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The Old Merchant Marine; A chronicle of American ships and sailors   By: (1871-1925)

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THE OLD MERCHANT MARINE,

A CHRONICLE OF AMERICAN SHIPS AND SAILORS

By Ralph D. Paine

CONTENTS

I. COLONIAL ADVENTURERS IN LITTLE SHIPS II. THE PRIVATEERS OF '76 III. OUT CUTLASES AND BOARD! IV. THE FAMOUS DAYS OF SALEM PORT V. YANKEE VIKINGS AND NEW TRADE ROUTES VI. "FREE TRADE AND SAILORS' RIGHTS!" VII. THE BRILLIANT ERA OF 1812 VIII. THE PACKET SHIPS OF THE "ROARING FORTIES" IX. THE STATELY CLIPPER AND HER GLORY X. BOUND COASTWISE

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

THE OLD MERCHANT MARINE

CHAPTER I. COLONIAL ADVENTURERS IN LITTLE SHIPS

The story of American ships and sailors is an epic of blue water which seems singularly remote, almost unreal, to the later generations. A people with a native genius for seafaring won and held a brilliant supremacy through two centuries and then forsook this heritage of theirs. The period of achievement was no more extraordinary than was its swift declension. A maritime race whose topsails flecked every ocean, whose captains courageous from father to son had fought with pike and cannonade to defend the freedom of the seas, turned inland to seek a different destiny and took no more thought for the tall ships and rich cargoes which had earned so much renown for its flag.

Vanished fleets and brave memories a chronicle of America which had written its closing chapters before the Civil War! There will be other Yankee merchantmen in times to come, but never days like those when skippers sailed on seas uncharted in quest of ports mysterious and unknown.

The Pilgrim Fathers, driven to the northward of their intended destination in Virginia, landed on the shore of Cape Cod not so much to clear the forest and till the soil as to establish a fishing settlement. Like the other Englishmen who long before 1620 had steered across to harvest the cod on the Grand Bank, they expected to wrest a livelihood mostly from salt water. The convincing argument in favor of Plymouth was that it offered a good harbor for boats and was "a place of profitable fishing." Both pious and amphibious were these pioneers whom the wilderness and the red Indian confined to the water's edge, where they were soon building ships to trade corn for beaver skins with the Kennebec colony.

Even more energetic in taking profit from the sea were the Puritans who came to Massachusetts Bay in 1629, bringing carpenters and shipbuilders with them to hew the pine and oak so close at hand into keelsons, frames, and planking. Two years later, Governor John Winthrop launched his thirty ton sloop Blessing of the Bay, and sent her to open "friendly commercial relations" with the Dutch of Manhattan. Brisk though the traffic was in furs and wampum, these mariners of Boston and Salem were not content to voyage coastwise. Offshore fishing made skilled, adventurous seamen of them, and what they caught with hook and line, when dried and salted, was readily exchanged for other merchandise in Bermuda, Barbados, and Europe.

A vessel was a community venture, and the custom still survives in the ancient ports of the Maine coast where the shapely wooden schooners are fashioned. The blacksmith, the rigger, the calker, took their pay in shares. They became part owners, as did likewise the merchant who supplied stores and material; and when the ship was afloat, the master, the mates, and even the seamen, were allowed cargo space for commodities which they might buy and sell to their own advantage. Thus early they learned to trade as shrewdly as they navigated, and every voyage directly concerned a whole neighborhood.

This kind of enterprise was peculiar to New England because other resources were lacking. To the westward the French were more interested in exploring the rivers leading to the region of the Great Lakes and in finding fabulous rewards in furs. The Dutch on the Hudson were similarly engaged by means of the western trails to the country of the Iroquois, while the planters of Virginia had discovered an easy opulence in the tobacco crop, with slave labor to toil for them, and they were not compelled to turn to the hardships and the hazards of the sea... Continue reading book >>




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