The Old Merchant Marine, A Chronicle of American Ships and Sailors
Ralph D. Paine

Part 2 out of 3

An immortal phrase, this simple dictum of first mate Hudson of
the Betsy, "Out she goes, or down she goes," and not unworthy of
being mentioned in the same breath with Farragut's "Damn the

Joined by his brother Samuel in the schooner Pilgrim, which was
used as a tender in the sealing trade, Amasa Delano frequented
unfamiliar beaches until he had taken his toll of skins and was
ready to bear away for Canton to sell them. There were many
Yankee ships after seals in those early days, enduring more peril
and privation than the whalemen, roving over the South Pacific
among the rock-bound islands unknown to the merchant navigator.
The men sailed wholly on shares, a seaman receiving one per cent
of the catch and the captain ten per cent, and they slaughtered
the seal by the million, driving them from the most favored
haunts within a few years. For instance, American ships first
visited Mas a Fuera in 1797, and Captain Delano estimated that
during the seven years following three million skins were taken
to China from this island alone. He found as many as fourteen
vessels there at one time, and he himself carried away one
hundred thousand skins. It was a gold mine for profit while it

There were three Delano brothers afloat in two vessels, and of
their wanderings Amasa set down this epitome: "Almost the whole
of our connections who were left behind had need of our
assistance, and to look forward it was no more than a reasonable
calculation to make that our absence would not be less than three
years . . . together with the extraordinary uncertainty of the
issue of the voyage, as we had nothing but our hands to depend
upon to obtain a cargo which was only to be done through storms,
dangers, and breakers, and taken from barren rocks in distant
regions. But after a voyage of four years for one vessel and five
for the other, we were all permitted to return safe home to our
friends and not quite empty-handed. We had built both of the
vessels we were in and navigated them two and three times around
the globe." Each one of the brothers had been a master builder
and rigger and a navigator of ships in every part of the world.

By far the most important voyage undertaken by American
merchantmen during the decade of brilliant achievement following
the Revolution was that of Captain Robert Gray in the Columbia,
which was the first ship to visit and explore the northwest coast
and to lead the way for such adventurers as Richard Cleveland and
Amasa Delano. On his second voyage in 1792, Captain Gray
discovered the great river he christened Columbia and so gave to
the United States its valid title to that vast territory which
Lewis and Clark were to find after toiling over the mountains
thirteen years later.


When the first Congress under the new Federal Constitution
assembled in 1789, a spirit of pride was manifested in the swift
recovery and the encouraging growth of the merchant marine,
together with a concerted determination to promote and protect it
by means of national legislation. The most imperative need was a
series of retaliatory measures to meet the burdensome navigation
laws of England, to give American ships a fair field and no
favors. The Atlantic trade was therefore stimulated by allowing a
reduction of ten per cent of the customs duties on goods imported
in vessels built and owned by American citizens. The East India
trade, which already employed forty New England ships, was
fostered in like manner. Teas brought direct under the American
flag paid an average duty of twelve cents a pound while teas in
foreign bottoms were taxed twenty-seven cents. It was sturdy
protection, for on a cargo of one hundred thousand pounds of
assorted teas from India or China, a British ship would pay
$27,800 into the custom house and a Salem square-rigger only

The result was that the valuable direct trade with the Far East
was absolutely secured to the American flag. Not content with
this, Congress decreed a system of tonnage duties which permitted
the native owner to pay six cents per ton on his vessel while the
foreigner laid down fifty cents as an entry fee for every ton his
ship measured, or thirty cents if he owned an American-built
vessel. In 1794, Congress became even more energetic in defense
of its mariners and increased the tariff rates on merchandise in
foreign vessels. A nation at last united, jealous of its rights,
resentful of indignities long suffered, and intelligently alive
to its shipping as the chief bulwark of prosperity, struck back
with peaceful weapons and gained a victory of incalculable
advantage. Its Congress, no longer feeble and divided, laid the
foundations for American greatness upon the high seas which was
to endure for more than a half century. Wars, embargoes, and
confiscations might interrupt but they could not seriously harm

In the three years after 1789 the merchant shipping registered
for the foreign trade increased from 123,893 tons to 411,438
tons, presaging a growth without parallel in the history of the
commercial world. Foreign ships were almost entirely driven out
of American ports, and ninety-one per cent of imports and
eighty-six per cent of exports were conveyed in vessels built and
manned by Americans. Before Congress intervened, English
merchantmen had controlled three-fourths of our commerce
overseas. When Thomas Jefferson, as Secretary of State, fought
down Southern opposition to a retaliatory shipping policy, he
uttered a warning which his countrymen were to find still true
and apt in the twentieth century: "If we have no seamen, our
ships will be useless, consequently our ship timber, iron, and
hemp; our shipbuilding will be at an end; ship carpenters will go
over to other nations; our young men have no call to the sea; our
products, carried in foreign bottoms, will be saddled with
war-freight and insurance in time of war--and the history of the
last hundred years shows that the nation which is our carrier has
three years of war for every four years of peace."

The steady growth of an American merchant marine was interrupted
only once in the following decade. In the year 1793 war broke out
between England and France. A decree of the National Convention
of the French Republic granted neutral vessels the same rights as
those which flew the tricolor. This privilege reopened a rushing
trade with the West Indies, and hundreds of ships hastened from
American ports to Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia.

Like a thunderbolt came the tidings that England refused to look
upon this trade with the French colonies as neutral and that her
cruisers had been told to seize all vessels engaged in it and to
search them for English-born seamen. This ruling was enforced
with such barbarous severity that it seemed as if the War for
Independence had been fought in vain. Without warning, unable to
save themselves, great fleets of Yankee merchantmen were
literally swept from the waters of the West Indies. At St.
Eustatius one hundred and thirty of them were condemned. The
judges at Bermuda condemned eleven more. Crews and passengers
were flung ashore without food or clothing, were abused,
insulted, or perhaps impressed in British privateers. The ships
were lost to their owners. There was no appeal and no redress. At
Martinique an English fleet and army captured St. Pierre in
February, 1794. Files of marines boarded every American ship in
the harbor, tore down the colors, and flung two hundred and fifty
seamen into the foul holds of a prison hulk. There they were
kept, half-dead with thirst and hunger while their vessels,
uncared for, had stranded or sunk at their moorings. Scores of
outrages as abominable as this were on record in the office of
the Secretary of State. Shipmasters were afraid to sail to the
southward and, for lack of these markets for dried cod, the
fishing schooners of Marblehead were idle.

For a time a second war with England seemed imminent. An alarmed
Congress passed laws to create a navy and to fortify the most
important American harbors. President Washington recommended an
embargo of thirty days, which Congress promptly voted and then
extended for thirty more. It was a popular measure and strictly
enforced by the mariners themselves. The mates and captains of
the brigs and snows in the Delaware River met and resolved not to
go to sea for another ten days, swearing to lie idle sooner than
feed the British robbers in the West Indies. It was in the midst
of these demonstrations that Washington seized the one hope of
peace and recommended a special mission to England.

The treaty negotiated by John Jay in 1794 was received with an
outburst of popular indignation. Jay was damned as a traitor,
while the sailors of Portsmouth burned him in effigy. By way of
an answer to the terms of the obnoxious treaty, a seafaring mob
in Boston raided and burned the British privateer Speedwell,
which had put into that port as a merchantman with her guns and
munitions hidden beneath a cargo of West India produce.

The most that can be said of the commercial provisions of the
treaty is that they opened direct trade with the East Indies but
at the price of complete freedom of trade for British shipping in
American ports. It must be said, too, that although the treaty
failed to clear away the gravest cause of hostility--the right of
search and impressment--yet it served to postpone the actual
dash, and during the years in which it was in force American
shipping splendidly prospered, freed of most irksome handicaps.

The quarrel with France had been brewing at the same time and for
similar reasons. Neutral trade with England was under the ban,
and the Yankee shipmaster was in danger of losing his vessel if
he sailed to or from a port under the British flag. It was out of
the frying-pan into the fire, and French privateers welcomed the
excuse to go marauding in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. What it
meant to fight off these greedy cutthroats is told in a newspaper
account of the engagement of Captain Richard Wheatland, who was
homeward bound to Salem in the ship Perseverance in 1799. He was
in the Old Straits of Bahama when a fast schooner came up astern,
showing Spanish colors and carrying a tremendous press of canvas.
Unable to run away from her, Captain Wheatland reported to his

"We took in steering sails, wore ship, hauled up our courses,
piped all hands to quarters and prepared for action. The schooner
immediately took in sail, hoisted an English Union flag and
passed under our lee at a considerable distance. We wore ship,
she did the same, and we passed each other within half a musket.
A fellow hailed us in broken English and ordered the boat hoisted
out and the captain to come aboard, which he refused. He again
ordered our boat out and enforced his orders with a menace that
in case of refusal he would sink us, using at the same time the
vilest and most infamous language it is possible to conceive of.
. . . We hauled the ship to wind and as he passed poured a whole
broadside into him with great success. Sailing faster than we, he
ranged considerably ahead, tacked and again passed, giving us a
broadside and furious discharge of musketry, which he kept up
incessantly until the latter part of the engagement. His musket
balls reached us in every direction but his large shot either
fell short or went considerably over us while our guns loaded
with round shot and square bars of iron were plied so briskly and
directed with such good judgment that before he got out of range
we had cut his mainsail and foretopsail all to rags and cleared
his decks so effectively that when he bore away from us there
were scarcely ten men to be seen. He then struck his English flag
and hoisted the flag of The Terrible Republic and made off with
all the sail he could carry, much disappointed, no doubt, at not
being able to give us a fraternal embrace. We feel confidence
that we have rid the world of some infamous pests of society."

By this time, the United States was engaged in active hostilities
with France, although war had not been declared. The news of the
indignities which American commissions had suffered at the hands
of the French Directory had stirred the people to war pitch.
Strong measures for national defense were taken, which stopped
little short of war. The country rallied to the slogan, "Millions
for defense but not one cent for tribute," and the merchants of
the seaports hastened to subscribe funds to build frigates to be
loaned to the Government. Salem launched the famous Essex, ready
for sea six months after the keel was laid, at a cost of $75,000.
Her two foremost merchants, Elias Hasket Derby and William Gray,
led the list with ten thousand dollars each. The call sent out by
the master builder, Enos Briggs, rings with thrilling effect:

"To Sons of Freedom! All true lovers of Liberty of your Country!
Step forth and give your assistance in building the frigate to
oppose French insolence and piracy. Let every man in possession
of a white oak tree be ambitious to be foremost in hurrying down
the timber to Salem where the noble structure is to be fabricated
to maintain your rights upon the seas and make the name of
America respected among the nations of the world. Your largest
and longest trees are wanted, and the arms of them for knees and
rising timber. Four trees are wanted for the keel which
altogether will measure 146 feet in length, and hew sixteen
inches square."

This handsome frigate privately built by patriots of the republic
illuminates the coastwise spirit and conditions of her time. She
was a Salem ship from keel to truck. Captain Jonathan Haraden,
the finest privateersman of the Revolution, made the rigging for
the mainmast at his ropewalk in Brown Street. Joseph Vincent
fitted out the foremast and Thomas Briggs the mizzenmast in their
lofts at the foot of the Common. When the huge hemp cables were
ready for the frigate, the workmen carried them to the shipyard
on their shoulders, the parade led by fife and drum. Her sails
were cut from duck woven in Daniel Rust's factory in Broad Street
and her iron work was forged by Salem shipsmiths. It was not
surprising that Captain Richard Derby was chosen to command the
Essex, but he was abroad in a ship of his own and she sailed
under Captain Edward Preble of the Navy.

The war cloud passed and the merchant argosies overflowed the
wharves and havens of New England, which had ceased to monopolize
the business on blue water. New York had become a seaport with
long ranks of high-steeved bowsprits soaring above pleasant
Battery Park and a forest of spars extending up the East River.
In 1790 more than two thousand ships, brigs, schooners, and
smaller craft had entered and cleared, and the merchants met in
the coffee-houses to discuss charters, bills-of-lading, and
adventures. Sailors commanded thrice the wages of laborers
ashore. Shipyards were increasing and the builders could build as
large and swift East Indiamen as those of which Boston and Salem

Philadelphia had her Stephen Girard, whose wealth was earned in
ships, a man most remarkable and eccentric, whose career was one
of the great maritime romances. Though his father was a
prosperous merchant of Bordeaux engaged in the West India trade,
he was shifting for himself as a cabin-boy on his father's ships
when only fourteen years old. With no schooling, barely able to
read and write, this urchin sailed between Bordeaux and the
French West Indies for nine years, until he gained the rank of
first mate. At the age of twenty-six he entered the port of
Philadelphia in command of a sloop which had narrowly escaped
capture by British frigates. There he took up his domicile and
laid the foundation of his fortune in small trading ventures to
New Orleans and Santo Domingo.

In 1791 he began to build a fleet of beautiful ships for the
China and India trade, their names, Montesquieu, Helvetius,
Voltaire, and Rousseau, revealing his ideas of religion and
liberty. So successfully did he combine banking and shipping that
in 1813 he was believed to be the wealthiest merchant in the
United States. In that year one of his ships from China was
captured off the Capes of the Delaware by a British privateer.
Her cargo of teas, nankeens, and silks was worth half a million
dollars to him but he succeeded in ransoming it on the spot by
counting out one hundred and eighty thousand Spanish milled
dollars. No privateersman could resist such strategy as this.

Alone in his old age, without a friend or relative to close his
eyes in death, Stephen Girard, once a penniless, ignorant French
cabin-boy, bequeathed his millions to philanthropy, and the
Girard College for orphan boys, in Philadelphia, is his monument.

The Treaty of Amiens brought a little respite to Europe and a
peaceful interlude for American shipmasters, but France and
England came to grips again in 1803. For two years thereafter the
United States was almost the only important neutral nation not
involved in the welter of conflict on land and sea, and trade
everywhere sought the protection of the Stars and Stripes.
England had swept her own rivals, men-of-war and merchantmen,
from the face of the waters. France and Holland ceased to carry
cargoes beneath their own ensigns. Spain was afraid to send her
galleons to Mexico and Peru. All the Continental ports were
begging for American ships to transport their merchandise. It was
a maritime harvest unique and unexpected.

Yankee skippers were dominating the sugar trade of Cuba and were
rolling across the Atlantic with the coffee, hides, and indigo of
Venezuela and Brazil. Their fleets crowded the roadsteads of
Manila and Batavia and packed the warehouses of Antwerp, Lisbon,
and Hamburg. It was a situation which England could not tolerate
without attempting to thwart an immense traffic which she
construed as giving aid and comfort to her enemies. Under cover
of the so-called Rule of 1756 British admiralty courts began to
condemn American vessels carrying products from enemies' colonies
to Europe, even when the voyage was broken by first entering an
American port. It was on record in September, 1805, that fifty
American ships had been condemned in England and as many more in
the British West Indies.

This was a trifling disaster, however, compared with the huge
calamity which befell when Napoleon entered Berlin as a conqueror
and proclaimed his paper blockade of the British Isles. There was
no French navy to enforce it, but American vessels dared not sail
for England lest they be snapped up by French privateers. The
British Government savagely retaliated with further prohibitions,
and Napoleon countered in like manner until no sea was safe for a
neutral ship and the United States was powerless to assert its
rights. Thomas Jefferson as President used as a weapon the
Embargo of 1807, which was, at first, a popular measure, and
which he justified in these pregnant sentences: "The whole world
is thus laid under interdict by these two nations, and our own
vessels, their cargoes, and crews, are to be taken by the one or
the other for whatever place they may be destined out of our
limits. If, therefore, on leaving our harbors we are certainly to
lose them, is it not better as to vessels, cargoes, and seamen,
to keep them at home?"

A people proud, independent, and pugnacious, could not long
submit to a measure of defense which was, in the final sense, an
abject surrender to brute force. New England, which bore the
brunt of the embargo, was first to rebel against it. Sailors
marched through the streets clamoring for bread or loaded their
vessels and fought their way to sea. In New York the streets of
the waterside were deserted, ships dismantled, countinghouses
unoccupied, and warehouses empty. In one year foreign commerce
decreased in value from $108,000,000 to $22,000,000.

After fifteen months Congress repealed the law, substituting a
Non-Intercourse Act which suspended trade with Great Britain and
France until their offending orders were repealed. All such
measures were doomed to be futile. Words and documents, threats
and arguments could not intimidate adversaries who paid heed to
nothing else than broadsides from line-of-battle ships or the
charge of battalions. With other countries trade could now be
opened. Hopefully the hundreds of American ships long pent-up in
harbor winged it deep-laden for the Baltic, the North Sea, and
the Mediterranean. But few of them ever returned. Like a brigand,
Napoleon lured them into a trap and closed it, advising the
Prussian Government, which was under his heel: "Let the American
ships enter your ports. Seize them afterward. You shall deliver
the cargoes to me and I will take them in part payment of the
Prussian war debt."

Similar orders were executed wherever his mailed fist reached,
the pretext being reprisal for the Non-Intercourse Act. More than
two hundred American vessels were lost to their owners, a
ten-million-dollar robbery for which France paid an indemnity of
five millions after twenty years. It was the grand climax of the
exploitation which American commerce had been compelled to endure
through two centuries of tumult and bloodshed afloat. There
lingers today in many a coastwise town an inherited dislike for
France. It is a legacy of that far-off catastrophe which beggared
many a household and filled the streets with haggard, broken

It was said of this virile merchant marine that it throve under
pillage and challenged confiscation. Statistics confirm this
brave paradox. In 1810, while Napoleon was doing his worst, the
deep-sea tonnage amounted to 981,019; and it is a singular fact
that in proportion to population this was to stand as the high
tide of American foreign shipping until thirty-seven years later.
It ebbed during the War of 1812 but rose again with peace and a
real and lasting freedom of the seas.

This second war with England was fought in behalf of merchant
seamen and they played a nobly active part in it. The ruthless
impressment of seamen was the most conspicuous provocation, but
it was only one of many. Two years before hostilities were openly
declared, British frigates were virtually blockading the port of
New York, halting and searching ships as they pleased, making
prizes of those with French destinations, stealing sailors to
fill their crews, waging war in everything but name, and enjoying
the sport of it. A midshipman of one of them merrily related:
"Every morning at daybreak we set about arresting the progress of
all the vessels we saw, firing off guns to the right and left to
make every ship that was running in heave to or wait until we had
leisure to send a boat on board to see, in our lingo, what she
was made of. I have frequently known a dozen and sometimes a
couple of dozen ships lying a league or two off the port, losing
their fair wind, their tide, and worse than all, their market for
many hours, sometimes the whole day, before our search was

The right of a belligerent to search neutral vessels for
contraband of war or evidence of a forbidden destination was not
the issue at stake. This was a usage sanctioned by such
international law as then existed. It was the alleged right to
search for English seamen in neutral vessels that Great Britain
exercised, not only on the high seas but even in territorial
waters, which the American Government refused to recognize. In
vain the Government had endeavored to protect its sailors from
impressment by means of certificates of birth and citizenship.
These documents were jeered at by the English naval lieutenant
and his boarding gang, who kidnapped from the forecastle such
stalwart tars as pleased their fancy. The victim who sought to
inform an American consul of his plight was lashed to the rigging
and flogged by a boatswain's mate. The files of the State
Department, in 1807, had contained the names of six thousand
American sailors who were as much slaves and prisoners aboard
British men-of-war as if they had been made captives by the Dey
of Algiers. One of these incidents, occurring on the ship Betsy,
Captain Nathaniel Silsbee, while at Madras in 1795, will serve to
show how this brutal business was done.

"I received a note early one morning from my chief mate that one
of my sailors, Edward Hulen, a fellow townsman whom I had known
from boyhood, had been impressed and taken on board of a British
frigate then being in port .... I immediately went on board my
ship and having there learned all the facts in the case,
proceeded to the frigate, where I found Hulen and in his presence
was informed by the first lieutenant of the frigate that he had
taken Hulen from my ship under a peremptory order from his
commander to visit every American ship in port and take from each
of them one or more of their seamen .... I then called upon
Captain Cook, who commanded the frigate, and sought first by all
the persuasive means that I was capable of using and ultimately
by threats to appeal to the Government of the place to obtain
Hulen's release, but in vain . . . . It remained for me only to
recommend Hulen to that protection of the lieutenant which a good
seaman deserves, and to submit to the high-handed insult thus
offered to the flag of my country which I had no means either of
preventing or resisting."

After several years' detention in the British Navy, Hulen
returned to Salem and lived to serve on board privateers in the
second war with England.

Several years' detention! This was what it meant to be a pressed
man, perhaps with wife and children at home who had no news of
him nor any wages to support them. At the time of the Nore Mutiny
in 1797, there were ships in the British fleet whose men had not
been paid off for eight, ten, twelve, and in one instance fifteen
years. These wooden walls of England were floating hells, and a
seaman was far better off in jail. He was flogged if he sulked
and again if he smiled flogged until the blood ran for a hundred
offenses as trivial as these. His food was unspeakably bad and
often years passed before he was allowed to set foot ashore.
Decent men refused to volunteer and the ships were filled with
the human scum and refuse caught in the nets of the press-gangs
of Liverpool, London, and Bristol.

It is largely forgotten or unknown that this system of recruiting
was as intolerable in England as it was in the United States and
as fiercely resented. Oppressive and unjust, it was nevertheless
endured as the bulwark of England's defense against her foes. It
ground under its heel the very people it protected and made them
serfs in order to keep them free. No man of the common people who
lived near the coast of England was safe from the ruffianly
press-gangs nor any merchant ship that entered her ports. It was
the most cruel form of conscription ever devised. Mob violence
opposed it again and again, and British East Indiamen fought the
King's tenders sooner than be stripped of their crews and left
helpless. Feeling in America against impressment was never more
highly inflamed, even on the brink of the War of 1812, than it
had long been in England itself, although the latter country was
unable to rise and throw it off. Here are the words, not of an
angry American patriot but of a modern English historian writing
of his own nation:* "To the people the impress was an axe laid at
the foot of the tree. There was here no question, as with trade,
of the mere loss of hands who could be replaced. Attacking the
family in the person of its natural supporter and protector, the
octopus system of which the gangs were the tentacles, struck at
the very foundations of domestic life and brought to thousands of
households a poverty as bitter and a grief as poignant as death.
. . . The mutiny at the Nore brought the people face to face with
the appalling risks attendant on wholesale pressing while the war
with America, incurred for the sole purpose of upholding the
right to press, taught them the lengths to which their rulers
were still prepared to go in order to enslave them."*

* The Press Gang Afloat and Ashore, by J. R. Hutchinson.


American privateering in 1812 was even bolder and more successful
than during the Revolution. It was the work of a race of merchant
seamen who had found themselves, who were in the forefront of the
world's trade and commerce, and who were equipped to challenge
the enemy's pretensions to supremacy afloat. Once more there was
a mere shadow of a navy to protect them, but they had learned to
trust their own resources. They would send to sea fewer of the
small craft, slow and poorly armed, and likely to meet disaster.
They were capable of manning what was, in fact, a private navy
comprised of fast and formidable cruisers. The intervening
generation had advanced the art of building and handling ships
beyond all rivalry, and England grudgingly acknowledged their
ability. The year of 1812 was indeed but a little distance from
the resplendent modern era of the Atlantic packet and the Cape
Horn clipper.

Already these Yankee deep-water ships could be recognized afar by
their lofty spars and snowy clouds of cotton duck beneath which
the slender hull was a thin black line. Far up to the gleaming
royals they carried sail in winds so strong that the lumbering
English East Indiamen were hove to or snugged down to reefed
topsails. It was not recklessness but better seamanship. The
deeds of the Yankee privateers of 1812 prove this assertion to
the hilt. Their total booty amounted to thirteen hundred prizes
taken over all the Seven Seas, with a loss to England of forty
million dollars in ships and cargoes. There were, all told, more
than five hundred of them in commission, but New England no
longer monopolized this dashing trade. Instead of Salem it was
Baltimore that furnished the largest fleet--fifty-eight vessels,
many of them the fast ships and schooners which were to make the
port famous as the home of the Baltimore clipper model. All down
the coast, out of Norfolk, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, and
New Orleans, sallied the privateers to show that theirs was, in
truth, a seafaring nation ardently united in a common cause.

Again and more vehemently the people of England raised their
voices in protest and lament, for these saucy sea-raiders fairly
romped to and fro in the Channel, careless of pursuit, conducting
a blockade of their own until London was paying the famine price
of fifty-eight dollars a barrel for flour, and it was publicly
declared mortifying and distressing that "a horde of American
cruisers should be allowed, unresisted and unmolested, to take,
burn, or sink our own vessels in our own inlets and almost in
sight of our own harbors." It was Captain Thomas Boyle in the
Chasseur of Baltimore who impudently sent ashore his proclamation
of a blockade of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland,
which he requested should be posted in Lloyd's Coffee House.

A wonderfully fine figure of a fighting seaman was this Captain
Boyle, with an Irish sense of humor which led him to haunt the
enemy's coast and to make sport of the frigates which tried to
catch him. His Chasseur was considered one of the ablest
privateers of the war and the most beautiful vessel ever seen in
Baltimore. A fleet and graceful schooner with a magical turn for
speed, she mounted sixteen long twelve-pounders and carried a
hundred officers, seamen, and marines, and was never outsailed in
fair winds or foul. "Out of sheer wantonness," said an admirer,
"she sometimes affected to chase the enemy's men-of-war of far
superior force." Once when surrounded by two frigates and two
naval brigs, she slipped through and was gone like a phantom.
During his first cruise in the Chasseur, Captain Boyle captured
eighteen valuable merchantmen. It was such defiant rovers as he
that provoked the "Morning Chronicle" of London to splutter "that
the whole coast of Ireland from Wexford round by Cape Clear
to Carrickfergus, should have been for above a month under the
unresisted domination of a few petty fly-by-nights from the
blockaded ports of the United States is a grievance equally
intolerable and disgraceful."

This was when the schooner Syren had captured His Majesty's
cutter Landrail while crossing the Irish Sea with dispatches;
when the Governor Tompkins burned fourteen English vessels in the
English Channel in quick succession; when the Harpy of Baltimore
cruised for three months off the Irish and English coasts and in
the Bay of Biscay, and returned to Boston filled with spoils,
including a half million dollars of money; when the Prince de
Neuchatel hovered at her leisure in the Irish Channel and made
coasting trade impossible; and when the Young Wasp of
Philadelphia cruised for six months in those same waters.

Two of the privateers mentioned were first-class fighting ships
whose engagements were as notable, in their way, as those of the
American frigates which made the war as illustrious by sea as it
was ignominious by land. While off Havana in 1815, Captain Boyle
met the schooner St. Lawrence of the British Navy, a fair match
in men and guns. The Chasseur could easily have run away but
stood up to it and shot the enemy to pieces in fifteen minutes.
Brave and courteous were these two commanders, and Lieutenant
Gordon of the St. Lawrence gave his captor a letter which read,
in part: "In the event of Captain Boyle's becoming a prisoner of
war to any British cruiser I consider it a tribute justly due to
his humane and generous treatment of myself, the surviving
officers, and crew of His Majesty's late schooner St. Lawrence,
to state that his obliging attention and watchful solicitude to
preserve our effects and render us comfortable during the short
time we were in his possession were such as justly entitle him to
the indulgence and respect of every British subject."

The Prince de Neuchatel had the honor of beating off the attack
of a forty-gun British frigate--an exploit second only to that of
the General Armstrong in the harbor of Fayal. This privateer with
a foreign name hailed from New York and was so fortunate as to
capture for her owners three million dollars' worth of British
merchandise. With Captain J. Ordronaux on the quarterdeck, she
was near Nantucket Shoals at noon on October 11, 1814, when a
strange sail was discovered. As this vessel promptly gave chase,
Captain Ordronaux guessed-and as events proved correctly--that
she must be a British frigate. She turned out to be the Endymion.
The privateer had in tow a prize which she was anxious to get
into port, but she was forced to cast off the hawser late in the
afternoon and make every effort to escape.

The breeze died with the sun and the vessels were close inshore.
Becalmed, the privateer and the frigate anchored a quarter of a
mile apart. Captain Ordronaux might have put his crew on the
beach in boats and abandoned his ship. This was the reasonable
course, for, as he had sent in several prize crews, he was
short-handed and could muster no more than thirty-seven men and
boys. The Endymion, on the other hand, had a complement of three
hundred and fifty sailors and marines, and in size and fighting
power she was in the class of the American frigates President and
Constitution. Quite unreasonably, however, the master of the
privateer decided to await events.

The unexpected occurred shortly after dusk when several boats
loaded to the gunwales with a boarding party crept away from the
frigate. Five of them, with one hundred and twenty men, made a
concerted attack at different points, alongside and under the bow
and stern. Captain Ordronaux had told his crew that he would blow
up the ship with all hands before striking his colors, and they
believed him implicitly. This was the hero who was described as
"a Jew by persuasion, a Frenchman by birth, an American for
convenience, and so diminutive in stature as to make him appear
ridiculous, in the eyes of others, even for him to enforce
authority among a hardy, weatherbeaten crew should they do aught
against his will." He was big enough, nevertheless, for this
night's bloody work, and there was no doubt about his authority.
While the British tried to climb over the bulwarks, his
thirty-seven men and boys fought like raging devils, with knives,
pistols, cutlases, with their bare fists and their teeth. A few
of the enemy gained the deck, but the privateersmen turned and
killed them. Others leaped aboard and were gradually driving the
Americans back, when the skipper ran to the hatch above the
powder magazine, waving a lighted match and swearing to drop it
in if his crew retreated one step further. Either way the issue
seemed desperate. But again they took their skipper's word for it
and rallied for a bloody struggle which soon swept the decks.

No more than twenty minutes had passed and the battle was won.
The enemy was begging for quarter. One boat had been sunk, three
had drifted away filled with dead and wounded, and the fifth was
captured with thirty-six men in it of whom only eight were
unhurt. The American loss was seven killed and twenty-four
wounded, or thirty-one of her crew of thirty-seven. Yet they had
not given up the ship. The frigate Endymion concluded that once
was enough, and next morning the Prince de Neuchatel bore away
for Boston with a freshening breeze.

Those were merchant seamen also who held the General Armstrong
against a British squadron through that moonlit night in Fayal
Roads, inflicting heavier losses than were suffered in any naval
action of the war. It is a story Homeric, almost incredible in
its details and so often repeated that it can be only touched
upon in this brief chronicle. The leader was a kindly featured
man who wore a tall hat, side-whiskers, and a tail coat. His
portrait might easily have served for that of a New England
deacon of the old school. No trace of the swashbuckler in this
Captain Samuel Reid, who had been a thrifty, respected merchant
skipper until offered the command of a privateer.

Touching at the Azores for water and provisions in September,
1814, he was trapped in port by the great seventy-four-gun ship
of the line Plantagenet, the thirty-eight-gun frigate Rota, and
the warbrig Carnation. Though he was in neutral water, they paid
no heed to this but determined to destroy a Yankee schooner which
had played havoc with their shipping. Four hundred men in twelve
boats, with a howitzer in the bow of each boat, were sent against
the General Armstrong in one flotilla. But not a man of the four
hundred gained her deck. Said an eyewitness: "The Americans
fought with great firmness but more like bloodthirsty savages
than anything else. They rushed into the boats sword in hand and
put every soul to death as far as came within their power. Some
of the boats were left without a single man to row them, others
with three or four. The most that any one returned with was about
ten. Several boats floated ashore full of dead bodies . . . . For
three days after the battle we were employed in burying the dead
that washed on shore in the surf."

This tragedy cost the British squadron one hundred and twenty men
in killed and one hundred and thirty in wounded, while Captain
Reid lost only two dead and had seven wounded. He was compelled
to retreat ashore next day when the ships stood in to sink his
schooner with their big guns, but the honors of war belonged to
him and well-earned were the popular tributes when he saw home
again, nor was there a word too much in the florid toast:
"Captain Reid--his valor has shed a blaze of renown upon the
character of our seamen, and won for himself a laurel of eternal

It is not to glorify war nor to rekindle an ancient feud that
such episodes as these are recalled to mind. These men, and
others like them, did their duty as it came to them, and they
were sailors of whom the whole Anglo-Saxon race might be proud.
In the crisis they were Americans, not privateersmen in quest of
plunder, and they would gladly die sooner than haul down the
Stars and Stripes. The England against which they fought was not
the England of today. Their honest grievances, inflicted by a
Government too intent upon crushing Napoleon to be fair to
neutrals, have long ago been obliterated. This War of 1812
cleared the vision of the Mother Country and forever taught her
Government that the people of the Republic were, in truth, free
and independent.

This lesson was driven home not only by the guns of the
Constitution and the United States, but also by the hundreds of
privateers and the forty thousand able seamen who were eager to
sail in them. They found no great place in naval history, but
England knew their prowess and respected it. Every schoolboy is
familiar with the duels of the Wasp and the Frolic, of the
Enterprise and the Boxer; but how many people know what happened
when the privateer Decatur met and whipped the Dominica of the
British Navy to the southward of Bermuda?

Captain Diron was the man who did it as he was cruising out of
Charleston, South Carolina, in the summer of 1813. Sighting an
armed schooner slightly heavier than his own vessel, he made for
her and was unperturbed when the royal ensign streamed from her
gaff. Clearing for action, he closed the hatches so that none of
his men could hide below. The two schooners fought in the veiling
smoke until the American could ram her bowsprit over the other's
stern and pour her whole crew aboard. In the confined space of
the deck, almost two hundred men and lads were slashing and
stabbing and shooting amid yells and huzzas. Lieutenant Barrette,
the English commander, only twenty-five years old, was mortally
hurt and every other officer, excepting the surgeon and one
midshipman, was killed or wounded. Two-thirds of the crew were
down but still they refused to surrender, and Captain Diron had
to pull down the colors with his own hands. Better discipline and
marksmanship had won the day for him and his losses were
comparatively small.

Men of his description were apt to think first of glory and let
the profits go hang, for there was no cargo to be looted in a
King's ship. Other privateersmen, however, were not so valiant or
quarrelsome, and there was many a one tied up in London River or
the Mersey which had been captured without very savage
resistance. Yet on the whole it is fair to say that the private
armed ships outfought and outsailed the enemy as impressively as
did the few frigates of the American Navy.

There was a class of them which exemplified the rapid development
of the merchant marine in a conspicuous manner--large commerce
destroyers too swift to be caught, too powerful to fear the
smaller cruisers. They were extremely profitable business
ventures, entrusted to the command of the most audacious and
skillful masters that could be engaged. Of this type was the ship
America of Salem, owned by the Crowninshields, which made
twenty-six prizes and brought safely into port property which
realized more than a million dollars. Of this the owners and
shareholders received six hundred thousand dollars as dividends.
She was a stately vessel, built for the East India trade, and was
generally conceded to be the fastest privateer afloat. For this
service the upper deck was removed and the sides were filled in
with stout oak timber as an armored protection, and longer yards
and royal masts gave her a huge area of sail. Her crew of one
hundred and fifty men had the exacting organization of a
man-of-war, including, it is interesting to note, three
lieutenants, three mates, a sailingmaster, surgeon, purser,
captain of marines, gunners, seven prize masters, armorer,
drummer, and a fifer. Discipline was severe, and flogging was the
penalty for breaking the regulations.

During her four cruises, the America swooped among the plodding
merchantmen like a falcon on a dovecote, the sight of her
frightening most of her prey into submission, with a brush now
and then to exercise the crews of the twenty-two guns, and
perhaps a man or two hit. Long after the war, Captain James
Chever, again a peaceful merchant mariner, met at Valparaiso, Sir
James Thompson, commander of the British frigate Dublin, which
had been fitted out in 1813 for the special purpose of chasing
the America. In the course of a cordial chat between the two
captains the Briton remarked:

"I was once almost within gun-shot of that infernal Yankee
skimming-dish, just as night came on. By daylight she had
outsailed the Dublin so devilish fast that she was no more than a
speck on the horizon. By the way, I wonder if you happen to know
the name of the beggar that was master of her."

"I'm the beggar," chuckled Captain Chever, and they drank each
other's health on the strength of it.

Although the Treaty of Ghent omitted mention of the impressment
of sailors, which had been the burning issue of the war, there
were no more offenses of this kind. American seafarers were safe
against kidnapping on their own decks, and they had won this
security by virtue of their own double-shotted guns. At the same
time England lifted the curse of the press-gang from her own
people, who refused longer to endure it.

There seemed no reason why the two nations, having finally fought
their differences to a finish, should not share the high seas in
peaceful rivalry; but the irritating problems of protection and
reciprocity survived to plague and hamper commerce. It was
difficult for England to overcome the habit of guarding her trade
against foreign invasion. Agreeing with the United States to
waive all discriminating duties between the ports of the two
countries--this was as much as she was at that time willing to
yield. She still insisted upon regulating the trade of her West
Indies and Canada. American East Indiamen were to be limited to
direct voyages and could not bring cargoes to Europe. Though this
discrimination angered Congress, to which it appeared as lopsided
reciprocity, the old duties were nevertheless repealed; and then,
presto! the British colonial policy of exclusion was enforced and
eighty thousand tons of American shipping became idle because the
West India market was closed.

There followed several years of unhappy wrangling, a revival of
the old smuggling spirit, the risk of seizure and confiscations,
and shipping merchants with long faces talking ruin. The theory
of free trade versus protection was as debatable and opinions
were as conflicting then as now. Some were for retaliation,
others for conciliation; and meanwhile American shipmasters went
about their business, with no room for theories in their honest
heads, and secured more and more of the world's trade. Curiously
enough, the cries of calamity in the United States were echoed
across the water, where the "London Times" lugubriously
exclaimed: "The shipping interest, the cradle of our navy, is
half ruined. Our commercial monopoly exists no longer; and
thousands of our manufacturers are starving or seeking redemption
in distant lands. We have closed the Western Indies against
America from feelings of commercial rivalry. Its active seamen
have already engrossed an important branch of our carrying trade
to the Eastern Indies. Her starred flag is now conspicuous on
every sea and will soon defy our thunder."

It was not until 1849 that Great Britain threw overboard her long
catalogue of protective navigation laws which had been piling up
since the time of Cromwell, and declared for free trade afloat.
Meanwhile the United States had drifted in the same direction,
barring foreign flags from its coastwise shipping but offering
full exemption from all discriminating duties and tonnage duties
to every maritime nation which should respond in like manner.
This latter legislation was enacted in 1828 and definitely
abandoned the doctrine of protection in so far as it applied to
American ships and sailors. For a generation thereafter, during
which ocean rivalry was a battle royal of industry, enterprise,
and skill, the United States was paramount and her merchant
marine attained its greatest successes.

There is one school of modern economists who hold that the seeds
of decay and downfall were planted by this adoption of free trade
in 1828, while another faction of gentlemen quite as estimable
and authoritative will quote facts and figures by the ream to
prove that governmental policies had nothing whatever to do with
the case. These adversaries have written and are still writing
many volumes in which they almost invariably lose their tempers.
Partisan politics befog the tariff issue afloat as well as
ashore, and one's course is not easy to chart. It is
indisputable, however, that so long as Yankee ships were better,
faster, and more economically managed, they won a commanding
share of the world's trade. When they ceased to enjoy these
qualities of superiority, they lost the trade and suffered for
lack of protection to overcome the handicap.

The War of 1812 was the dividing line between two eras of salt
water history. On the farther side lay the turbulent centuries of
hazard and bloodshed and piracy, of little ships and indomitable
seamen who pursued their voyages in the reek of gunpowder and of
legalized pillage by the stronger, and of merchant adventurers
who explored new markets wherever there was water enough to float
their keels. They belonged to the rude and lusty youth of a world
which lived by the sword and which gloried in action. Even into
the early years of the nineteenth century these mariners still
sailed--Elizabethan in deed and spirit.

On the hither side of 1812 were seas unvexed by the privateer and
the freebooter. The lateen-rigged corsairs had been banished from
their lairs in the harbors of Algiers, and ships needed to show
no broadsides of cannon in the Atlantic trade. For a time they
carried the old armament among the lawless islands of the Orient
and off Spanish-American coasts where the vocation of piracy made
its last stand, but the great trade routes of the globe were
peaceful highways for the white-winged fleets of all nations. The
American seamen who had fought for the right to use the open sea
were now to display their prowess in another way and in a romance
of achievement that was no less large and thrilling.


It was on the stormy Atlantic, called by sailormen the Western
Ocean, that the packet ships won the first great contest for
supremacy and knew no rivals until the coming of the age of steam
made them obsolete. Their era antedated that of the clipper and
was wholly distinct. The Atlantic packet was the earliest liner:
she made regular sailings and carried freight and passengers
instead of trading on her owners' account as was the ancient
custom. Not for her the tranquillity of tropic seas and the
breath of the Pacific trades, but an almost incessant battle with
swinging surges and boisterous winds, for she was driven harder
in all weathers and seasons than any other ships that sailed. In
such battering service as this the lines of the clipper were too
extremely fine, her spars too tall and slender. The packet was by
no means slow and if the list of her record passages was superb,
it was because they were accomplished by masters who would sooner
let a sail blow away than take it in and who raced each other
every inch of the way.

They were small ships of three hundred to five hundred tons when
the famous Black Ball Line was started in 1816. From the first
they were the ablest vessels that could be built, full-bodied and
stoutly rigged. They were the only regular means of communication
between the United States and Europe and were entrusted with the
mails, specie, government dispatches, and the lives of eminent
personages. Blow high, blow low, one of the Black Ball packets
sailed from New York for Liverpool on the first and sixteenth of
every month. Other lines were soon competing--the Red Star and
the Swallow Tail out of New York, and fine ships from Boston and
Philadelphia. With the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 the
commercial greatness of New York was assured, and her Atlantic
packets increased in size and numbers, averaging a thousand tons
each in the zenith of their glory.

England, frankly confessing herself beaten and unable to compete
with such ships as these, changed her attitude from hostility to
open admiration. She surrendered the Atlantic packet trade to
American enterprise, and British merchantmen sought their gains
in other waters. The Navigation Laws still protected their
commerce in the Far East and they were content to jog at a more
sedate gait than these weltering packets whose skippers were
striving for passages of a fortnight, with the forecastle doors
nailed fast and the crew compelled to stay on deck from Sandy
Hook to Fastnet Rock.

No blustering, rum-drinking tarpaulin was the captain who sailed
the Independence, the Ocean Queen, or the Dreadnought but a man
very careful of his manners and his dress, who had been selected
from the most highly educated merchant service in the world. He
was attentive to the comfort of his passengers and was presumed
to have no other duties on deck than to give the proper orders to
his first officer and work out his daily reckoning. It was an
exacting, nerve-racking ordeal, however, demanding a sleepless
vigilance, courage, and cool judgment of the first order. The
compensations were large. As a rule, he owned a share of the ship
and received a percentage of the freights and passage money. His
rank when ashore was more exalted than can be conveyed in mere
words. Any normal New York boy would sooner have been captain of
a Black Ball packet than President of the United States, and he
knew by heart the roaring chantey

It is of a flash packet,
A packet of fame.
She is bound to New York
And the Dreadnought's her name.
She is bound to the west'ard
Where the stormy winds blow.
Bound away to the west'ard,
Good Lord, let her go.

There were never more than fifty of these ships afloat, a
trifling fraction of the American deep-water tonnage of that day,
but the laurels they won were immortal. Not only did the English
mariner doff his hat to them, but a Parliamentary committee
reported in 1837 that "the American ships frequenting the ports
of England are stated by several witnesses to be superior to
those of a similar class among the ships of Great Britain, the
commanders and officers being generally considered to be more
competent as seamen and navigators and more uniformly persons of
education than the commanders and officers of British ships of a
similar size and class trading from England to America."

It was no longer a rivalry with the flags of other nations but an
unceasing series of contests among the packets of the several
lines, and their records aroused far more popular excitement than
when the great steamers of this century were chipping off the
minutes, at an enormous coal consumption, toward a five-day
passage. Theirs were tests of real seamanship, and there were few
disasters. The packet captain scorned a towboat to haul him into
the stream if the wind served fair to set all plain sail as his
ship lay at her wharf. Driving her stern foremost, he braced his
yards and swung her head to sea, clothing the masts with soaring
canvas amid the farewell cheers of the crowds which lined the

A typical match race was sailed between the Black Ball liner
Columbus, Captain De Peyster, and the Sheridan, Captain Russell,
of the splendid Dramatic fleet, in 1837. The stake was $10,000 a
side, put up by the owners and their friends. The crews were
picked men who were promised a bonus of fifty dollars each for
winning. The ships sailed side by side in February, facing the
wild winter passage, and the Columbus reached Liverpool in the
remarkable time of sixteen days, two days ahead of the Sheridan.

The crack packets were never able to reel off more than twelve or
fourteen knots under the most favorable conditions, but they were
kept going night and day, and some of them maintained their
schedules almost with the regularity of the early steamers. The
Montezuma, the Patrick Henry, and the Southampton crossed from
New York to Liverpool in fifteen days, and for years the
Independence held the record of fourteen days and six hours. It
remained for the Dreadnought, Captain Samuel Samuels, in 1859, to
set the mark for packet ships to Liverpool at thirteen days and
eight hours.

Meanwhile the era of the matchless clipper had arrived and it was
one of these ships which achieved the fastest Atlantic passage
ever made by a vessel under sail. The James Baines was built for
English owners to be used in the Australian trade. She was a full
clipper of 2515 tons, twice the size of the ablest packets, and
was praised as "the most perfect sailing ship that ever entered
the river Mersey." Bound out from Boston to Liverpool, she
anchored after twelve days and six hours at sea.

There was no lucky chance in this extraordinary voyage, for this
clipper was the work of the greatest American builder, Donald
McKay, who at the same time designed the Lightning for the same
owners. This clipper, sent across the Atlantic on her maiden
trip, left in her foaming wake a twenty-four hour run which no
steamer had even approached and which was not equaled by the
fastest express steamers until twenty-five years later when the
greyhound Arizona ran eighteen knots in one hour on her trial
trip. This is a rather startling statement when one reflects that
the Arizona of the Guion line seems to a generation still living
a modern steamer and record-holder. It is even more impressive
when coupled with the fact that, of the innumerable passenger
steamers traversing the seas today, only a few are capable of a
speed of more than eighteen knots.

This clipper Lightning did her 436 sea miles in one day, or
eighteen and a half knots, better than twenty land miles an hour,
and this is how the surpassing feat was entered in her log, or
official journal: "March 1. Wind south. Strong gales; bore away
for the North Channel, carrying away the foretopsail and lost
jib; hove the log several times and found the ship going through
the water at the rate of 18 to 18 1/2 knots; lee rail under water
and rigging slack. Distance run in twenty-four hours, 436 miles."
The passage was remarkably fast, thirteen days and nineteen and a
half hours from Boston Light, but the spectacular feature was
this day's work. It is a fitting memorial of the Yankee clipper,
and, save only a cathedral, the loveliest, noblest fabric ever
wrought by man's handiwork.

The clipper, however, was a stranger in the Atlantic and her
chosen courses were elsewhere. The records made by the James
Baines and the Lightning were no discredit to the stanch,
unconquerable packet ships which, year in and year out, held
their own with the steamer lines until just before the Civil War.
It was the boast of Captain Samuels that on her first voyage in
1853 the Dreadnought reached Sandy Hook as the Cunarder Canada,
which had left Liverpool a day ahead of her, was passing in by
Boston Light. Twice she carried the latest news to Europe, and
many seasoned travelers preferred her to the mail steamers.

The masters and officers who handled these ships with such
magnificent success were true-blue American seamen, inspired by
the finest traditions, successors of the privateersmen of 1812.
The forecastles, however, were filled with English, Irish, and
Scandinavians. American lads shunned these ships and, in fact,
the ambitious youngster of the coastwise towns began to cease
following the sea almost a century ago. It is sometimes forgotten
that the period during which the best American manhood sought a
maritime career lay between the Revolution and the War of 1812.
Thereafter the story became more and more one of American ships
and less of American sailors, excepting on the quarter-deck.

In later years the Yankee crews were to be found in the ports
where the old customs survived, the long trading voyage, the
community of interest in cabin and forecastle, all friends and
neighbors together, with opportunities for profit and
advancement. Such an instance was that of the Salem ship George,
built at Salem in 1814 and owned by the great merchant, Joseph
Peabody. For twenty-two years she sailed in the East India trade,
making twenty-one round voyages, with an astonishing regularity
which would be creditable for a modern cargo tramp. Her sailors
were native-born, seldom more than twenty-one years old, and most
of them were studying navigation. Forty-five of them became
shipmasters, twenty of them chief mates, and six second mates.
This reliable George was, in short, a nautical training-school of
the best kind and any young seaman with the right stuff in him
was sure of advancement.

Seven thousand sailors signed articles in the counting-room of
Joseph Peabody and went to sea in his eighty ships which flew the
house-flag in Calcutta, Canton, Sumatra, and the ports of Europe
until 1844. These were mostly New England boys who followed in
the footsteps of their fathers because deep-water voyages were
still "adventures" and a career was possible under a system which
was both congenial and paternal. Brutal treatment was the rare
exception. Flogging still survived in the merchant service and
was defended by captains otherwise humane, but a skipper, no
matter how short-tempered, would be unlikely to abuse a youth
whose parents might live on the same street with him and attend
the same church.

The Atlantic packets brought a different order of things, which
was to be continued through the clipper era. Yankee sailors
showed no love for the cold and storms of the Western Ocean in
these foaming packets which were remorselessly driven for speed.
The masters therefore took what they could get. All the work of
rigging, sail-making, scraping, painting, and keeping a ship in
perfect repair was done in port instead of at sea, as was the
habit in the China and California clippers, and the lore and
training of the real deep-water sailor became superfluous. The
crew of a packet made sail or took it in with the two-fisted
mates to show them how.

From these conditions was evolved the "Liverpool packet rat,"
hairy and wild and drunken, the prey of crimps and dive-keepers
ashore, brave and toughened to every hardship afloat, climbing
aloft in his red shirt, dungaree breeches, and sea-boots, with a
snow-squall whistling, the rigging sheathed with ice, and the old
ship burying her bows in the thundering combers. It was the
doctrine of his officers that he could not be ruled by anything
short of violence, and the man to tame and hammer him was the
"bucko" second mate, the test of whose fitness was that he could
whip his weight in wild cats. When he became unable to maintain
discipline with fists and belaying-pins, he was deposed for a
better man.

Your seasoned packet rat sought the ship with a hard name by
choice. His chief ambition was to kick in the ribs or pound
senseless some invincible bucko mate. There was provocation
enough on both sides. Officers had to take their ships to sea and
strain every nerve to make a safe and rapid passage with crews
which were drunk and useless when herded aboard, half of them
greenhorns, perhaps, who could neither reef nor steer. Brutality
was the one argument able to enforce instant obedience among men
who respected nothing else. As a class the packet sailors became
more and more degraded because their life was intolerable to
decent men. It followed therefore that the quarterdeck employed
increasing severity, and, as the officer's authority in this
respect was unchecked and unlimited, it was easy to mistake the
harshest tyranny for wholesome discipline.

Reenforcing the bucko mate was the tradition that the sailor was
a dog, a different human species from the landsman, without laws
and usages to protect him. This was a tradition which, for
centuries, had been fostered in the naval service, and it
survived among merchant sailors as an unhappy anachronism even
into the twentieth century, when an American Congress was
reluctant to bestow upon a seaman the decencies of existence
enjoyed by the poorest laborer ashore.

It is in the nature of a paradox that the brilliant success of
the packet ships in dominating the North Atlantic trade should
have been a factor in the decline of the nation's maritime
prestige and resources. Through a period of forty years the pride
and confidence in these ships, their builders, and the men who
sailed them, was intense and universal. They were a superlative
product of the American genius, which still displayed the
energies of a maritime race. On other oceans the situation was no
less gratifying. American ships were the best and cheapest in the
world. The business held the confidence of investors and
commanded an abundance of capital. It was assumed, as late as
1840, that the wooden sailing ship would continue to be the
supreme type of deep-water vessel because the United States
possessed the greatest stores of timber, the most skillful
builders and mechanics, and the ablest merchant navigators. No
industry was ever more efficiently organized and conducted.
American ships were most in demand and commanded the highest
freights. The tonnage in foreign trade increased to a maximum of
904,476 in 1845. There was no doubt in the minds of the shrewdest
merchants and owners and builders of the time that Great Britain
would soon cease to be the mistress of the seas and must content
herself with second place.

It was not considered ominous when, in 1838, the Admiralty had
requested proposals for a steam service to America. This demand
was prompted by the voyages of the Sirius and Great Western,
wooden-hulled sidewheelers which thrashed along at ten knots'
speed and crossed the Atlantic in fourteen to seventeen days.
This was a much faster rate than the average time of the Yankee
packets, but America was unperturbed and showed no interest in
steam. In 1839 the British Government awarded an Atlantic mail
contract, with an annual subsidy of $425,000 to Samuel Cunard and
his associates, and thereby created the most famous of the
Atlantic steamship companies.

Four of these liners began running in 1840--an event which
foretold the doom of the packet fleets, though the warning was
almost unheeded in New York and Boston. Four years later Enoch
Train was establishing a new packet line to Liverpool with the
largest, finest ships built up to that time, the Washington
Irving, Anglo-American, Ocean Monarch, Anglo-Saxon, and Daniel
Webster. Other prominent shipping houses were expanding their
service and were launching noble packets until 1853. Meanwhile
the Cunard steamers were increasing in size and speed, and the
service was no longer an experiment.

American capital now began to awaken from its dreams, and Edward
K. Collins, managing owner of the Dramatic line of packets,
determined to challenge the Cunarders at their own game. Aided by
the Government to the extent of $385,000 a year as subsidy, he
put afloat the four magnificent steamers, Atlantic, Pacific,
Baltic, and Arctic, which were a day faster than the Cunarders in
crossing, and reduced the voyage to nine and ten days. The
Collins line, so auspiciously begun in 1850, and promising to
give the United States the supremacy in steam which it had won
under sail, was singularly unfortunate and short-lived. The
Arctic and the Pacific were lost at sea, and Congress withdrew
its financial support after five years. Deprived of this aid, Mr.
Collins was unable to keep the enterprise afloat in competition
with the subsidized Cunard fleet. In this manner and with little
further effort by American interests to compete for the prize,
the dominion of the Atlantic passed into British hands.

The packet ships had held on too long. It had been a stirring
episode for the passengers to cheer in mid-ocean when the lofty
pyramids of canvas swept grandly by some wallowing steamer and
left her far astern, but in the fifties this gallant picture
became less frequent, and a sooty banner of smoke on the horizon
proclaimed the new era and the obliteration of all the rushing
life and beauty of the tall ship under sail. Slow to realize and
acknowledge defeat, persisting after the steamers were capturing
the cabin passenger and express freight traffic, the American
ship-owners could not visualize this profound transformation.
Their majestic clippers still surpassed all rivals in the East
India and China trade and were racing around the Horn, making new
records for speed and winning fresh nautical triumphs for the
Stars and Stripes.

This reluctance to change the industrial and commercial habits of
generations of American shipowners was one of several causes for
the decadence which was hastened by the Civil War. For once the
astute American was caught napping by his British cousin, who was
swayed by no sentimental values and showed greater adaptability
in adopting the iron steamer with the screw propeller as the
inevitable successor of the wooden ship with arching topsails.

The golden age of the American merchant marine was that of the
square-rigged ship, intricate, capricious, and feminine in her
beauty, with forty nimble seamen in the forecastle, not that of
the metal trough with an engine in the middle and mechanics
sweating in her depths. When the Atlantic packet was compelled to
abdicate, it was the beginning of the end. After all, her master
was the fickle wind, for a slashing outward passage might be
followed by weeks of beating home to the westward. Steadily
forging ahead to the beat of her paddles or the thrash of her
screw, the steamer even of that day was far more dependable than
the sailing vessel. The Lightning clipper might run a hundred
miles farther in twenty-four hours than ever a steamer had done,
but she could not maintain this meteoric burst of speed. Upon the
heaving surface of the Western Ocean there was enacted over again
the fable of the hare and the tortoise.

Most of the famous chanteys were born in the packet service and
shouted as working choruses by the tars of this Western Ocean
before the chanteyman perched upon a capstan and led the refrain
in the clipper trade. You will find their origin unmistakable in
such lines as these:

As I was a-walking down Rotherhite Street,
'Way, ho, blow the man down;
A pretty young creature I chanced for to meet,
Give me some time to blow the man down.
Soon we'll be in London City,
Blow, boys, blow,
And see the gals all dressed so pretty,
Blow, my bully boys, blow.

Haunting melodies, folk-song as truly as that of the plantation
negro, they vanished from the sea with a breed of men who, for
all their faults, possessed the valor of the Viking and the
fortitude of the Spartan. Outcasts ashore--which meant to them
only the dance halls of Cherry Street and the grog-shops of
Ratcliffe Road--they had virtues that were as great as their
failings. Across the intervening years, with a pathos
indefinable, come the lovely strains of

Shenandoah, I'll ne'er forget you,
Away, ye rolling river,
Till the day I die I'll love you ever,
Ah, ha, we're bound away.


The American clipper ship was the result of an evolution which
can be traced back to the swift privateers which were built
during the War of 1812. In this type of vessel the shipyards of
Chesapeake Bay excelled and their handiwork was known as the
"Baltimore clipper," the name suggested by the old English verb
which Dryden uses to describe the flight of the falcon that
"clips it down the wind." The essential difference between the
clipper ship and other kinds of merchant craft was that speed and
not capacity became the chief consideration. This was a radical
departure for large vessels, which in all maritime history had
been designed with an eye to the number of tons they were able to
carry. More finely molded lines had hitherto been found only in
the much smaller French lugger, the Mediterranean galley, the
American schooner.

To borrow the lines of these fleet and graceful models and apply
them to the design of a deepwater ship was a bold conception. It
was first attempted by Isaac McKim, a Baltimore merchant, who
ordered his builders in 1832 to reproduce as closely as possible
the superior sailing qualities of the renowned clipper brigs and
schooners of their own port. The result was the Ann McKim, of
nearly five hundred tons, the first Yankee clipper ship, and
distinguished as such by her long, easy water-lines, low
free-board, and raking stem. She was built and finished without
regard to cost, copper-sheathed, the decks gleaming with
brasswork and mahogany fittings. But though she was a very fast
and handsome ship and the pride of her owner, the Ann McKim could
stow so little cargo that shipping men regarded her as
unprofitable and swore by their full-bodied vessels a few years

That the Ann McKim, however, influenced the ideas of the most
progressive builders is very probable, for she was later owned by
the New York firm of Howland and Aspinwall, who placed an order
for the first extremely sharp clipper ship of the era. This
vessel, the Rainbow, was designed by John W. Griffeths, a marine
architect, who was a pioneer in that he studied shipbuilding as a
science instead of working by rule-of-thumb. The Rainbow, which
created a sensation while on the stocks because of her concave or
hollowed lines forward, which defied all tradition and practice,
was launched in 1845. She was a more radical innovation than the
Ann McKim but a successful one, for on her second voyage to China
the Rainbow went out against the northeast monsoon in ninety-two
days and came home in eighty-eight, a record which few ships were
able to better. Her commander, Captain John Land, declared her to
be the fastest ship in the world and there were none to dispute

Even the Rainbow however, was eclipsed when not long afterward
Howland and Aspinwall, now converted to the clipper, ordered the
Sea Witch to be built for Captain Bob Waterman. Among all the
splendid skippers of the time he was the most dashing figure.
About his briny memory cluster a hundred yarns, some of them
true, others legendary. It has been argued that the speed of the
clippers was due more to the men who commanded them than to their
hulls and rigging, and to support the theory the career of
Captain Bob Waterman is quoted. He was first known to fame in the
old Natchez, which was not a clipper at all and was even rated as
slow while carrying cotton from New Orleans to New York. But
Captain Bob took this full-pooped old packet ship around the Horn
and employed her in the China tea trade. The voyages which he
made in her were all fast, and he crowned them with the amazing
run of seventy-eight days from Canton to New York, just one day
behind the swiftest clipper passage ever sailed and which he
himself performed in the Sea Witch. Incredulous mariners simply
could not explain this feat of the Natchez and suggested that Bob
Waterman must have brought the old hooker home by some new route
of his own discovery.

Captain Bob had won a reputation for discipline as the mate of a
Black Ball liner, a rough school, and he was not a mild man.
Ashore his personality was said to have been a most attractive
one, but there is no doubt that afloat he worked the very souls
out of his sailors. The rumors that he frightfully abused them
were not current, however, until he took the Sea Witch and showed
the world the fastest ship under canvas. Low in the water, with
black hull and gilded figurehead, she seemed too small to support
her prodigious cloud of sail. For her there were to be no
leisurely voyages with Captain Bob Waterman on the quarter-deck.
Home from Canton she sped in seventy-seven days and then in
seventy-nine--records which were never surpassed.

With what consummate skill and daring this master mariner drove
his ship and how the race of hardy sailors to which he belonged
compared with those of other nations may be descried in the log
of another of them, Captain Philip Dumaresq, homeward bound from
China in 1849 in the clipper Great Britain. Three weeks out from
Java Head she had overtaken and passed seven ships heading the
same way, and then she began to rush by them in one gale after
another. Her log records her exploits in such entries as these:
"Passed a ship under double reefs, we with our royals and
studdingsails set . . . . Passed a ship laying-to under a
close-reefed maintopsail . . . . Split all three topsails and had
to heave to . . . . Seven vessels in sight and we outsail all of
them . . . . Under double-reefed topsails passed several vessels
hove-to." Much the same record might be read in the log of the
medium clipper Florence--and it is the same story of carrying
sail superbly on a ship which had been built to stand up under
it: "Passed two barks under reefed courses and close-reefed
topsails standing the same way, we with royals and topgallant
studding-sails," or "Passed a ship under topsails, we with our
royals set." For eleven weeks "the topsail halliards were started
only once, to take in a single reef for a few hours." It is not
surprising, therefore, to learn that, seventeen days out from
Shanghai, the Florence exchanged signals with the English ship
John Hagerman, which had sailed thirteen days before her.

Two notable events in the history of the nineteenth century
occurred within the same year, 1849, to open new fields of trade
to the Yankee clipper. One of these was the repeal of the British
Navigation Laws which had given English ships a monopoly of the
trade between London and the British East Indies, and the other
was the discovery of gold in California. After centuries of pomp
and power, the great East India Company had been deprived of its
last exclusive rights afloat in 1833. Its ponderous,
frigate-built merchantmen ceased to dominate the British commerce
with China and India and were sold or broken up. All British
ships were now free to engage in this trade, but the spirit and
customs of the old regime still strongly survived. Flying the
house-flags of private owners, the East Indiamen and China tea
ships were still built and manned like frigates, slow,
comfortable, snugging down for the night under reduced sail.
There was no competition to arouse them until the last barrier of
the Navigation Laws was let down and they had to meet the Yankee
clipper with the tea trade as the huge stake.

Then at last it was farewell to the gallant old Indianian and her
ornate, dignified prestige. With a sigh the London Times
confessed: "We must run a race with our gigantic and unshackled
rival. We must set our long-practised skill, our steady industry,
and our dogged determination against his youth, ingenuity, and
ardor. Let our shipbuilders and employers take warning in time.
There will always be an abundant supply of vessels good enough
and fast enough for short voyages. But we want fast vessels for
the long voyages which otherwise will fall into American hands."

Before English merchants could prepare themselves for these new
conditions, the American clipper Oriental was loading in 1850 at
Hong Kong with tea for the London market. Because of her
reputation for speed, she received freightage of six pounds
sterling per ton while British ships rode at anchor with empty
holds or were glad to sail at three pounds ten per ton. Captain
Theodore Palmer delivered his sixteen hundred tons of tea in the
West India Docks, London, after a crack passage of ninety-one
days which had never been equaled. His clipper earned $48,000, or
two-thirds of what it had cost to build her. Her arrival in
London created a profound impression. The port had seen nothing
like her for power and speed; her skysail yards soared far above
the other shipping; the cut of her snowy canvas was faultless;
all clumsy, needless tophamper had been done away with; and she
appeared to be the last word in design and construction, as lean
and fine and spirited as a race-horse in training.

This new competition dismayed British shipping until it could
rally and fight with similar weapons The technical journal, Naval
Science, acknowledged that the tea trade of the London markets
had passed almost out of the hands of the English ship-owner, and
that British vessels, well-manned and well-found, were known to
lie for weeks in the harbor of Foo-chow, waiting for a cargo and
seeing American clippers come in, load, and sail immediately with
full cargoes at a higher freight than they could command. Even
the Government viewed the loss of trade with concern and sent
admiralty draftsmen to copy the lines of the Oriental and
Challenge while they were in drydock.

British clippers were soon afloat, somewhat different in model
from the Yankee ships, but very fast and able, and racing them in
the tea trade until the Civil War. With them it was often nip and
tuck, as in the contest between the English Lord of the Isles and
the American clipper bark Maury in 1856. The prize was a premium
of one pound per ton for the first ship to reach London with tea
of the new crop. The Lord of the Isles finished loading and
sailed four days ahead of the Maury, and after thirteen thousand
miles of ocean they passed Gravesend within ten minutes of each
other. The British skipper, having the smartest tug and getting
his ship first into dock, won the honors. In a similar race
between the American Sea Serpent and the English Crest of the
Wave, both ships arrived off the Isle of Wight on the same day.
It was a notable fact that the Lord of the Isles was the first
tea clipper built of iron at a date when the use of this stubborn
material was not yet thought of by the men who constructed the
splendid wooden ships of America.

For the peculiar requirements of the tea trade, English maritime
talent was quick to perfect a clipper type which, smaller than
the great Yankee skysail-yarder, was nevertheless most admirable
for its beauty and performance. On both sides of the Atlantic
partizans hotly championed their respective fleets. In 1852 the
American Navigation Club, organized by Boston merchants and
owners, challenged the shipbuilders of Great Britain to race from
a port in England to a port in China and return, for a stake of
$50,000 a side, ships to be not under eight hundred nor over
twelve hundred tons American register. The challenge was aimed at
the Stornaway and the Chrysolite, the two clippers that were
known to be the fastest ships under the British flag. Though this
sporting defiance caused lively discussion, nothing came of it,
and it was with a spirit even keener that Sampson and Tappan of
Boston offered to match their Nightingale for the same amount
against any clipper afloat, British or American.

In spite of the fact that Yankee enterprise had set the pace in
the tea trade, within a few years after 1850 England had so
successfully mastered the art of building these smaller clippers
that the honors were fairly divided. The American owners were
diverting their energies to the more lucrative trade in larger
ships sailing around the Horn to San Francisco, a long road
which, as a coastwise voyage, was forbidden to foreign vessels
under the navigation laws. After the Civil War the fastest tea
clippers flew the British flag and into the seventies they
survived the competition of steam, racing among themselves for
the premiums awarded to the quickest dispatch. No more of these
beautiful vessels were launched after 1869, and one by one they
vanished into other trades, overtaken by the same fate which had
befallen the Atlantic packet and conquered by the cargo steamers
which filed through the Suez Canal.

Until 1848 San Francisco had been a drowsy little Mexican
trading-post, a huddle of adobe huts and sheds where American
ships collected hides--vividly described in Two Years Before the
Mast--or a whaler called for wood and water. During the year
preceding the frenzied migration of the modern Argonauts, only
two merchant ships, one bark and one brig, sailed in through the
Golden Gate. In the twelve months following, 775 vessels cleared
from Atlantic ports for San Francisco, besides the rush from
other countries, and nearly fifty thousand passengers scrambled
ashore to dig for gold. Crews deserted their ships, leaving them
unable to go to sea again for lack of men, and in consequence a
hundred of them were used as storehouses, hotels, and hospitals,
or else rotted at their moorings. Sailors by hundreds jumped from
the forecastle without waiting to stow the sails or receive their
wages. Though offered as much as two hundred dollars a month to
sign again, they jeered at the notion. Of this great fleet at San
Francisco in 1849, it was a lucky ship that ever left the harbor

It seemed as if the whole world were bound to California and
almost overnight there was created the wildest, most extravagant
demand for transportation known to history. A clipper costing
$70,000 could pay for herself in one voyage, with freights at
sixty dollars a ton. This gold stampede might last but a little
while. To take instant advantage of it was the thing. The fastest
ships, and as many of them as could be built, would skim the
cream of it. This explains the brief and illustrious era of the
California clipper, one hundred and sixty of which were launched
from 1850 to 1854. The shipyards of New York and Boston were
crowded with them, and they graced the keel blocks of the
historic old ports of New England--Medford, Mystic, Newburyport,
Portsmouth, Portland, Rockland, and Bath--wherever the timber and
the shipwrights could be assembled.

Until that time there had been few ships afloat as large as a
thousand tons. These were of a new type, rapidly increased to
fifteen hundred, two thousand tons, and over. They presented new
and difficult problems in spars and rigging able to withstand the
strain of immense areas of canvas which climbed two hundred feet
to the skysail pole and which, with lower studdingsails set,
spread one hundred and sixty feet from boom-end to boom-end.
There had to be the strength to battle with the furious tempests
of Cape Horn and at the same time the driving power to sweep
before the sweet and steadfast tradewinds. Such a queenly clipper
was the Flying Cloud, the achievement of that master builder,
Donald McKay, which sailed from New York to San Francisco in
eighty-nine days, with Captain Josiah Creesy in command. This
record was never lowered and was equaled only twice--by the
Flying Cloud herself and by the Andrew Jackson nine years later.
It was during this memorable voyage that the Flying Cloud sailed
1256 miles in four days while steering to the northward under
topgallantsails after rounding Cape Horn. This was a rate of
speed which, if sustained, would have carried her from New York
to Queenstown in eight days and seventeen hours. This speedy
passage was made in 1851, and only two years earlier the record
for the same voyage of fifteen thousand miles had been one
hundred and twenty days, by the clipper Memnon.

Donald McKay now resolved to build a ship larger and faster than
the Flying Cloud, and his genius neared perfection in the
Sovereign of the Seas, of 2421 tons register, which exceeded in
size all merchant vessels afloat. This Titan of the clipper fleet
was commanded by Donald's brother, Captain Lauchlan McKay, with a
crew of one hundred and five men and boys. During her only voyage
to San Francisco she was partly dismasted, but Lauchlan McKay
rigged her anew at sea in fourteen days and still made port in
one hundred and three days, a record for the season of the year.

It was while running home from Honolulu in 1853 that the
Sovereign of the Seas realized the hopes of her builder. In
eleven days she sailed 3562 miles, with four days logged for a
total of 1478 knots. Making allowance for the longitudes and
difference in time, this was an average daily run of 378 sea
miles or 435 land miles. Using the same comparison, the distance
from Sandy Hook to Queenstown would have been covered in seven
days and nine hours. Figures are arid reading, perhaps, but these
are wet by the spray and swept by the salt winds of romance.
During one of these four days the Sovereign of the Seas reeled
off 424 nautical miles, during which her average speed was
seventeen and two-thirds knots and at times reached nineteen and
twenty. The only sailing ship which ever exceeded this day's work
was the Lightning, built later by the same Donald McKay, which
ran 436 knots in the Atlantic passage already referred to. The
Sovereign of the Seas could also boast of a sensational feat upon
the Western Ocean, for between New York and Liverpool she
outsailed the Cunard liner Canada by 325 miles in five days.

It is curiously interesting to notice that the California clipper
era is almost generally ignored by the foremost English writers
of maritime history. For one thing, it was a trade in which their
own ships were not directly concerned, and partizan bias is apt
to color the views of the best of us when national prestige is
involved. American historians themselves have dispensed with many
unpleasant facts when engaged with the War of 1812. With regard
to the speed of clipper ships, however, involving a rivalry far
more thrilling and important than all the races ever sailed for
the America's cup, the evidence is available in concrete form.

Lindsay's "History of Merchant Shipping" is the most elaborate
English work of the kind. Heavily ballasted with facts and rather
dull reading for the most part, it kindles with enthusiasm when
eulogizing the Thermopylae and the Sir Launcelot, composite
clippers of wood and iron, afloat in 1870, which it declares to
be "the fastest sailing ships that ever traversed the ocean."
This fairly presents the issue which a true-blooded Yankee has no
right to evade. The greatest distance sailed by the Sir Launcelot
in twenty-four hours between China and London was 354 knots,
compared with the 424 miles of the Sovereign of the Seas and the
436 miles of the Lightning. Her best sustained run was one of
seven days for an average of a trifle more than 300 miles a day.
Against this is to be recorded the performance of the Sovereign
of the Seas, 3562 miles in eleven days, at the rate of 324 miles
every twenty-four hours, and her wonderful four-day run of 1478
miles, an average of 378 miles.

The Thermopylae achieved her reputation in a passage of
sixty-three days from London to Melbourne--a record which was
never beaten. Her fastest day's sailing was 330 miles, or not
quite sixteen knots an hour. In six days she traversed 1748
miles, an average of 291 miles a day. In this Australian trade
the American clippers made little effort to compete. Those
engaged in it were mostly built for English owners and sailed by
British skippers, who could not reasonably be expected to get the
most out of these loftily sparred Yankee ships, which were much
larger than their own vessels of the same type. The Lightning
showed what she could do from Melbourne to Liverpool by making
the passage in sixty-three' days, with 3722 miles in ten
consecutive days and one day's sprint of 412 miles.

In the China tea trade the Thermopylae drove home from Foo-chow
in ninety-one days, which was equaled by the Sir Launcelot. The
American Witch of the Wave had a ninety-day voyage to her credit,
and the Comet ran from Liverpool to Shanghai in eighty-four days.
Luck was a larger factor on this route than in the California or
Australian trade because of the fitful uncertainty of the
monsoons, and as a test of speed it was rather unsatisfactory. In
a very fair-minded and expert summary, Captain Arthur H. Clark,*
in his youth an officer on Yankee clippers, has discussed this
question of rival speed and power under sail--a question which
still absorbs those who love the sea. His conclusion is that in
ordinary weather at sea, when great power to carry sail was not
required, the British tea clippers were extremely fast vessels,
chiefly on account of their narrow beam. Under these conditions
they were perhaps as fast as the American clippers of the same
class, such as the Sea Witch, White Squall, Northern Light, and
Sword-Fish. But if speed is to be reckoned by the maximum
performance of a ship under the most favorable conditions, then
the British tea clippers were certainly no match for the larger
American ships such as the Flying Cloud, Sovereign of the Seas,
Hurricane, Trade Wind, Typhoon, Flying Fish, Challenge, and Red
Jacket. The greater breadth of the American ships in proportion
to their length meant power to carry canvas and increased
buoyancy which enabled them, with their sharper ends, to be
driven in strong gales and heavy seas at much greater speed than
the British clippers. The latter were seldom of more than one
thousand tons' register and combined in a superlative degree the
good qualities of merchant ships.

* "The Clipper Ship Era." N.Y., 1910.

It was the California trade, brief and crowded and fevered, which
saw the roaring days of the Yankee clipper and which was familiar
with racing surpassing in thrill and intensity that of the packet
ships of the Western Ocean. In 1851, for instance, the Raven, Sea
Witch, and Typhoon sailed for San Francisco within the same week.
They crossed the Equator a day apart and stood away to the
southward for three thousand miles of the southeast trades and
the piping westerly winds which prevailed farther south. At fifty
degrees south latitude the Raven and the Sea Witch were abeam of
each other with the Typhoon only two days astern.

Now they stripped for the tussle to windward around Cape Horn,
sending down studdingsail booms and skysail yards, making all
secure with extra lashings, plunging into the incessant head seas
of the desolate ocean, fighting it out tack for tack, reefing
topsails and shaking them out again, the vigilant commanders
going below only to change their clothes, the exhausted seamen
stubbornly, heroically handling with frozen, bleeding fingers the
icy sheets and canvas. A fortnight of this inferno and the Sea
Witch and the Raven gained the Pacific, still within sight of
each other, and the Typhoon only one day behind. Then they swept
northward, blown by the booming tradewinds, spreading
studdingsails, skysails, and above them, like mere handkerchiefs,
the water-sails and ring-tails. Again the three clippers crossed
the Equator. Close-hauled on the starboard tack, their bowsprits
were pointed for the last stage of the journey to the Golden
Gate. The Typhoon now overhauled her rivals and was the first to
signal her arrival, but the victory was earned by the Raven,
which had set her departure from Boston Light while the others
had sailed from New York. The Typhoon and the Raven were only a
day apart, with the Sea Witch five days behind the leader.

Clipper ship crews included men of many nations. In the average
forecastle there would be two or three Americans, a majority of
English and Norwegians, and perhaps a few Portuguese and
Italians. The hardiest seamen, and the most unmanageable, were
the Liverpool packet rats who were lured from their accustomed
haunts to join the clippers by the magical call of the
gold-diggings. There were not enough deep-water sailors to man
half the ships that were built in these few years, and the crimps
and boarding-house runners decoyed or flung aboard on sailing day
as many men as were demanded, and any drunken, broken landlubber
was good enough to be shipped as an able seaman. They were things
of rags and tatters--their only luggage a bottle of whiskey.

The mates were thankful if they could muster enough real sailors
to work the ship to sea and then began the stern process of
whipping the wastrels and incompetents into shape for the perils
and emergencies of the long voyage. That these great clippers
were brought safely to port is a shining tribute to the masterful
skill of their officers. While many of them were humane and just,
with all their severity, the stories of savage abuse which are
told of some are shocking in the extreme. The defense was that it
was either mutiny or club the men under. Better treatment might
have persuaded better men to sail. Certain it is that life in the
forecastle of a clipper was even more intolerable to the
self-respecting American youth than it had previously been aboard
the Atlantic packet.

When Captain Bob Waterman arrived at San Francisco in the
Challenge clipper in 1851, a mob tried very earnestly to find and
hang him and his officers because of the harrowing stories told
by his sailors. That he had shot several of them from the yards
with his pistol to make the others move faster was one count in
the indictment. For his part, Captain Waterman asserted that a
more desperate crew of ruffians had never sailed out of New York
and that only two of them were Americans. They were mutinous from
the start, half of them blacklegs of the vilest type who swore to
get the upper hand of him. His mates, boatswain, and carpenter
had broken open their chests and boxes and had removed a
collection of slung-shots, knuckle-dusters, bowie-knives, and
pistols. Off Rio Janeiro they had tried to kill the chief mate,
and Captain Waterman had been compelled to jump in and stretch
two of them dead with an iron belaying-pin. Off Cape Horn three
sailors fell from aloft and were lost. This accounted for the

The truth of such episodes as these was difficult to fathom.
Captain Waterman demanded a legal investigation, but nothing came
of his request and he was commended by his owners for his skill
and courage in bringing the ship to port without losing a spar or
a sail. It was a skipper of this old school who blandly
maintained the doctrine that if you wanted the men to love you,
you must starve them and knock them down. The fact is proven by
scores of cases that the discipline of the American clipper was
both famously efficient and notoriously cruel. It was not until
long after American sailors had ceased to exist that adequate
legislation was enacted to provide that they should be treated as
human beings afloat and ashore. Other days and other customs! It
is perhaps unkind to judge these vanished master-mariners too
harshly, for we cannot comprehend the crises which continually
beset them in their command.

No more extreme clipper ships were built after 1854. The
California frenzy had subsided and speed in carrying merchandise
was no longer so essential; besides, the passenger traffic was
seeking the Isthmian route. What were called medium clippers
enjoyed a profitable trade for many years later, and one of them,
the Andrew Jackson, was never outsailed for the record from New
York to San Francisco. This splendid type of ship was to be found
on every sea, for the United States was still a commanding factor
in the maritime activities of South America, India, China,
Europe, and Australia. In 1851 its merchant tonnage rivaled that
of England and was everywhere competing with it.

The effects of the financial panic of 1857 and the aftermath of
business depression were particularly disastrous to American
ships. Freights were so low as to yield no profit, and the finest
clippers went begging for charters. The yards ceased to launch
new tonnage. British builders had made such rapid progress in
design and construction that the days of Yankee preference in the
China trade had passed. The Stars and Stripes floated over ships
waiting idle in Manila Bay, at Shanghai, Hong-Kong, and Calcutta.
The tide of commerce had slackened abroad as well as at home and
the surplus of deep-water tonnage was world-wide.

In earlier generations afloat, the American spirit had displayed
amazing recuperative powers. The havoc of the Revolution had been
unable to check it, and its vigor and aggressive enterprise had
never been more notable than after the blows dealt by the
Embargo, the French Spoliations, and the War of 1812. The
conditions of trade and the temper of the people were now so
changed that this mighty industry, aforetime so robust and
resilient, was unable to recover from such shocks as the panic of
1857 and the Civil War. Yet it had previously survived and
triumphed over calamities far more severe. The destruction
wrought by Confederate cruisers was trifling compared with the
work of the British and French privateers when the nation was
very small and weak.

The American spirit had ceased to concern itself with the sea as
the vital and dominant element. The footsteps of the young men no
longer turned toward the wharf and the waterside and the tiers of
tall ships outward bound. They were aspiring to conquer an inland
empire of prairie and mountain and desert, impelled by the same
pioneering and adventurous ardor which had burned in their
seafaring sires. Steam had vanquished sail--an epochal event in a
thousand years of maritime history--but the nation did not care
enough to accept this situation as a new challenge or to continue
the ancient struggle for supremacy upon the sea. England did
care, because it was life or death to the little, sea-girt
island, but as soon as the United States ceased to be a strip of
Atlantic seaboard and the panorama, of a continent was unrolled
to settlement, it was foreordained that the maritime habit of
thought and action should lose its virility in America. All great
seafaring races, English, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Dutch, have
taken to salt water because there was lack of space, food, or
work ashore, and their strong young men craved opportunities.
Like the Pilgrim Fathers and their fishing shallops they had
nowhere else to go.

When the Flying Cloud and the clippers of her kind--taut, serene,
immaculate--were sailing through the lonely spaces of the South
Atlantic and the Pacific, they sighted now and then the stumpy,
slatternly rig and greasy hull of a New Bedford whaler, perhaps
rolling to the weight of a huge carcass alongside. With a poor
opinion of the seamanship of these wandering barks, the clipper
crews rolled out, among their favorite chanteys:

Oh, poor Reuben Ranzo,
Ranzo, boys, O Ranzo,
Oh, Ranzo was no sailor,
So they shipped him aboard a whaler,
Ranzo, boys, O Ranzo.

This was crass, intolerant prejudice. The whaling ship was
careless of appearances, it is true, and had the air of an ocean
vagabond; but there were other duties more important than
holystoning decks, scraping spars, and trimming the yards to a
hair. On a voyage of two or three years, moreover, there was
always plenty of time tomorrow. Brave and resourceful seamen were
these New England adventurers and deep-sea hunters who made
nautical history after their own fashion. They flourished coeval
with the merchant marine in its prime, and they passed from the
sea at about the same time and for similar reasons. Modernity
dispensed with their services, and young men found elsewhere more
profitable and easier employment.

The great days of Nantucket as a whaling port were passed before
the Revolution wiped out her ships and killed or scattered her
sailors. It was later discovered that larger ships were more
economical, and Nantucket harbor bar was too shoal to admit their
passage. For this reason New Bedford became the scene of the
foremost activity, and Nantucket thereafter played a minor part,
although her barks went cruising on to the end of the chapter and
her old whaling families were true to strain. As explorers the
whalemen rambled into every nook and corner of the Pacific before
merchant vessels had found their way thither. They discovered
uncharted islands and cheerfully fought savages or suffered
direful shipwreck. The chase led them into Arctic regions where
their stout barks were nipped like eggshells among the grinding
floes, or else far to the southward where they broiled in tropic
calms. The New Bedford lad was as keen to go a-whaling as was his
counterpart in Boston or New York to be the dandy mate of a
California clipper, and true was the song:

I asked a maiden by my side,
Who sighed and looked to me forlorn,
"Where is your heart?" She quick replied,
"Round Cape Horn."

Yankee whaling reached its high tide in 1857 when the New Bedford
fleet alone numbered 329 sail and those owned in other ports of
Buzzard's Bay swelled the total to 426 vessels, besides thirty
more hailing from New London and Sag Harbor. In this year the
value of the catch was more than ten million dollars. The old
custom of sailing on shares or "lays" instead of wages was never
changed. It was win or lose for all hands--now a handsome fortune
or again an empty hold and pockets likewise. There was Captain
W.T. Walker of New Bedford who, in 1847, bought for a song a ship
so old that she was about to be broken up for junk and no
insurance broker would look at her. In this rotten relic he
shipped a crew and went sailing in the Pacific. Miraculously
keeping afloat, this Envoy of his was filled to the hatches with
oil and bones, twice running, before she returned to her home
port; and she earned $138,450 on a total investment of eight
thousand dollars.

The ship Sarah of Nantucket, after a three years' cruise, brought
back 3497 barrels of sperm oil which sold for $89,000, and the
William Hamilton of New Bedford set another high mark by stowing
4181 barrels of a value of $109,269. The Pioneer of New London,
Captain Ebenezer Morgan, was away only a year and stocked a cargo
of oil and whalebone which sold for $150,060. Most of the profits
of prosperous voyages were taken as the owners' share, and the
incomes of the captain and crew were so niggardly as to make one
wonder why they persisted in a calling so perilous, arduous, and
poorly paid. During the best years of whaling, when the ships
were averaging $16,000 for a voyage, the master received an
eighteenth, or about nine hundred dollars a year. The highly
skilled hands, such as the boat-steerers and harpooners, had a
lay of only one seventy-fifth, or perhaps a little more than two
hundred dollars cash as the reward of a voyage which netted the
owner at least fifty per cent on his investment. Occasionally
they fared better than this and sometimes worse. The answer to
the riddle is that they liked the life and had always the
gambling spirit which hopes for a lucky turn of the cards.

The countless episodes of fragile boats smashed to kindling by
fighting whales, of the attack renewed with harpoon and lance, of
ships actually rammed and sunk, would fill a volume by themselves
and have been stirringly narrated in many a one. Zanzibar and
Kamchatka, Tasmania and the Seychelles knew the lean, sun-dried
Yankee whaleman and his motto of a "dead whale or a stove boat."
The Civil War did not drive him from the seas. The curious fact
is that his products commanded higher prices in 1907 than fifty
years before, but the number of his ships rapidly decreased.
Whales were becoming scarce, and New England capital preferred
other forms of investment. The leisurely old sailing craft was
succeeded by the steam whaler, and the explosive bomb slew,
instead of the harpoon and lance hurled by the sinewy right arm
of a New Bedford man or Cape Verde islander.

Roving whaler and armed East Indiaman, plunging packet ship and
stately clipper, they served their appointed days and passed on
their several courses to become mere memories, as shadowy and
unsubstantial as the gleam of their own topsails when seen at
twilight. The souls of their sailors have fled to Fiddler's
Green, where all dead mariners go. They were of the old merchant
marine which contributed something fine and imperishable to the
story of the United States. Down the wind, vibrant and
deep-throated, comes their own refrain for a requiem:

We're outward bound this very day,
Good-bye, fare you well,
Good-bye, fare you well.
We're outward bound this very day,
Hurrah, my boys, we're outward bound.


One thinks of the old merchant marine in terms of the clipper
ship and distant ports. The coasting trade has been overlooked in
song and story; yet, since the year 1859, its fleets have always
been larger and more important than the American deep-water
commerce nor have decay and misfortune overtaken them. It is a
traffic which flourished from the beginning, ingeniously adapting
itself to new conditions, unchecked by war, and surviving with
splendid vigor, under steam and sail, in this modern era.

The seafaring pioneers won their way from port to port of the
tempestuous Atlantic coast in tiny ketches, sloops, and shallops
when the voyage of five hundred miles from New England to
Virginia was a prolonged and hazardous adventure. Fog and shoals
and lee shores beset these coastwise sailors, and shipwrecks were
pitifully frequent. In no Hall of Fame will you find the name of
Captain Andrew Robinson of Gloucester, but he was nevertheless an
illustrious benefactor and deserves a place among the most useful
Americans. His invention was the Yankee schooner of fore-and-aft
rig, and he gave to this type of vessel its name.* Seaworthy,
fast, and easily handled, adapted for use in the early eighteenth
century when inland transportation was almost impossible, the
schooner carried on trade between the colonies and was an
important factor in the growth of the fisheries.

* It is said that as the odd two-master slid gracefully into the
water, a spectator exclaimed: "See how she scoons!" "Aye,"
answered Captain Robinson, "a SCHOONER let her be!" This
launching took place in 1718 or 1714.

Before the Revolution the first New England schooners were
beating up to the Grand Bank of Newfoundland after cod and
halibut. They were of no more than fifty tons' burden, too small
for their task but manned by fishermen of surpassing hardihood.
Marblehead was then the foremost fishing port with two hundred
brigs and schooners on the offshore banks. But to Gloucester
belongs the glory of sending the first schooner to the Grand
Bank.* From these two rock-bound harbors went thousands of
trained seamen to man the privateers and the ships of the
Continental navy, slinging their hammocks on the gun-decks beside
the whalemen of Nantucket. These fishermen and coastwise sailors
fought on the land as well and followed the drums of Washington's
armies until the final scene at Yorktown. Gloucester and
Marblehead were filled with widows and orphans, and half their
men-folk were dead or missing.

* Marvin's "American Merchant Marine," p. 287.

The fishing-trade soon prospered again, and the men of the old
ports tenaciously clung to the sea even when the great migration
flowed westward to people the wilderness and found a new American
empire. They were fishermen from father to son, bound together in
an intimate community of interests, a race of pure native or
English stock, deserving this tribute which was paid to them in
Congress: "Every person on board our fishing vessels has an
interest in common with his associates; their reward depends upon
their industry and enterprise. Much caution is observed in the
selection of the crews of our fishing vessels; it often happens
that every individual is connected by blood and the strongest
ties of friendship; our fishermen are remarkable for their
sobriety and good conduct, and they rank with the most skillful

Fishing and the coastwise merchant trade were closely linked.
Schooners loaded dried cod as well as lumber for southern ports


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