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[p. 54]

Old ships and ship-building days of Medford.

Chapter 4: 1

After the War of 1812, the northwest fur trade gradually declined for various reasons, the gradual extermination of the sea otter and competition by the British and Russians being the principal ones. By this time, cotton manufacturing, encouraged by the embargoes and by the War of 1812, and later by a protective tariff, had increased enormously and a considerable amount was sent to the Far East as cargo. There was more specie in the country by this time, too, and this could be sent. The trade in sandal-wood was also developed. Previously the sandal-wood had been preserved almost religiously, but on the death of King Kamehameha, his son, Likoliko, who succeeded him, proceeded to realize on this preserve and stripped his domain, which he bartered for liquor, clothes and vessels. For several years it proved a very lucrative trade until the supply was exhausted and a drug on the Canton market. The brig Thaddeus, commanded by Capt. A. Blanchard of Medford, carrying the first missionaries, had landed at the Hawaiian Islands. Captain William Hall of Medford, who afterwards commanded several Medford ships, made his first voyage as cabin boy on the Thaddeus and wrote home a vivid account of the landing. They were received by the chiefs and dignitaries, who were arrayed in miscellaneous feminine apparel which an enterprising trader had bartered a short time previously.

The Jones and the Tamahourelaune were built in Medford and sold in Hawaii for sandal-wood. The History of Medford says they were taken apart and sent out in the Thaddeus, but this is probably incorrect, as Morison in an article on the Hawaiian trade gives reliable evidence that they were sailed round.2 The Jones was renamed the Inore. [p. 55]

Among the Medford-built vessels engaged in the northwest and China trade at this period were the Arab, Louise, Pedlar, Lascar and Triton.

Bryant and Sturgis sent the Sachem round to California for a load of hides. This was the beginning of a trade which grew to large proportions and which ten or fifteen years later was described so vividly by R. H. Dana in that masterpiece,‘Two Years Before the Mast.’ The brig Pilgrim in which he went out was built in Medford and the ship California which they helped to load was also. Dana gives the following description of her:—

She was a good substantial ship, not quite so long as the Alert, wall-sided and kettle-bottomed, after the latest fashion of south shore cotton and sugar wagons, strong too, and tight and a good average sailor, but with no pretensions to beauty and nothing in the style of a ‘crack ship.’

This trade in hides was very profitable and the story of the hardships and dangers connected with it is told in a vivid manner.

The Paul Jones.

Between 1830 and 1840 there had been a great improvement in the design of vessels which greatly increased their speed. Among them was the ship Paul Jones, built by Waterman and Ewell at Medford in 1842, of six hundred and twenty tons, and owned by John M. Forbes of Boston and Russell & Co. of China. She was the perfection of the Medford clipper type of 1830, and the fastest vessel of her time, with the exception of the ‘Natchez.’

The Paul Jones was commanded on her first voyage by N. B. Palmer. Captain Palmer was born in Stonington, Conn., on Long Island Sound, in 1799, and came from distinguished colonial ancestry.

At the age of fourteen he shipped on a coasting vessel and continued in the service until he was eighteen, when [p. 56] he was appointed second mate of the brig Hersilia, bound somewhere about Cape Horn on a sealing voyage. These sealing expeditions were also, at that period, more or less voyages of discovery. For years there had been rumors of a mythical island called Auroras, embellished with romance and mystery by whalers, and described as lying away to the eastward of the Horn. On this voyage the story of how in search of whales, he, like Columbus, discovered a continent (the Antarctic Continent) is told in a history of his life by John Randolph Spears.

On her first voyage the Paul ones in 1843 sailed from Boston for Hong Kong, January 15th, crossed the equator twenty-six days out, was fifty-four days to the Cape of Good Hope, eighty-eight days to Java Head, and arrived at Hong Kong one hundred and eleven days from Boston. In 1848 this ship made the run from Java Head to New York in seventy-six days.3 Later she was used in the ice carrying trade.

Frederick Tudor, after twenty-eight years struggle and experimenting, had built up an ice exporting business. After numerous failures, he had by 1812 built up a small trade with the West Indies. The war wiped him out. After the peace of Ghent he obtained government permission to build ice houses at Kingston and Havana, with a monopoly of the traffic. It began to pay, and between 1817 and 1820 he extended the business to Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans. He extended the business to the Far East later, and the Paul Jones carried the first cargo of ice to China. Tudor first shipped ice from his father's pond in Saugus. Later he had ice houses on several of the large ponds nearby, among them one at Spot Pond. People thought he was mad, and seafaring men thought such a cargo would melt and swamp the vessel. It was with difficulty he could get a crew. Tudor experimented with various material for filling, rice and wheat chaff, hay, tan bark, and even coal dust, until he finally decided on sawdust. [p. 57]

Previous to the War of 1812 there had been very little improvement in the design of merchant vessels, and their shape was little more than a box with the corners rounded off. The Baltimore clippers were the first to improve the models by giving them long, easy water lines, and it is said that they took their ideas from the French luggers during the Revolution. But they were small vessels, and their large amount of dead rise and their having much more draft aft than forward made them unsuitable for larger merchant ships. The ‘Ann McKim,’ a vessel of four hundred and ninety-three tons, was built on these lines and she is sometimes considered the first of the clipper ship era. But she was unsuitable for a merchant vessel for the reasons given, which made her cargo capacity limited, and there was never another vessel built on her lines, although she influenced the improvement in design which took place in the next decade.

Clipper ships, 1830-148.

Morison gives the Medford builders a large share of the credit for the improvement in vessels in this period. He says: ‘The finest type of the period was the Medford or Merrimac-built East Indiaman,’ and ‘After 1815, the vessels that he built for the China trade gave Thatcher Magoun a reputation second to none among American ship builders, and “Medford-built” came to mean the best’; and also, ‘The Medford builders, in particular, had quietly evolved a new type of four hundred and fifty tons burthen which, handled by eighteen officers and men, would carry half as much freight as a British East Indiaman of fifteen hundred tons with a crew of one hundred and twenty-five and sail half again as fast.’

The Rajah, built by J. Stetson at Medford in 1836, five hundred and thirty tons, one hundred and forty feet long and thirty feet beam, is cited as a fair specimen of our best freighting vessels.

Deacon Samuel Train in partnership with his brother [p. 58] Enoch had built for them the largest vessel up to that time, the St. Petersburg. She was built by Waterman & Ewell in 1839, and was one hundred and sixty feet long, thirty-three feet broad and eight hundred and fourteen tons burthen. She had the painted ports and square stern of a New York packet-ship, and had such beautiful fittings and accommodations that she attracted crowds of sightseers at every port. Richard Trask of Manchester, her master and part owner, was one of the dandy merchant captains of his generation. After arranging for the return cargo at St. Petersburg and visiting his friends, he would leave the vessel in charge of the first officer and return via London by steamer.

The word clipper means swift and clipper ship is one designed primarily for speed. Although vessels of this type were designed to carry large cargoes, they were so much faster than others of that time that they are usually referred to as the clipper type of 1830.

1 the names of Medford-built ships are italicized.

2 Morison. ‘Boston Traders in Hawaiian Islands.’ Mass. Hist. Proc. Vol. 54, p. 29.

3 Captain Arthur Clark, Clipper Ship Era.

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