTON 290
FEEDING THE FURNACE 293
ON THE BANKS 314
"THE BOYS MARKED THEIR FISH BY CUTTING OFF THEIR TAILS" 322
FISHING FROM THE RAIL 328
TRAWLING FROM A DORY 333
STRIKES A SCHOONER AND SHEARS THROUGH HER LIKE A KNIFE facing 334
MINOT'S LEDGE LIGHT 345
WHISTLING BUOY 354
REVENUE CUTTER 360
LAUNCHING A LIFEBOAT THROUGH THE SURF 364
THE EXCITING MOMENT IN THE PILOT'S TRADE facing 366
**Transcriber's notes: Illustrations: Most quirks were left as written, only changes made listed below. List reads: "THE LOUD LAUGH OFTEN ROSE AT MY EXPENSE" Tag reads: "THE LOUD LAUGH ROSE AT MY EXPENSE" Added missing illustration to list: AFTER A BRITISH LIEUTENANT HAD PICKED THE BEST OF HER CREW 18 Changed MOULDERING to MOLDERING to match illustration and text Page 227: Changed Illustration tag "AN ESQUIMAUX" to "AN ESQUIMAU" to fit text.
PAGE CHAPTER I. 1
THE AMERICAN SHIP AND THE AMERICAN SAILOR—NEW ENGLAND'S LEAD ON THE OCEAN—THE EARLIEST AMERICAN SHIP-BUILDING—HOW THE SHIPYARDS MULTIPLIED—LAWLESS TIMES ON THE HIGH SEAS—SHIP-BUILDING IN THE FORESTS AND ON THE FARM—SOME EARLY TYPES—THE COURSE OF MARITIME TRADE—THE FIRST SCHOONER AND THE FIRST FULL-RIGGED SHIP—JEALOUSY AND ANTAGONISM OF ENGLAND—THE PEST OF PRIVATEERING—ENCOURAGEMENT FROM CONGRESS—THE GOLDEN DAYS OF OUR MERCHANT MARINE—FIGHTING CAPTAINS AND TRADING CAPTAINS—GROUND BETWEEN FRANCE AND ENGLAND—CHECKED BY THE WARS—SEALING AND WHALING—INTO THE PACIFIC—HOW YANKEE BOYS MOUNTED THE QUARTER-DECK—SOME STORIES OF EARLY SEAMEN—THE PACKETS AND THEIR EXPLOITS
CHAPTER II. 53
THE TRANSITION FROM SAILS TO STEAM—THE CHANGE IN MARINE ARCHITECTURE—THE DEPOPULATION OF THE OCEAN—CHANGES IN THE SAILOR'S LOT—FROM WOOD TO STEEL—THE INVENTION OF THE STEAMBOAT—THE FATE OF FITCH—FULTON'S LONG STRUGGLES—OPPOSITION OF THE SCIENTISTS—THE "CLERMONT"—THE STEAMBOAT ON THE OCEAN—ON WESTERN RIVERS—THE TRANSATLANTIC PASSAGE—THE "SAVANNAH" MAKES THE FIRST CROSSING—ESTABLISHMENT OF BRITISH LINES—EFFORTS OF UNITED STATES SHIP-OWNERS TO COMPETE—THE FAMOUS COLLINS LINE—THE DECADENCE OF OUR MERCHANT MARINE—SIGNS OF ITS REVIVAL—OUR GREAT DOMESTIC SHIPPING INTEREST—AMERICA'S FUTURE ON THE SEA
CHAPTER III. 89
AN UGLY FEATURE OF EARLY SEAFARING—THE SLAVE TRADE AND ITS PROMOTERS—PART PLAYED BY EMINENT NEW ENGLANDERS—HOW THE TRADE GREW UP—THE PIOUS AUSPICES WHICH SURROUNDED THE TRAFFIC—SLAVE-STEALING AND SABBATH-BREAKING—CONDITIONS OF THE TRADE—SIZE OF THE VESSELS—HOW THE CAPTIVES WERE TREATED—MUTINIES, MAN-STEALING, AND MURDER—THE REVELATIONS OF THE ABOLITION SOCIETY—EFFORTS TO BREAK UP THE TRADE—AN AWFUL RETRIBUTION—ENGLAND LEADS THE WAY—DIFFICULTY OF ENFORCING THE LAW—AMERICA'S SHAME—THE END OF THE EVIL—THE LAST SLAVER
CHAPTER IV. 121
THE WHALING INDUSTRY—ITS EARLY DEVELOPMENT IN NEW ENGLAND—KNOWN TO THE ANCIENTS—SHORE WHALING BEGINNINGS OF THE DEEP-SEA FISHERIES—THE PRIZES OF WHALING—PIETY OF ITS EARLY PROMOTERS—THE RIGHT WHALE AND THE CACHALOT—A FLURRY—SOME FIGHTING WHALES—THE "ESSEX" AND THE "ANN ALEXANDER"—TYPES OF WHALERS—DECADENCE OF THE INDUSTRY—EFFECT OF OUR NATIONAL WARS—THE EMBARGO—SOME STORIES OF WHALING LIFE
CHAPTER V. 155
THE PRIVATEERS—PART TAKEN BY MERCHANT SAILORS IN BUILDING UP THE PRIVATEERING SYSTEM—LAWLESS STATE OF THE HIGH SEAS—METHOD OF DISTRIBUTING PRIVATEERING PROFITS—PICTURESQUE FEATURES OF THE CALLING—THE GENTLEMEN SAILORS—EFFECTS ON THE REVOLUTIONARY ARMY—PERILS OF PRIVATEERING—THE OLD JERSEY PRISON SHIP—EXTENT OF PRIVATEERING—EFFECT ON AMERICAN MARINE ARCHITECTURE—SOME FAMOUS PRIVATEERS—THE "CHASSEUR," THE "PRINCE DE NEUFCHATEL," THE "MAMMOTH"—THE SYSTEM OF CONVOYS AND THE "RUNNING SHIPS"—A TYPICAL PRIVATEERS' BATTLE—THE "GENERAL ARMSTRONG" AT FAYAL—SUMMARY OF THE WORK OF THE PRIVATEERS
CHAPTER VI. 193
THE ARCTIC TRAGEDY—AMERICAN SAILORS IN THE FROZEN DEEP—THE SEARCH FOR SIR JOHN FRANKLIN—REASONS FOR SEEKING THE NORTH POLE—TESTIMONY OF SCIENTISTS AND EXPLORERS—PERTINACITY OF POLAR VOYAGERS—DR. KANE AND DR. HAYES—CHARLES F. HALL, JOURNALIST AND EXPLORER—MIRACULOUS ESCAPE OF HIS PARTY—THE ILL-FATED "JEANNETTE" EXPEDITION—SUFFERING AND DEATH OF DE LONG AND HIS COMPANIONS—A PITIFUL DIARY—THE GREELY EXPEDITION—ITS CAREFUL PLAN AND COMPLETE DISASTER—RESCUE OF THE GREELY SURVIVORS—PEARY, WELLMAN, AND BALDWIN
CHAPTER VII. 233
THE GREAT LAKES—THEIR SHARE IN THE MARITIME TRAFFIC OF THE UNITED STATES—THE EARLIEST RECORDED VOYAGERS—INDIANS AND FUR TRADERS—THE PIGMY CANAL AT THE SAULT STE. MARIE—BEGINNING OF NAVIGATION BY SAILS—DE LA SALLE AND THE "GRIFFIN"—RECOLLECTIONS OF EARLY LAKE SEAMEN—THE LAKES AS A HIGHWAY FOR WESTWARD EMIGRATION—THE FIRST STEAMBOAT—EFFECT OF MINERAL DISCOVERIES ON LAKE SUPERIOR—THE ORE-CARRYING FLEET—THE WHALEBACKS—THE SEAMEN OF THE LAKES—THE GREAT CANAL AT THE "SOO"—THE CHANNEL TO BUFFALO—BARRED OUT FROM THE OCEAN
CHAPTER VIII. 261
THE MISSISSIPPI AND TRIBUTARY RIVERS—THE CHANGING PHASES OF THEIR SHIPPING—RIVER NAVIGATION AS A NATION-BUILDING FORCE—THE VALUE OF SMALL STREAMS—WORK OF THE OHIO COMPANY—AN EARLY PROPELLER—THE FRENCH FIRST ON THE MISSISSIPPI—THE SPANIARDS AT NEW ORLEANS—EARLY METHODS OF NAVIGATION—THE FLATBOAT, THE BROADHORN, AND THE KEELBOAT—LIFE OF THE RIVERMEN—PIRATES AND BUCCANEERS—LAFITTE AND THE BARATARIANS—THE GENESIS OF THE STEAMBOATS—CAPRICIOUS RIVER—FLUSH TIMES IN NEW ORLEANS—RAPID MULTIPLICATION OF STEAMBOATS—RECENT FIGURES ON RIVER SHIPPING—COMMODORE WHIPPLE'S EXPLOIT—THE MEN WHO STEERED THE STEAMBOATS—THEIR TECHNICAL EDUCATION—THE SHIPS THEY STEERED—FIRES AND EXPLOSIONS—HEROISM OF THE PILOTS—THE RACES
CHAPTER IX. 303
THE NEW ENGLAND FISHERIES—THEIR PART IN EFFECTING THE SETTLEMENT OF AMERICA—THEIR RAPID DEVELOPMENT—WIDE EXTENT OF THE TRADE—EFFORT OF LORD NORTH TO DESTROY IT—THE FISHERMEN IN THE REVOLUTION—EFFORTS TO ENCOURAGE THE INDUSTRY—ITS PART IN POLITICS AND DIPLOMACY—THE FISHING BANKS—TYPES OF BOATS—GROWTH OF THE FISHING COMMUNITIES—FARMERS AND SAILORS BY TURNS—THE EDUCATION OF THE FISHERMEN—METHODS OF TAKING MACKEREL—THE SEINE AND THE TRAWL—SCANT PROFITS OF THE INDUSTRY—PERILS OF THE BANKS—SOME PERSONAL EXPERIENCES—THE FOG AND THE FAST LINERS—THE TRIBUTE OF HUMAN LIFE
CHAPTER X. 341
THE SAILOR'S SAFEGUARDS—IMPROVEMENTS IN MARINE ARCHITECTURE—THE MAPPING OF THE SEAS—THE LIGHTHOUSE SYSTEM—BUILDING A LIGHTHOUSE—MINOT'S LEDGE AND SPECTACLE REEF—LIFE IN A LIGHTHOUSE—LIGHTSHIPS AND OTHER BEACONS—THE REVENUE MARINE SERVICE—ITS FUNCTION AS A SAFEGUARD TO SAILORS—ITS WORK IN THE NORTH PACIFIC—THE LIFE-SAVING SERVICE—ITS RECORD FOR ONE YEAR—ITS ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT—THE PILOTS OF NEW YORK—THEIR HARDSHIPS AND SLENDER EARNINGS—JACK ASHORE—THE SAILORS' SNUG HARBOR
**Transcriber Notes on Table of Contents: Chapter V reads "Effects on the Revolutionary Army"; Chapter on page 155 reads "Effect on the Revolutionary Army"; Chapter VII reads reads "Beginning of Navigation", Chapter on page 233 reads "Beginnings of Navigation"
American Merchant Ships and Sailors
THE AMERICAN SHIP AND THE AMERICAN SAILOR—NEW ENGLAND'S LEAD ON THE OCEAN—THE EARLIEST AMERICAN SHIP-BUILDING—HOW THE SHIPYARDS MULTIPLIED—LAWLESS TIMES ON THE HIGH SEAS—SHIP-BUILDING IN THE FORESTS AND ON THE FARM—SOME EARLY TYPES—THE COURSE OF MARITIME TRADE—THE FIRST SCHOONER AND THE FIRST FULL-RIGGED SHIP—JEALOUSY AND ANTAGONISM OF ENGLAND—THE PEST OF PRIVATEERING—ENCOURAGEMENT FROM CONGRESS—THE GOLDEN DAYS OF OUR MERCHANT MARINE—FIGHTING CAPTAINS AND TRADING CAPTAINS—GROUND BETWEEN FRANCE AND ENGLAND—CHECKED BY THE WARS—SEALING AND WHALING—INTO THE PACIFIC—HOW YANKEE BOYS MOUNTED THE QUARTER-DECK—SOME STORIES OF EARLY SEAMEN—THE PACKETS AND THEIR EXPLOITS.
When the Twentieth Century opened, the American sailor was almost extinct. The nation which, in its early and struggling days, had given to the world a race of seamen as adventurous as the Norse Vikings had, in the days of its greatness and prosperity turned its eyes away from the sea and yielded to other people the mastery of the deep. One living in the past, reading the newspapers, diaries and record-books of the early days of the Nineteenth Century, can hardly understand how an occupation which played so great a part in American life as seafaring could ever be permitted to decline. The dearest ambition of the American boy of our early national era was to command a clipper ship—but how many years it has been since that ambition entered into the mind of young America! In those days the people of all the young commonwealths from Maryland northward found their interests vitally allied with maritime adventure. Without railroads, and with only the most wretched excuses for post-roads, the States were linked together by the sea; and coastwise traffic early began to employ a considerable number of craft and men. Three thousand miles of ocean separated Americans from the market in which they must sell their produce and buy their luxuries. Immediately upon the settlement of the seaboard the Colonists themselves took up this trade, building and manning their own vessels and speedily making their way into every nook and corner of Europe. We, who have seen, in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century, the American flag the rarest of all ensigns to be met on the water, must regard with equal admiration and wonder the zeal for maritime adventure that made the infant nation of 1800 the second seafaring people in point of number of vessels, and second to none in energy and enterprise.
New England early took the lead in building ships and manning them, and this was but natural since her coasts abounded in harbors; navigable streams ran through forests of trees fit for the ship-builder's adze; her soil was hard and obdurate to the cultivator's efforts; and her people had not, like those who settled the South, been drawn from the agricultural classes. Moreover, as I shall show in other chapters, the sea itself thrust upon the New Englanders its riches for them to gather. The cod-fishery was long pursued within a few miles of Cape Ann, and the New Englanders had become well habituated to it before the growing scarcity of the fish compelled them to seek the teeming waters of Newfoundland banks. The value of the whale was first taught them by great carcasses washed up on the shore of Cape Cod, and for years this gigantic game was pursued in open boats within sight of the coast. From neighborhood seafaring such as this the progress was easy to coasting voyages, and so to Europe and to Asia.
There is some conflict of historians over the time and place of the beginning of ship-building in America. The first vessel of which we have record was the "Virginia," built at the mouth of the Kennebec River in 1608, to carry home a discontented English colony at Stage Island. She was a two-master of 30 tons burden. The next American vessel recorded was the Dutch "yacht" "Onrest," built at New York in 1615. Nowadays sailors define a yacht as a vessel that carries no cargo but food and champagne, but the "Onrest" was not a yacht of this type. She was of 16 tons burden, and this small size explains her description.
The first ship built for commercial purposes in New England was "The Blessing of the Bay," a sturdy little sloop of 60 tons. Fate surely designed to give a special significance to this venture, for she was owned by John Winthrop, the first of New England statesmen, and her keel was laid on the Fourth of July, 1631—a day destined after the lapse of one hundred and forty-five years to mean much in the world's calendar. Sixty tons is not an awe-inspiring register. The pleasure yacht of some millionaire stock-jobber to-day will be ten times that size, while 20,000 tons has come to be an every-day register for an ocean vessel; but our pleasure-seeking "Corsairs," and our castellated "City of New York" will never fill so big a place in history as this little sloop, the size of a river lighter, launched at Mistick, and straightway dispatched to the trade with the Dutch at New Amsterdam. Long before her time, however, in 1526, the Spanish adventurer, Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, losing on the coast of Florida a brigantine out of the squadron of three ships which formed his expedition, built a small craft called a gavarra to replace it.
From that early Fourth of July, for more than two hundred years shipyards multiplied and prospered along the American coast. The Yankees, with their racial adaptability, which long made them jacks of all trades and good at all, combined their shipbuilding with other industries, and to the hurt of neither. Early in 1632, at Richmond Island, off the coast of Maine, was built what was probably the first regular packet between England and America. She carried to the old country lumber, fish, furs, oil, and other colonial products, and brought back guns, ammunition, and liquor—not a fortunate exchange. Of course meanwhile English, Dutch, and Spanish ships were trading to the colonies, and every local essay in shipbuilding meant competition with old and established ship-yards and ship owners. Yet the industry throve, not only in the considerable yards established at Boston and other large towns, but in a small way all along the coast. Special privileges were extended to ship-builders. They were exempt from military and other public duties. In 1636 the "Desire," a vessel of 120 tons, was built at Marblehead, the largest to that time. By 1640 the port records of European ports begin to show the clearings of American-built vessels.
In those days of wooden hulls and tapering masts the forests of New England were the envy of every European monarch ambitious to develop a navy. It was a time, too, of greater naval activity than the world had ever seen—though but trivial in comparison with the present expenditures of Christian nations for guns and floating steel fortresses. England, Spain, Holland, and France were struggling for the control of the deep, and cared little for considerations of humanity, honor, or honesty in the contest. The tall, straight pines of Maine and New Hampshire were a precious possession for England in the work of building that fleet whose sails were yet to whiten the ocean, and whose guns, under Drake and Rodney, were to destroy successfully the maritime prestige of the Dutch and the Spaniards. Sometimes a colony, seeking royal favor, would send to the king a present of these pine timbers, 33 to 35 inches in diameter, and worth L95 to L115 each. Later the royal mark, the "broad arrow," was put on all white pines 24 inches in diameter 3 feet from the ground, that they might be saved for masts. It is, by the way, only about fifteen years since our own United States Government has disposed of its groves of live oaks, that for nearly a century were preserved to furnish oaken knees for navy vessels.
The great number of navigable streams soon led to shipbuilding in the interior. It was obviously cheaper to build the vessel at the edge of the forest, where all the material grew ready to hand, and sail the completed craft to the seaboard, than to first transport the material thither in the rough. But American resourcefulness before long went even further. As the forests receded from the banks of the streams before the woodman's axe, the shipwrights followed. In the depths of the woods, miles perhaps from water, snows, pinnaces, ketches, and sloops were built. When the heavy snows of winter had fallen, and the roads were hard and smooth, runners were laid under the little ships, great teams of oxen—sometimes more than one hundred yoke—were attached, and the craft dragged down to the river, to lie there on the ice until the spring thaw came to gently let it down into its proper element. Many a farmer, too, whose lands sloped down to a small harbor, or stream, set up by the water side the frame of a vessel, and worked patiently at it during the winter days when the flinty soil repelled the plough and farm work was stopped. Stout little craft were thus put together, and sometimes when the vessel was completed the farmer-builder took his place at the helm and steered her to the fishing banks, or took her through Hell Gate to the great and thriving city of New York. The world has never seen a more amphibious populace.
The cost of the little vessels of colonial times we learn from old letters and accounts to have averaged four pounds sterling to the ton. Boston, Charleston, Salem, Ipswich, Salisbury, and Portsmouth were the chief building places in Massachusetts; New London in Connecticut, and Providence in Rhode Island. Vessels of a type not seen to-day made up the greater part of the New England fleet. The ketch, often referred to in early annals, was a two-master, sometimes rigged with lanteen sails, but more often with the foremast square-rigged, like a ship's foremast, and the mainmast like the mizzen of a modern bark, with a square topsail surmounting a fore-and-aft mainsail. The foremast was set very much aft—often nearly amidships. The snow was practically a brig, carrying a fore-and-aft sail on the mainmast, with a square sail directly above it. A pink was rigged like a schooner, but without a bowsprit or jib. For the fisheries a multitude of smaller types were constructed—such as the lugger, the shallop, the sharpie, the bug-eye, the smack. Some of these survive to the present day, and in many cases the name has passed into disuse, while the type itself is now and then to be met with on our coasts.
The importance of ship-building as a factor in the development of New England did not rest merely upon the use of ships by the Americans alone. That was a day when international trade was just beginning to be understood and pushed, and every people wanted ships to carry their goods to foreign lands and bring back coveted articles in exchange. The New England vessel seldom made more than two voyages across the Atlantic without being snapped up by some purchaser beyond seas. The ordinary course was for the new craft to load with masts or spars, always in demand, or with fish; set sail for a promising market, dispose of her cargo, and take freight for England. There she would be sold, her crew making their way home in other ships, and her purchase money expended in articles needed in the colonies. This was the ordinary practice, and with vessels sold abroad so soon after their completion the shipyards must have been active to have fitted out, as the records show, a fleet of fully 280 vessels for Massachusetts alone by 1718. Before this time, too, the American shipwrights had made such progress in the mastery of their craft that they were building ships for the royal navy. The "Falkland," built at Portsmouth about 1690, and carrying 54 guns, was the earliest of these, but after her time corvettes, sloops-of-war, and frigates were launched in New England yards to fight for the king. It was good preparation for building those that at a later date should fight against him.
Looking back over the long record of American maritime progress, one cannot but be impressed with the many and important contributions made by Americans—native or adopted—to marine architecture. To an American citizen, John Ericsson, the world owes the screw propeller. Americans sent the first steamship across the ocean—the "Savannah," in 1819. Americans, engaged in a fratricidal war, invented the ironclad in the "Monitor" and the "Merrimac," and, demonstrating the value of iron ships for warfare, sounded the knell of wooden ships for peaceful trade. An American first demonstrated the commercial possibilities of the steamboat, and if history denies to Fulton entire precedence with his "Clermont," in 1807, it may still be claimed for John Fitch, another American, with his imperfect boat on the Delaware in 1787. But perhaps none of these inventions had more homely utility than the New England schooner, which had its birth and its christening at Gloucester in 1713. The story of its naming is one of the oldest in our marine folk-lore.
"See how she schoons!" cried a bystander, coining a verb to describe the swooping slide of the graceful hull down the ways into the placid water.
"A schooner let her be!" responded the builder, proud of his handiwork, and ready to seize the opportunity to confer a novel title upon his novel creation. Though a combination of old elements, the schooner was in effect a new design. Barks, ketches, snows, and brigantines carried fore-and-aft rigs in connection with square sails on either mast, but now for the first time two masts were rigged fore and aft, and the square sails wholly discarded. The advantages of the new rig were quickly discovered. Vessels carrying it were found to sail closer to the wind, were easier to handle in narrow quarters, and—what in the end proved of prime importance—could be safely manned by smaller crews. With these advantages the schooner made its way to the front in the shipping lists. The New England shipyards began building them, almost to the exclusion of other types. Before their advance brigs, barks, and even the magnificent full-rigged ship itself gave way, until now a square-rigged ship is an unusual spectacle on the ocean. The vitality of the schooner is such that it bids fair to survive both of the crushing blows dealt to old-fashioned marine architecture—the substitution of metal for wood, and of steam for sails. To both the schooner adapted itself. Extending its long, slender hull to carry four, five, and even seven masts, its builders abandoned the stout oak and pine for molded iron and later steel plates, and when it appeared that the huge booms, extending the mighty sails, were difficult for an ordinary crew to handle, one mast, made like the rest of steel, was transformed into a smokestack—still bearing sails—a donkey engine was installed in the hold, and the booms went aloft, or the anchor rose to the peak to the tune of smoky puffing instead of the rhythmical chanty songs of the sailors. So the modern schooner, a very leviathan of sailing craft, plows the seas, electric-lighted, steering by steam, a telephone system connecting all parts of her hull—everything modern about her except her name. Not as dignified, graceful, and picturesque as the ship perhaps—but she lasts, while the ship disappears.
But to return to the colonial shipping. Boston soon became one of the chief building centers, though indeed wherever men were gathered in a seashore village ships were built. Winthrop, one of the pioneers in the industry, writes: "The work was hard to accomplish for want of money, etc., but our shipwrights were content to take such pay as the country could make," and indeed in the old account books of the day we can read of very unusual payments made for labor, as shown, for example, in a contract for building a ship at Newburyport in 1141, by which the owners were bound to pay "L300 in cash, L300 by orders on good shops in Boston; two-thirds money; four hundred pounds by orders up the river for tim'r and plank, ten bbls. flour, 50 pounds weight of loaf sugar, one bagg of cotton wool, one hund. bushels of corn in the spring; one hhd. of Rum, one hundred weight of cheese * * * whole am't of price for vessel L3000 lawful money."
By 1642 they were building good-sized vessels at Boston, and the year following was launched the first full-rigged ship, the "Trial," which went to Malaga, and brought back "wine, fruit, oil, linen and wool, which was a great advantage to the country, and gave encouragement to trade." A year earlier there set out the modest forerunner of our present wholesale spring pilgrimages to Europe. A ship set sail for London from Boston "with many passengers, men of chief rank in the country, and great store of beaver. Their adventure was very great, considering the doubtful estate of affairs of England, but many prayers of the churches went with them and followed after them."
By 1698 Governor Bellomont was able to say of Boston alone, "I believe there are more good vessels belonging to the town of Boston than to all Scotland and Ireland." Thereafter the business rapidly developed, until in a map of about 1730 there are noted sixteen shipyards. Rope walks, too, sprung up to furnish rigging, and presently for these Boston was a centre. Another industry, less commendable, grew up in this as in other shipping centres. Molasses was one of the chief staples brought from the West Indies, and it came in quantities far in excess of any possible demand from the colonial sweet tooth. But it could be made into rum, and in those days rum was held an innocent beverage, dispensed like water at all formal gatherings, and used as a matter of course in the harvest fields, the shop, and on the deck at sea. Moreover, it had been found to have a special value as currency on the west coast of Africa. The negro savages manifested a more than civilized taste for it, and were ready to sell their enemies or their friends, their sons, fathers, wives, or daughters into slavery in exchange for the fiery fluid. So all New England set to turning the good molasses into fiery rum, and while the slave trade throve abroad the rum trade prospered at home.
Of course the rapid advance of the colonies in shipbuilding and in maritime trade was not regarded in England with unqualified pride. The theory of that day—and one not yet wholly abandoned—was that a colony was a mine, to be worked for the sole benefit of the mother country. It was to buy its goods in no other market. It was to use the ships of the home government alone for its trade across seas. It must not presume to manufacture for itself articles which merchants at home desired to sell. England early strove to impress such trade regulations upon the American colonies, and succeeded in embarrassing and handicapping them seriously, although evasions of the navigation laws were notorious, and were winked at by the officers of the crown. The restrictions were sufficiently burdensome, however, to make the ship-owners and sailors of 1770 among those most ready and eager for the revolt against the king.
The close of the Revolution found American shipping in a reasonably prosperous condition. It is true that the peaceful vocation of the seamen had been interrupted, all access to British ports denied them, and their voyages to Continental markets had for six years been attended by the ever-present risk of capture and condemnation. But on the other hand, the war had opened the way for privateering, and out of the ports of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut the privateers swarmed like swallows from a chimney at dawn. To the adventurous and not over-scrupulous men who followed it, privateering was a congenial pursuit—so much so, unhappily, that when the war ended, and a treaty robbed their calling of its guise of lawfulness, too many of them still continued it, braving the penalties of piracy for the sake of its gains. But during the period of the Revolution privateering did the struggling young nation two services—it sorely harassed the enemy, and it kept alive the seafaring zeal and skill of the New Englanders.
For a time it seemed that not all this zeal and skill could replace the maritime interests where they were when the Revolution began. For most people in the colonies independence meant a broader scope of activity—to the shipowner and sailor it meant new and serious limitations. England was still engaged in the effort to monopolize ocean traffic by the operation of tariffs and navigation laws. New England having become a foreign nation, her ships were denied admittance to the ports of the British West Indies, with which for years a nourishing trade had been conducted. Lumber, corn, fish, live stock, and farm produce had been sent to the islands, and coffee, sugar, cotton, rum, and indigo brought back. This commerce, which had come to equal L3,500,000 a year, was shut off by the British after American independence, despite the protest of Pitt, who saw clearly that the West Indians would suffer even more than the Americans. Time showed his wisdom. Terrible sufferings came upon the West Indies for lack of the supplies they had been accustomed to import, and between 1780 and 1787 as many as 15,000 slaves perished from starvation.
Another cause held the American merchant marine in check for several years succeeding the declaration of peace. If there be one interest which must have behind it a well-organized, coherent national government, able to protect it and to enforce its rights in foreign lands, it is the shipping interest. But American ships, after the Treaty of Paris, hailed from thirteen independent but puny States. They had behind them the shadow of a confederacy, but no substance. The flags they carried were not only not respected in foreign countries—they were not known. Moreover, the States were jealous of each other, possessing no true community of interest, and each seeking advantage at the expense of its neighbors. They were already beginning to adopt among themselves the very tactics of harassing and crippling navigation laws which caused the protest against Great Britain. This "Critical Period of American History," as Professor Fiske calls it, was indeed a critical period for American shipping.
The new government, formed under the Constitution, was prompt to recognize the demands of the shipping interests upon the country. In the very first measure adopted by Congress steps were taken to encourage American shipping by differential duties levied on goods imported in American and foreign vessels. Moreover, in the tonnage duties imposed by Congress an advantage of almost 50 per cent. was given ships built in the United States and owned abroad. Under this stimulus the shipping interests throve, despite hostile legislation in England, and the disordered state of the high seas, where French and British privateers were only a little less predatory than Algierian corsairs or avowed pirates. It was at this early day that Yankee skippers began making those long voyages that are hardly paralleled to-day when steamships hold to a single route like a trolley car between two towns. The East Indies was a favorite trading point. Carrying a cargo suited to the needs of perhaps a dozen different peoples, the vessel would put out from Boston or Newport, put in at Madeira perhaps, or at some West Indian port, dispose of part of its cargo, and proceed, stopping again and again on its way, and exchanging its goods for money or for articles thought to be more salable in the East Indies. Arrived there, all would be sold, and a cargo of tea, coffee, silks, spices, nankeen cloth, sugar, and other products of the country taken on. If these goods did not prove salable at home the ship would make yet another voyage and dispose of them at Hamburg or some other Continental port. In 1785 a Baltimore ship showed the Stars and Stripes in the Canton River, China. In 1788 the ship "Atlantic," of Salem, visited Bombay and Calcutta. The effect of being barred from British ports was not, as the British had expected, to put an abrupt end to American maritime enterprise. It only sent our hardy seamen on longer voyages, only brought our merchants into touch with the commerce of the most distant lands. Industry, like men, sometimes thrives upon obstacles.
For twenty-five years succeeding the adoption of the Constitution the maritime interest—both shipbuilding and shipowning—thrived more, perhaps, than any other gainful industry pursued by the Americans. Yet it was a time when every imaginable device was employed to keep our people out of the ocean-carrying trade. The British regulations, which denied us access to their ports, were imitated by the French. The Napoleonic wars came on, and the belligerents bombarded each other with orders in council and decrees that fell short of their mark, but did havoc among neutral merchantmen. To the ordinary perils of the deep the danger of capture—lawful or unlawful—by cruiser or privateer, was always to be added. The British were still enforcing their so-called "right of search," and many an American ship was left short-handed far out at sea, after a British naval lieutenant had picked the best of her crew on the pretense that they were British subjects. The superficial differences between an American and an Englishman not being as great as those between an albino and a Congo black, it is not surprising that the boarding officer should occasionally make mistakes—particularly when his ship was in need of smart, active sailors. Indeed, in those years the civilized—by which at that period was meant the warlike—nations were all seeking sailors. Dutch, Spanish, French, and English were eager for men to man their fighting ships; hired them when they could, and stole them when they must. It was the time of the press gang, and the day when sailors carried as a regular part of their kit an outfit of women's clothing in which to escape if the word were passed that "the press is hot to-night." The United States had never to resort to impressment to fill its navy ships' companies, a fact perhaps due chiefly to the small size of its navy in comparison with the seafaring population it had to draw from.
As for the American merchant marine, it was full of British seamen. Beyond doubt inducements were offered them at every American port to desert and ship under the Stars and Stripes. In the winter of 1801 every British ship visiting New York lost the greater part of its crew. At Norfolk the entire crew of a British merchantman deserted to an American sloop-of-war. A lively trade was done in forged papers of American citizenship, and the British naval officer who gave a boat-load of bluejackets shore leave at New York was liable to find them all Americans when their leave was up. Other nations looked covetously upon our great body of able-bodied seamen, born within sound of the swash of the surf, nurtured in the fisheries, able to build, to rig, or to navigate a ship. They were fighting sailors, too, though serving only in the merchant marine. In those days the men that went down to the sea in ships had to be prepared to fight other antagonists than Neptune and AEolus. All the ships went armed. It is curious to read in old annals of the number of cannon carried by small merchantmen. We find the "Prudent Sarah" mounting 10 guns; the "Olive Branch," belied her peaceful name with 3, while the pink "Friendship" carried 8. These years, too, were the privateers' harvest time. During the Revolution the ships owned by one Newburyport merchant took 23,360 tons of shipping and 225 men, the prizes with their cargoes selling for $3,950,000. But of the size and the profits of the privateering business more will be said in the chapter devoted to that subject. It is enough to note here that it made the American merchantman essentially a fighting man.
The growth of American shipping during the years 1794-1810 is almost incredible in face of the obstacles put in its path by hostile enactments and the perils of the war. In 1794 United States ships, aggregating 438,863 tons, breasted the waves, carrying fish and staves to the West Indies, bringing back spices, rum, cocoa, and coffee. Sometimes they went from the West Indies to the Canaries, and thence to the west coast of Africa, where very valuable and very pitiful cargoes of human beings, whose black skins were thought to justify their treatment as dumb beasts of burden, were shipped. Again the East Indies opened markets for buying and selling both. But England and almost the whole of Western Europe were closed.
It is not possible to understand the situation in which the American sailor and shipowner of that day was placed, without some knowledge of the navigation laws and belligerent orders by which the trade was vexed. In 1793 the Napoleonic wars began, to continue with slight interruptions until 1815. France and England were the chief contestants, and between them American shipping was sorely harried. The French at first seemed to extend to the enterprising Americans a boon of incalculable value to the maritime interest, for the National Convention promulgated a decree giving to neutral ships—practically to American ships, for they were the bulk of the neutral shipping—the rights of French ships. Overjoyed by this sudden opening of a rich market long closed, the Yankee barks and brigs slipped out of the New England harbors in schools, while the shipyards rung with the blows of the hammers, and the forest resounded with the shouts of the woodsmen getting out ship-timbers. The ocean pathway to the French West Indies was flecked with sails, and the harbors of St. Kitts, Guadaloupe, and Martinique were crowded. But this bustling trade was short-lived. The argosies that set forth on their peaceful errand were shattered by enemies more dreaded than wind or sea. Many a ship reached the port eagerly sought only to rot there; many a merchant was beggared, nor knew what had befallen his hopeful venture until some belated consular report told of its condemnation in some French or English admiralty court.
For England met France's hospitality with a new stroke at American interests. The trade was not neutral, she said. France had been forced to her concession by war. Her people were starving because the vigilance of British cruisers had driven French cruisers from the seas, and no food could be imported. To permit Americans to purvey food for the French colonies would clearly be to undo the good work of the British navy. Obviously food was contraband of war. So all English men-of-war were ordered to seize French goods on whatever ship found; to confiscate cargoes of wheat, corn, or fish bound for French ports as contraband, and particularly to board all American merchantmen and scrutinize the crews for English-born sailors. The latter injunction was obeyed with peculiar zeal, so that the State Department had evidence that at one time, in 1806, there were as many as 6000 American seamen serving unwillingly in the British navy.
France, meanwhile, sought retaliation upon England at the expense of the Americans. The United States, said the French government, is a sovereign nation. If it does not protect its vessels against unwarrantable British aggressions it is because the Americans are secretly in league with the British. France recognizes no difference between its foes. So it is ordered that any American vessel which submitted to visitation and search from an English vessel, or paid dues in a British port, ceased to be neutral, and became subject to capture by the French. The effect of these orders and decrees was simply that any American ship which fell in with an English or French man-of-war or privateer, or was forced by stress of weather to seek shelter in an English or French port, was lost to her owners. The times were rude, evidence was easy to manufacture, captains were rapacious, admiralty judges were complaisant, and American commerce was rich prey. The French West Indies fell an easy spoil to the British, and at Martinique and Basseterre American merchantmen were caught in the harbor. Their crews were impressed, their cargoes, not yet discharged, seized, the vessels themselves wantonly destroyed or libelled as prizes. Nor were passengers exempt from the rigors of search and plunder. The records of the State Department and the rude newspapers of the time are full of the complaints of shipowners, passengers, and shipping merchants. The robbery was prodigious in its amount, the indignity put upon the nation unspeakable. And yet the least complaint came from those who suffered most. The New England seaport towns were filled with idle seamen, their harbors with pinks, schooners, and brigs, lying lazily at anchor. The sailors, with the philosophy of men long accustomed to submit themselves to nature's moods and the vagaries of breezes, cursed British and French impartially, and joined in the general depression and idleness of the towns and counties dependent on their activity.
It was about this period (1794) that the American navy was begun; though, curiously enough, its foundation was not the outcome of either British or French depredations, but of the piracies of the Algerians. That fierce and predatory people had for long years held the Mediterranean as a sort of a private lake into which no nation might send its ships without paying tribute. With singular cowardice, all the European peoples had acquiesced in this conception save England alone. The English were feared by the Algerians, and an English pass—which tradition says the illiterate Corsairs identified by measuring its enscrolled border, instead of by reading—protected any vessel carrying it. American ships, however, were peculiarly the prey of the Algerians, and many an American sailor was sold by them into slavery until Decatur and Rodgers in 1805 thrashed the piratical states of North Africa into recognition of American power. In 1794, however, the Americans were not eager for war, and diplomats strove to arrange a treaty which would protect American shipping, while Congress prudently ordered the beginning of six frigates, work to be stopped if peace should be made with the Dey. The treaty—not one very honorable to us—was indeed made some months later, and the frigates long remained unfinished.
It has been the fashion of late years to sneer at our second war with England as unnecessary and inconclusive. But no one who studies the records of the life, industry, and material interests of our people during the years between the adoption of the Constitution and the outbreak of that war can fail to wonder that it did not come sooner, and that it was not a war with France as well as England. For our people were then essentially a maritime people. Their greatest single manufacturing industry was ship-building. The fisheries—whale, herring, and cod—employed thousands of their men and supported more than one considerable town. The markets for their products lay beyond seas, and for their commerce an undisputed right to the peaceful passage of the ocean was necessary. Yet England and France, prosecuting their own quarrel, fairly ground American shipping as between two millstones. Our sailors were pressed, our ships seized, their cargoes stolen, under hollow forms of law. The high seas were treated as though they were the hunting preserves of these nations and American ships were quail and rabbits. The London "Naval Chronicle" at that time, and for long after, bore at the head of its columns the boastful lines:
"The sea and waves are Britain's broad domain, And not a sail but by permission spreads."
And France, while vigorously denying the maxim in so far as it related to British domination, was not able to see that the ocean could be no one nation's domain, but must belong equally to all. It was the time when the French were eloquently discoursing of the rights of man; but they did not appear to regard the peaceful navigation of the ocean as one of those rights; they were preaching of the virtues of the American republic, but their rulers issued orders and decrees that nearly brought the two governments to the point of actual war. But the very fact that France and England were almost equally arrogant and aggressive delayed the formal declaration of hostilities. Within the United States two political parties—the Federalists and the Republicans—were struggling for mastery. The one defended, though half-heartedly, the British, and demanded drastic action against the French spoliators. The other denounced British insolence and extolled our ancient allies and brothers in republicanism, the French. While the politicians quarreled the British stole our sailors and the French stole our ships. In 1798 our, then infant, navy gave bold resistance to the French ships, and for a time a quasi-war was waged on the ocean, in which the frigates "Constitution" and "Constellation" laid the foundation for that fame which they were to finally achieve in the war with Great Britain in 1812. No actual war with France grew out of her aggressions. The Republicans came into power in the United States, and by diplomacy averted an actual conflict. But the American shipping interests suffered sadly meanwhile. The money finally paid by France as indemnity for her unwarranted spoliations lay long undivided in the United States Treasury, and the easy-going labor of urging and adjudicating French spoliation claims furnished employment to some generations of politicians after the despoiled seamen and shipowners had gone down into their graves.
In 1800 the whole number of American ships in foreign and coasting trades and the fisheries had reached a tonnage of 972,492. The growth was constant, despite the handicap resulting from the European wars. Indeed, it is probable that those wars stimulated American shipping more than the restrictive decrees growing out of them retarded it, for they at least kept England and France (with her allies) out of the active encouragement of maritime enterprise. But the vessels of that day were mere pigmies, and the extent of the trade carried on in them would at this time seem trifling. The gross exports and imports of the United States in 1800 were about $75,000,000 each. The vessels that carried them were of about 250 tons each, the largest attaining 400 tons. An irregular traffic was carried on along the coast, and it was 1801 before the first sloop was built to ply regularly on the Hudson between New York and Albany. She was of 100 tons, and carried passengers only. Sometimes the trip occupied a week, and the owner of the sloop established an innovation by supplying beds, provisions, and wines for his passengers. Between Boston and New York communication was still irregular, passengers waiting for cargoes. But small as this maritime interest now seems, more money was invested in it, and it occupied more men, than any other American industry, save only agriculture.
To this period belong such shipowners as William Gray, of Boston, who in 1809, though he had sixty great square-rigged ships in commission, nevertheless heartily approved of the embargo with which President Jefferson vainly strove to combat the outrages of France and England. Though the commerce of those days was world-wide, its methods—particularly on the bookkeeping side—were primitive. "A good captain," said Merchant Gray, "will sail with a load of fish to the West Indies, hang up a stocking in the cabin on arriving, put therein hard dollars as he sells fish, and pay out when he buys rum, molasses, and sugar, and hand in the stocking on his return in full of all accounts." The West Indies, though a neighboring market, were far from monopolizing the attention of the New England shipping merchants. Ginseng and cash were sent to China for silks and tea, the voyage each way, around the tempestuous Horn, occupying six months. In 1785 the publication of the journals of the renowned explorer, Captain Cook, directed the ever-alert minds of the New Englanders to the great herds of seal and sea-otters on the northwestern coast of the United States, and vessels were soon faring thither in pursuit of fur-bearing animals, then plentiful, but now bidding fair to become as rare as the sperm-whale. A typical expedition of this sort was that of the ship "Columbia," Captain Kendrick, and the sloop "Washington," Captain Gray, which sailed September 30, 1787, bound to the northwest coast and China. The merchant who saw his ships drop down the bay bound on such a voyage said farewell to them for a long time—perhaps forever. Years must pass before he could know whether the money he had invested, the cargo he had adventured, the stout ships he had dispatched, were to add to his fortune or to be at last a total loss. Perhaps for months he might be going about the wharves and coffee-houses, esteeming himself a man of substance and so held by all his neighbors, while in fact his all lay whitening in the surf on some far-distant Pacific atoll. So it was almost three years before news came back to Boston of these two ships; but then it was glorious, for then the "Federalist," of New York, came into port, bringing tidings that at Canton she had met the "Columbia," and had been told of the discovery by that vessel of the great river in Oregon to which her name had been given. Thus Oregon and Washington were given to the infant Union, the latter perhaps taking its name from the little sloop of 90 tons which accompanied the "Columbia" on her voyage. Six months later the two vessels reached Boston, and were greeted with salutes of cannon from the forts. They were the first American vessels to circumnavigate the globe. It is pleasant to note that a voyage which was so full of advantage to the nation was profitable to the owners. Thereafter an active trade was done with miscellaneous goods to the northwest Indians, skins and furs thence to the Chinese, and teas home. A typical outbound cargo in this trade was that of the "Atakualpa" in 1800. The vessel was of 218 tons, mounted eight guns, and was freighted with broadcloth, flannel, blankets, powder, muskets, watches, tools, beads, and looking-glasses. How great were the proportions that this trade speedily assumed may be judged from the fact that between June, 1800, and January, 1803, there were imported into China, in American vessels, 34,357 sea-otter skins worth on an average $18 to $20 each. Over a million sealskins were imported. In this trade were employed 80 ships and 9 brigs and schooners, more than half of them from Boston.
Indeed, by the last decade of the eighteenth century Boston had become the chief shipping port of the United States. In 1790 the arrivals from abroad at that port were 60 ships, 7 snows, 159 brigs, 170 schooners, 59 sloops, besides coasters estimated to number 1,220 sail. In the Independent Chronicle, of October 27, 1791, appears the item: "Upwards of seventy sail of vessels sailed from this port on Monday last, for all parts of the world." A descriptive sketch, written in 1794 and printed in the Massachusetts Historical Society collections, says of the appearance of the water front at that time:
"There are eighty wharves and quays, chiefly on the east side of the town. Of these the most distinguished is Boston pier, or the Long Wharf, which extends from the bottom of State Street 1,743 feet into the harbor. Here the principal navigation of the town is carried on; vessels of all burdens load and unload; and the London ships generally discharge their cargoes.... The harbor of Boston is at this date crowded with vessels. It is reckoned that not less than 450 sail of ships, brigs, schooners, sloops, and small craft are now in this port."
New York and Baltimore, in a large way; Salem, Hull, Portsmouth, New London, New Bedford, New Haven, and a host of smaller seaports, in a lesser degree, joined in this prosperous industry. It was the great interest of the United States, and so continued, though with interruptions, for more than half a century, influencing the thought, the legislation, and the literature of our people. When Daniel Webster, himself a son of a seafaring State, sought to awaken his countrymen to the peril into which the nation was drifting through sectional dissensions and avowed antagonism to the national authority, he chose as the opening metaphor of his reply to Hayne the description of a ship, drifting rudderless and helpless on the trackless ocean, exposed to perils both known and unknown. The orator knew his audience. To all New England the picture had the vivacity of life. The metaphors of the sea were on every tongue. The story is a familiar one of the Boston clergyman who, in one of his discourses, described a poor, sinful soul drifting toward shipwreck so vividly that a sailor in the audience, carried away by the preacher's imaginative skill, cried out: "Let go your best bower anchor, or you're lost." In another church, which had its pulpit set at the side instead of at the end, as customary, a sailor remarked critically: "I don't like this craft; it has its rudder amidships."
At this time, and, indeed, for perhaps fifty years thereafter, the sea was a favorite career, not only for American boys with their way to make in the world, but for the sons of wealthy men as well. That classic of New England seamanship, "Two Years Before the Mast," was not written until the middle of the nineteenth century, and its author went to sea, not in search of wealth, but of health. But before the time of Richard Henry Dana, many a young man of good family and education—a Harvard graduate like him, perhaps—bade farewell to a home of comfort and refinement and made his berth in a smoky, fetid forecastle to learn the sailor's calling. The sons of the great shipping merchants almost invariably made a few voyages—oftenest as supercargoes, perhaps, but not infrequently as common seamen. In time special quarters, midway between the cabin and the forecastle, were provided for these apprentices, who were known as the "ship's cousins." They did the work of the seamen before the mast, but were regarded as brevet officers. There was at that time less to engage the activities and arouse the ambitions of youth than now, and the sea offered the most promising career. Moreover, the trading methods involved, and the relations of the captain or other officers to the owners, were such as to spur ambition and promise profit. The merchant was then greatly dependent on his captain, who must judge markets, buy and sell, and shape his course without direction from home. So the custom arose of giving the captain—and sometimes other officers—an opportunity to carry goods of their own in the ship, or to share the owner's adventure. In the whaling and fishery business we shall see that an almost pure communism prevailed. These conditions attracted to the maritime calling men of an enterprising and ambitious nature—men to whom the conditions to-day of mere wage servitude, fixed routes, and constant dependence upon the cabled or telegraphed orders of the owner would be intolerable. Profits were heavy, and the men who earned them were afforded opportunities to share them. Ships were multiplying fast, and no really lively and alert seaman need stay long in the forecastle. Often they became full-fledged captains and part owners at the age of twenty-one, or even earlier, for boys went to sea at ages when the youngsters of equally prosperous families in these days would scarcely have passed from the care of a nurse to that of a tutor. Thomas T. Forbes, for example, shipped before the mast at the age of thirteen; was commander of the "Levant" at twenty; and was lost in the Canton River before he was thirty. He was of a family great in the history of New England shipping for a hundred years. Nathaniel Silsbee, afterwards United States Senator from Massachusetts, was master of a ship in the East India trade before he was twenty-one; while John P. Cushing at the age of sixteen was the sole—and highly successful—representative in China of a large Boston house. William Sturges, afterwards the head of a great world-wide trading house, shipped at seventeen, was a captain and manager in the China trade at nineteen, and at twenty-nine left the quarter-deck with a competence to establish his firm, which at one time controlled half the trade between the United States and China. A score of such successes might be recounted.
But the fee which these Yankee boys paid for introduction into their calling was a heavy one. Dana's description of life in the forecastle, written in 1840, holds good for the conditions prevailing for forty years before and forty after he penned it. The greeting which his captain gave to the crew of the brig "Pilgrim" was repeated, with little variation, on a thousand quarter-decks:
"Now, my men, we have begun a long voyage. If we get along well together we shall have a comfortable time; if we don't, we shall hay hell afloat. All you have to do is to obey your orders and do your duty like men—then you will fare well enough; if you don't, you will fare hard enough, I can tell you. If we pull together you will find me a clever fellow; if we don't, you will find me a bloody rascal. That's all I've got to say. Go below the larboard watch."
But the note of roughness and blackguardism was not always sounded on American ships. We find, in looking over old memoirs, that more than one vessel was known as a "religious ship"—though, indeed, the very fact that few were thus noted speaks volumes for the paganism of the mass. But the shipowners of Puritan New England not infrequently laid stress on the moral character of the men shipped. Nathaniel Ames, a Harvard graduate who shipped before the mast, records that on his first vessel men seeking berths even in the forecastle were ordered to bring certificates of good character from the clergyman whose church they had last attended. Beyond doubt, however, this was a most unusual requirement. More often the majority of the crew were rough, illiterate fellows, often enticed into shipping while under the influence of liquor, and almost always coming aboard at the last moment, much the worse for long debauches. The men of a better sort who occasionally found themselves unluckily shipped with such a crew, have left on record many curious stories of the way in which sailors, utterly unable to walk on shore or on deck for intoxication, would, at the word of command, spring into the rigging, clamber up the shrouds, shake out reefs, and perform the most difficult duties aloft.
Most of the things which go to make the sailor's lot at least tolerable nowadays, were at that time unknown. A smoky lamp swung on gimbals half-lighted the forecastle—an apartment which, in a craft of scant 400 tons, did not afford commodious quarters for a crew of perhaps a score, with their sea chests and bags. The condition of the fetid hole at the beginning of the voyage, with four or five apprentices or green hands deathly sick, the hardened seamen puffing out clouds of tobacco smoke, and perhaps all redolent of rum, was enough to disenchant the most ardent lover of the sea. The food, bad enough in all ages of seafaring, was, in the early days of our merchant marine, too often barely fit to keep life in men's bodies. The unceasing round of salt pork, stale beef, "duff," "lobscouse," doubtful coffee sweetened with molasses, and water, stale, lukewarm, and tasting vilely of the hogshead in which it had been stored, required sturdy appetites to make it even tolerable. Even in later days Frank T. Bullen was able to write: "I have often seen the men break up a couple of biscuits into a pot of coffee for their breakfast, and after letting it stand a minute or two, skim off the accumulated scum of vermin from the top—maggots, weevils, etc—to the extent of a couple of tablespoonsful, before they could shovel the mess into their craving stomachs."
It may be justly doubted whether history has ever known a race of men so hardy, so self-reliant, so adaptable to the most complex situations, so determined to compel success, and so resigned in the presence of inevitable failure, as the early American sea captains. Their lives were spent in a ceaseless conflict with the forces of nature and of men. They had to deal with a mutinous crew one day and with a typhoon the next. If by skillful seamanship a piratical schooner was avoided in the reaches of the Spanish Main, the resources of diplomacy would be taxed the next day to persuade some English or French colonial governor not to seize the cargo that had escaped the pirates. The captain must be a seaman, a sea-soldier, a sea-lawyer, and a sea-merchant, shut off from his principals by space which no electric current then annihilated. He must study markets, sell his cargo at the most profitable point, buy what his prophetic vision suggested would sell profitably, and sell half a dozen intermediate cargoes before returning, and even dispose of the vessel herself, if gain would result. His experience was almost as much commercial as nautical, and many of the shipping merchants who formed the aristocracy of old New York and Boston, mounted from the forecastle to the cabin, thence to the counting-room.
In a paper on the maritime trade of Salem, the Rev. George Bachelor tells of the conditions of this early seafaring, the sort of men engaged in it, and the stimulus it offered to all their faculties:
"After a century of comparative quiet, the citizens of the little town were suddenly dispersed to every part of the Oriental world, and to every nook of barbarism which had a market and a shore. The borders of the commercial world received sudden enlargement, and the boundaries of the intellectual world underwent similar expansion. The reward of enterprise might be the discovery of an island in which wild pepper enough to load a ship might be had almost for the asking, or of forests where precious gems had no commercial value, or spice islands unvisited and unvexed by civilization. Every ship-master and every mariner returning on a richly loaded ship was the custodian of valuable information. In those days crews were made up of Salem boys, every one of whom expected to become an East Indian merchant. When a captain was asked at Manila how he contrived to find his way in the teeth of a northeast monsoon by mere dead reckoning, he replied that he had a crew of twelve men, any one of whom could take and work a lunar observation as well, for all practical purposes, as Sir Isaac Newton himself.
"When, in 1816, George Coggeshall coasted the Mediterranean in the 'Cleopatra's Barge,' a magnificent yacht of 197 tons, which excited the wonder even of the Genoese, the black cook, who had once sailed with Bowditch, was found to be as competent to keep a ship's reckoning as any of the officers.
"Rival merchants sometimes drove the work of preparation night and day, when virgin markets had favors to be won, and ships which set out for unknown ports were watched when they slipped their cables and sailed away by night, and dogged for months on the high seas, in the hopes of discovering a secret, well kept by the owner and crew. Every man on board was allowed a certain space for his own little venture. People in other pursuits, not excepting the owner's minister, entrusted their savings to the supercargo, and watched eagerly the result of their adventure. This great mental activity, the profuse stores of knowledge brought by every ship's crew, and distributed, together with India shawls, blue china, and unheard-of curiosities from every savage shore, gave the community a rare alertness of intellect."
The spirit in which young fellows, scarcely attained to years of maturity, met and overcame the dangers of the deep is vividly depicted in Captain George Coggeshall's narrative of his first face-to-face encounter with death. He was in the schooner "Industry," off the Island of Teneriffe, during a heavy gale.
"Captain K. told me I had better go below, and that he would keep an outlook and take a little tea biscuit on deck. I had entered the cabin, when I felt a terrible shock. I ran to the companion-way, when I saw a ship athwart our bows. At that moment our foremast went by the board, carrying with it our main topmast. In an instant the two vessels separated, and we were left a perfect wreck. The ship showed a light for a few moments and then disappeared, leaving us to our fate. When we came to examine our situation, we found our bowsprit gone close to the knight-heads." An investigation showed that the collision had left the "Industry" in a grievous state, while the gale, ever increasing, blew directly on shore. But the sailors fought sturdily for life. "To retard the schooner's drift, we kept the wreck of the foremast, bowsprit, sails, spars, etc., fast by the bowsprit shrouds and other ropes, so that we drifted to leeward but about two miles the hour. To secure the mainmast was now the first object. I therefore took with me one of the best of the crew, and carried the end of a rope cable with us up to the mainmast head, and clenched it round the mast, while it was badly springing. We then took the cable to the windlass and hove taut, and thus effectually secured the mast.... We were then drifting directly on shore, where the cliffs were rocky, abrupt, and almost perpendicular, and were perhaps almost 1,000 feet high. At each blast of lightning we could see the surf break, whilst we heard the awful roar of the sea dashing and breaking against the rocks and caverns of this iron-bound island.
"When I went below I found the captain in the act of going to bed; and as near as I can recollect, the following dialogue took place:
"'Well, Captain K., what shall we do next? We have now about six hours to pass before daylight; and, according to my calculation, we have only about three hours more drift. Still, before that time there may, perhaps, be some favorable change.'
"He replied: 'Mr. C., we have done all we can, and can do nothing more. I am resigned to my fate, and think nothing can save us.'
"I replied: 'Perhaps you are right; still, I am resolved to struggle to the last. I am too young to die; I am only twenty-one years of age, and have a widowed mother, three brothers, and a sister looking to me for support and sympathy. No, sir, I will struggle and persevere to the last.'
"'Ah,' said he, 'what can you do? Our boat will not live five minutes in the surf, and you have no other resource.'
"'I will take the boat,' said I, 'and when she fills I will cling to a spar. I will not die until my strength is exhausted and I can breathe no longer.' Here the conversation ended, when the captain covered his head with a blanket. I then wrote the substance of our misfortune in the log-book, and also a letter to my mother; rolled them up in a piece of tarred canvas; and, assisted by the carpenter, put the package into a tight keg, thinking that this might probably be thrown on shore, and thus our friends might perhaps know of our end."
Men who face Death thus sturdily are apt to overcome him. The gale lessened, the ship was patched up, the craven captain resumed command, and in two weeks' time the "Industry" sailed, sorely battered, into Santa Cruz, to find that she had been given up as lost, and her officers and crew "were looked upon as so many men risen from the dead." Young Coggeshall lived to follow the sea until gray-haired and weather-beaten, to die in his bed at last, and to tell the story of his eighty voyages in two volumes of memoirs, now growing very rare. Before he was sixteen he had made the voyage to Cadiz—a port now moldering, but which once was one of the great portals for the commerce of the world. In his second voyage, while lying in the harbor of Gibraltar, he witnessed one of the almost every-day dangers to which American sailors of that time were exposed:
"While we were lying in this port, one morning at daylight we heard firing at a distance. I took a spy-glass, and from aloft could clearly see three gunboats engaged with a large ship. It was a fine, clear morning, with scarcely wind enough to ruffle the glass-like surface of the water. During the first hour or two of this engagement the gunboats had an immense advantage; being propelled both by sails and oars, they were enabled to choose their own position. While the ship lay becalmed and unmanageable they poured grape and canister shot into her stern and bows like hailstones. At this time the ship's crew could not bring a single gun to bear upon them, and all they could do was to use their small arms through the ports and over the rails. Fortunately for the crew, the ship had thick and high bulwarks, which protected them from the fire of the enemy, so that while they were hid and screened by the boarding cloths, they could use their small arms to great advantage. At this stage of the action, while the captain, with his speaking-trumpet under his left arm, was endeavoring to bring one of his big guns to bear on one of the gunboats, a grapeshot passed through the port and trumpet and entered his chest near his shoulder-blade. The chief mate carried him below and laid him upon a mattress on the cabin floor. For a moment it seemed to dampen the ardor of the men; but it was but for an instant. The chief mate (I think his name was Randall), a gallant young man from Nantucket, then took the command, rallied, and encouraged the men to continue the action with renewed obstinacy and vigor. At this time a lateen-rigged vessel, the largest of the three privateers, was preparing to make a desperate attempt to board the ship on the larboard quarter, and, with nearly all his men on the forecastle and long bowsprit, were ready to take the final leap.
"In order to meet and frustrate the design of the enemy, the mate of the ship had one of the quarter-deck guns loaded with grape and canister shot; he then ordered all the ports on this quarter to be shut, so that the gun could not be seen; and thus were both parties prepared when the privateer came boldly up within a few yards of the ship's lee quarter. The captain, with a threatening flourish of his sword, cried out with a loud voice, in broken English: 'Strike, you damned rascal, or I will put you all to death.' At this moment a diminutive-looking man on board the 'Louisa,' with a musket, took deliberate aim through one of the waist ports, and shot him dead. Instantly the gun was run out and discharged upon the foe with deadly effect, so that the remaining few on board the privateer, amazed and astounded, were glad to give up the conflict and get off the best way they could.
"Soon after this a breeze sprung up, so that they could work their great guns to some purpose. I never shall forget the moment when I saw the Star-Spangled Banner blow out and wave gracefully in the wind, through the smoke. I also at the same moment saw with pleasure the three gunboats sailing and rowing away toward the land to make their escape. When the ship drew near the port, all the boats from the American shipping voluntarily went to assist in bringing her to anchor. She proved to be the letter-of-marque ship 'Louisa,' of Philadelphia.
"I went with our captain on board of her, and we there learned that, with the exception of the captain, not a man had been killed or wounded. The ship was terribly cut up and crippled in her sails and rigging—lifts and braces shot away; her stern was literally riddled like a grater, and both large and small shot, in great numbers, had entered her hull and were sticking to her sides. How the officers and crew escaped unhurt is almost impossible to conceive. The poor captain was immediately taken on shore, but only survived his wound a few days. He had a public funeral, and was followed to the grave by all the Americans in Gibraltar, and very many of the officers of the garrison and inhabitants of the town.
"The ship had a rich cargo of coffee, sugar, and India goods on board, and I believe was bound for Leghorn. The gunboats belonged to Algeciras and fought under French colors, but were probably manned by the debased of all nations. I can form no idea how many were killed or wounded on board the gunboats, but from the great number of men on board, and from the length of the action, there must have been great slaughter. Neither can I say positively how long the engagement lasted; but I should think at least from three to four hours. To the chief mate too much credit can not be given for saving the ship after the captain was shot."
This action occurred in 1800, and the assailants fought under French colors, though the United States were at peace with France. It was fought within easy eyesight of Gibraltar, and therefore in British waters; but no effort was made by the British men-of-war—always plentiful there—to maintain the neutrality of the port. For sailors to be robbed or murdered, or to fight with desperation to avert robbery and murder, was then only a commonplace of the sea. Men from the safety of the adjoining shore only looked on in calm curiosity, as nowadays men look on indifferently to see the powerful freebooter of the not less troubled business sea rob, impoverish, and perhaps drive down to untimely death others who only ask to be permitted to make their little voyages unvexed by corsairs.
From a little book of memoirs of Captain Richard J. Cleveland, the curious observer can learn what it was to belong to a seafaring family in the golden days of American shipping. His was a Salem stock. His father, in 1756, when but sixteen years old, was captured by a British press-gang in the streets of Boston, and served for years in the British navy. For this compulsory servitude he exacted full compensation in later years by building and commanding divers privateers to prey upon the commerce of England. His three sons all became sailors, taking to the water like young ducks. A characteristic note of the cosmopolitanism of the young New Englander of that day is sounded in the most matter-of-fact fashion by young Cleveland in a letter from Havre: "I can't help loving home, though I think a young man ought to be at home in any part of the globe." And at home everywhere Captain Cleveland certainly was. All his life was spent in wandering over the Seven Seas, in ships of every size, from a 25-ton cutter to a 400-ton Indiaman. In those days of navigation laws, blockades, hostile cruisers, hungry privateers, and bloodthirsty pirates, the smaller craft was often the better, for it was wiser to brave nature's moods in a cockle-shell than to attract men's notice in a great ship. Captain Cleveland's voyages from Havre to the Cape of Good Hope, in a 45-ton cutter; from Calcutta to the Isle of France, in a 25-ton sloop; and Captain Coggeshall's voyage around Cape Horn in an unseaworthy pilot-boat are typical exploits of Yankee seamanship. We see the same spirit manifested occasionally nowadays when some New Englander crosses the ocean in a dory, or circumnavigates the world alone in a 30-foot sloop. But these adventures are apt to end ignominiously in a dime museum.
A noted sailor in his time was Captain Benjamin I. Trask, master of many ships, ruler of many deeps, who died in harness in 1871, and for whom the flags on the shipping in New York Bay were set at half-mast. An appreciative writer, Mr. George W. Sheldon, in Harper's Magazine, tells this story to show what manner of man he was; it was on the ship "Saratoga," from Havre to New York, with a crew among whom were several recently liberated French convicts:
"The first day out the new crew were very troublesome, owing in part, doubtless, to the absence of the mate, who was ill in bed and who died after a few hours. Suddenly the second mate, son of the commander, heard his father call out, 'Take hold of the wheel,' and going forward, saw him holding a sailor at arm's length. The mutineer was soon lodged in the cockpit; but all hands—the watch below and the watch on deck—came aft as if obeying a signal, with threatening faces and clenched fists. The captain, methodical and cool, ordered his son to run a line across the deck between him and the rebellious crew, and to arm the steward and the third mate.
"'Now go forward and get to work', he said to the gang, who immediately made a demonstration to break the line. 'The first man who passes that rope,' added the captain, 'I will shoot. I am going to call you one by one; if two come at a time I will shoot both.'
"The first to come forward was a big fellow in a red shirt. He had hesitated to advance when called; but the 'I will give you one more invitation, sir,' of the captain furnished him with the requisite resolution. So large were his wrists that ordinary shackles were too small to go around them, and ankle-shackles took their place. Escorted by the second and third mates to the cabin, he was made to lie flat on his stomach, while staples were driven through the chains of his handcuffs to pin him down. After eighteen of the mutineers had been similarly treated, the captain himself withdrew to the cabin and lay on a sofa, telling the second mate to call him in an hour. The next minute he was asleep with the stapled ruffians all around him."
As the ocean routes became more clearly defined, and the limitations and character of international trade more systematized, there sprung up a new type of American ship-master. The older type—and the more romantic—was the man who took his ship from Boston or New York, not knowing how many ports he might enter nor in how many markets he might have to chaffer before his return. But in time there came to be regular trade routes, over which ships went and came with almost the regularity of the great steamships on the Atlantic ferry to-day. Early in the nineteenth century the movement of both freight and passengers between New York or Boston on this side and London and Liverpool on the other began to demand regular sailings on announced days, and so the era of the American packet-ship began. Then, too, the trade with China grew to such great proportions that some of the finest fortunes America knew in the days before the "trust magnate" and the "multimillionaire"—were founded upon it. The clipper-built ship, designed to bring home the cargoes of tea in season to catch the early market, was the outcome of this trade. Adventures were still for the old-time trading captain who wandered about from port to port with miscellaneous cargoes; but the new aristocracy of the sea trod the deck of the packets and the clippers. Their ships were built all along the New England coast; but builders on the shores of Chesapeake Bay soon began to struggle for preeminence in this style of naval architecture. Thus, even in the days of wooden ships, the center of the ship-building industry began to move toward that point where it now seems definitely located. By 1815 the name "Baltimore clipper" was taken all over the world to signify the highest type of merchant vessel that man's skill could design. It was a Baltimore ship which first, in 1785, displayed the American flag in the Canton River and brought thence the first cargo of silks and teas. Thereafter, until the decline of American shipping, the Baltimore clippers led in the Chinese trade. These clippers in model were the outcome of forty years of effort to evade hostile cruisers, privateers, and pirates on the lawless seas. To be swift, inconspicuous, quick in maneuvering, and to offer a small target to the guns of the enemy, were the fundamental considerations involved in their design. Mr. Henry Hall, who, as special agent for the United States census, made in 1880 an inquiry into the history of ship-building in the United States, says in his report:
"A permanent impression has been made upon the form and rig of American vessels by forty years of war and interference. It was during that period that the shapes and fashions that prevail to-day were substantially attained. The old high poop-decks and quarter galleries disappeared with the lateen and the lug-sails on brigs, barks, and ships; the sharp stem was permanently abandoned; the curving home of the stem above the house poles went out of vogue, and vessels became longer in proportion to beam. The round bottoms were much in use, but the tendency toward a straight rise of the floor from the keel to a point half-way to the outer width of the ship became marked and popular. Hollow water-lines fore and aft were introduced; the forefoot of the hull ceased to be cut away so much, and the swell of the sides became less marked; the bows became somewhat sharper and were often made flaring above the water, and the square sprit-sail below the bowsprit was given up. American ship-builders had not yet learned to give their vessels much sheer, however, and in a majority of them the sheer line was almost straight from stem to stern; nor had they learned to divide the topsail into an upper and lower sail, and American vessels were distinguished by their short lower mast and the immense hoist of the topsail. The broadest beam was still at two-fifths the length of the hull. Hemp rigging, with broad channels and immense tops to the masts, was still retained; but the general arrangement and cut of the head, stay, square, and spanker sails at present in fashion were reached. The schooner rig had also become thoroughly popularized, especially for small vessels requiring speed; and the fast vessels of the day were the brigs and schooners, which were made long and sharp on the floor and low in the water, with considerable rake to the masts."
Such is the technical description of the changes which years of peril and of war wrought in the model of the American sailing ship. How the vessel herself, under full sail, looked when seen through the eyes of one who was a sailor, with the education of a writer and the temperament of a poet, is well told in these lines from "Two Years Before the Mast":
"Notwithstanding all that has been said about the beauty of a ship under full sail, there are very few who have ever seen a ship literally under all her sail. A ship never has all her sail upon her except when she has a light, steady breeze very nearly, but not quite, dead aft, and so regular that it can be trusted and is likely to last for some time. Then, with all her sails, light and heavy, and studding-sails on each side alow and aloft, she is the most glorious moving object in the world. Such a sight very few, even some who have been at sea a good deal, have ever beheld; for from the deck of your own vessel you can not see her as you would a separate object.
"One night, while we were in the tropics, I went out to the end of the flying jib-boom upon some duty; and, having finished it, turned around and lay over the boom for a long time, admiring the beauty of the sight before me. Being so far out from the deck, I could look at the ship as at a separate vessel; and there rose up from the water, supported only by the small black hull, a pyramid of canvas spreading far out beyond the hull and towering up almost, as it seemed in the indistinct night, into the clouds. The sea was as still as an inland lake; the light trade-wind was gently and steadily breathing from astern; the dark-blue sky was studded with the tropical stars; there was no sound but the rippling of the water under the stem; and the sails were spread out wide and high—the two lower studding-sails stretching on either side far beyond the deck; the topmost studding-sails like wings to the topsails; the topgallant studding-sails spreading fearlessly out above them; still higher the two royal studding-sails, looking like two kites flying from the same string; and highest of all the little sky-sail, the apex of the pyramid, seeming actually to touch the stars and to be out of reach of human hand. So quiet, too, was the sea, and so steady the breeze, that if these sails had been sculptured marble they could not have been more motionless—not a ripple on the surface of the canvas; not even a quivering of the extreme edges of the sail, so perfectly were they distended by the breeze. I was so lost in the sight that I forgot the presence of the man who came out with me, until he said (for he, too, rough old man-of-war's man that he was, had been gazing at the show), half to himself, still looking at the marble sails: 'How quietly they do their work!'"
The building of packet ships began in 1814, when some semblance of peace and order appeared upon the ocean, and continued until almost the time of the Civil War, when steamships had already begun to cut away the business of the old packets, and the Confederate cruisers were not needed to complete the work. But in their day these were grand examples of marine architecture. The first of the American transatlantic lines was the Black Ball line, so called from the black sphere on the white pennant which its ships displayed. This line was founded in 1815, by Isaac Wright & Company, with four ships sailing the first of every month, and making the outward run in about twenty-three days, the homeward voyage in about forty. These records were often beaten by ships of this and other lines. From thirteen to fifteen days to Liverpool was not an unknown record, but was rare enough to cause comment.