In an earlier post I expressed amazement that the Oriental, one of the early Boston Boats had been a Confederate Blockade Runner. I should have know better than to start writing before ending my research. The Oriental had a predecessor….
With the end of the American Civil War in 1865 there was an immediate surplus of sailing craft and steamers. The U.S. Navy no longer had need for hundreds of vessels that they had commissioned or purchased. More than a thousand blockade runners that had tried and failed to sustain the South were on the market – either because they had been intercepted and seized, or because they no longer had a role to play. In addition, the privately owned steamers that had been part of the northern war economy faced a reduction in shipping.
It was a good time to start a shipping company.
In spite of the strong links between Prince Edward Island and the Boston States there was no was a regular service line running between Charlottetown and Boston before 1865. Up to that year passengers could take the Steam Navigation Company boat to Pictou and then by carriage to Truro or Halifax to meet Boston steamers. The Nova Scotia Railway was extended to Pictou in 1867 which reduced the trip time considerably. The other main route used by Islanders heading to New England was to cross the Strait from Summerside to Pointe de Chene near Shediac and after 1857 along the European and North American Railway to Saint John and by steamer from there to Boston.
The Massachusetts firm of F. W. Nickerson and Company saw an opportunity. Starting with a service linking Boston and Halifax in 1864, the ships Franconia and Commerce made experimental trips to Charlottetown through the Strait of Canso as well. Finding adequate business a regular weekly services was begun in 1865. The Nickerson interest operated under several corporate structures, one of the earliest of which was the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company formed in 1866. The service later was operated as the Boston, Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Company. Nickerson’s also had trading interests with the West Indies and were agents for the Boston and Savannah Steamship Company. Their ships operated on a variety of routes.
The almost-new steamer Greyhound was placed on the Boston – Charlottetown run in 1865. She had been built at Port Glasgow on the Clyde in Scotland only two years before. The sleek 201 foot, 460 ton vessel, built by Kilpatrick. McIntyre & Co., carried a full set of sails but was an iron screw steamer with compound engines by Caird and Company. She was probably built specifically as a blockade runner. Launched late in 1863 her Liverpool owners quickly sold her and by early in January 1864 she headed across the Atlantic for the contested waters off the Confederate States of America. She made one trip into Wilmington North Carolina but her luck ran out on 10 May 1864 as she was leaving Wilmington with 800 bales of government cotton, 35 tons of tobacco and a number of passengers including Confederate spy Belle Boyd who later capitalized on her fame and had a theatrical career. Intercepted by the U.S.S. Connecticut the Greyhound was seized and sent to Boston to be sold to help meet war costs. She was assessed for $484,000 the highest valuation of a seized vessel ever reached at Boston! By this time the South was well in retreat. When the northern army entered Charleston they found near starvation conditions and on learning of the city’s plight the citizens of Boston raised $30,000 for food relief in four days. The supplies were sent to the southern city using a chartered vessel – the former blockade runner Greyhound.
The following year found the Greyhound along with the steamer Commerce on the Boston – P.E.I. service but the handsome vessel was not destined to have long service. On what was to be her last trip of the year to Charlottetown for 1865 she struck the treacherous Bird Rock Ledges off Nova Scotia and was lost in 11 fathoms of water, Captain Nickerson, the crew and passengers and crew were saved and landed at Beaver Harbour. The vessel was reportedly insured for $100,000. The company was able to place her successor, the Oriental, on the P.E.I. run the following spring.