The Boston Boat service was a seasonal direct link between Prince Edward Island and New England. In earlier postings I have talked about the Confederate blockade runners, the steamers Oriental (ex-Minna) and Greyhound. However the ending of the war between the states also resulted in other vessels with a war history visiting Charlottetown – vessels that had been on duty against the blockade runners during the civil war.
In 1863 William P. Williams of New York commissioned a quintet of wooden steamships from the Van Deusen shipyards yards in the belief that as the civil war continued it would create a market for new steamers for either civil or naval purposes. The five boats were almost identical – 209 feet long, 34 or 35 feet wide and drawing from 17 to 20 feet and displacing over 1000 tons. Etna Ironworks provided the machinery. They were fired by horizontal tube boilers powering two-cylinder direct action engines at right angles to the shaft. The cast iron propellers were twelve feet in diameter. The boats were awkward looking being high-sided with just a hint of a clipper bow looking as if the bowsprit had been forgotten. Most striking in the design was the placement of the wheel house well forward leaving an unusually short fore-deck.
Williams’ gamble paid off, for even before the launch of the first boat, all five were purchased by the U.S. Navy for $160,000 each. The steamers Galatea Glaucus, Nereus, Neptune, and Proteus were all named for sea gods in Greek mythology and all became U.S.S. Galatea etc. All the vessels were armed with Parrott rifles a type of armament used by both land and sea forces as well as smooth bore cannon. Every one of the vessels was engaged in enforcing the blockade of the southern ports but only the U.S.S. Nereus saw active duty being one of the ships involved in the attacks on Fort Fisher, which protected the port of Wilmington North Carolina, in December of 1864 and January of 1865.
On July 12 1865, four of the vessels were acquired by agents for the Baltimore and Ohio Railway. The Proteus was re-named the Carroll, Nereus re-named Somerset; Glaucus re-named Worcester and the Neptune re-named Allegany. The new names were all counties of Maryland.
The B&O Railway had decided to establish a direct first-class steamship service between Baltimore and Liverpool which began in 1865. The service continued on a monthly basis using three of the ships: the Carroll, the Somerset and the Worcester. The Allegany had been lost on Long Island in 1865. By 1868 it was clear that the vessels were too small and slow to provide a first-class service across the Atlantic and the experiment was brought to a close. The B&O Railway later made arrangements with the North German Lloyd line to put two new large boats on the route.
In 1870-71 the three vessels were sold to F. Nickerson and Company of Boston who were already operating a Boston – Halifax – Charlottetown service. The “very superior” Somerset joined the Alhambra on the Charlottetown-Boston run in 1873. Later the Carroll and the Worcester became fixtures in the harbour while the Somerset made occasional appearances. A hint of the commerce carried can be found in an 1873 report of goods shipped on one trip of the Somerset for the Boston market: 282 bbls mackerel worth $2280, 448 drums codfish, worth $1792, 221 bbls herring worth $663, 45 bbls sounds worth $2700, 588 sacks barley worth $1469, 18 bbls potatoes worth $27, 105 crates and 443 boxes of eggs worth $3693 making a total of $13,164. In addition other goods were carried only as far as Halifax and passengers sailed for both ports.
Although ill-suited to the cross-Atlantic run the vessels were ideal for the shorter Maritime – New England route. For more than two decades the two boats which were almost impossible to tell apart were jointly known to Islanders as the Boston Boat. The two steamers were joined by a leased steamer, The State of Indiana. The same year there were anxious moments when the 29 year-old Carroll was three days overdue from its usual 36 hour trip from Halifax to Boston and was believed to have gone down with 150 passengers and 40 crew. The Carroll had been condemned as unseaworthy several years earlier but was repaired and returned to service. Fortunately the vessel had only been disabled and was safely towed into Boothbay Maine. However but by the end of 1892 the Boston, Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Company was insolvent. The two worn out steamers were sold out of service and were scrapped in Boston Harbour in 1894. The service by then had come to be operated by the Plant Line with newer and larger boats and continued until the Great War.