Tag Archives: Greyhound

Commerce and Franconia – The first of the Boston Boats

Steamer Commerce at Boston’s T Wharf c. 1870. Although only the wheelhouse of the small vessel can be seen its diminutive size is clear.

In yet another connection between Prince Edward Island and the Civil War, the steamer Commerce was the first of many vessels* trading to Prince Edward Island which had begun life on one side or the other of the Union blockade of the southern states. She was built in England on the river Tees by the firm of Backhouse and Dixon and launched, carrying the name Pet, in October 1862. In all probability she was designed specifically for blockade running. A relatively small vessel, 141 feet long and 20 wide, she had engines which gave her a top speed of 11 1/2 knots. Although not the name on her ownership papers she was the property of the Manchester firm of Alexander Collie & Co. who owned more than fifteen blockade runners, many of which were to be eventually seized by the Union forces.

The Pet arrived in Nassau Bahamas, the main port for blockade runners, in early 1863 and was one of 28 new vessels noted by the U.S. Consul that season. The Consul calculated that each of these vessels could make a profit of $119,000 per trip which meant that the full cost of building the Pet was covered by a single round-trip. A good blockade captain could be paid $7,000 in gold for each round trip. She was a very successful commercial blockade-runner and made between fifteen and twenty trips over the next year. However, in February 1864 she was intercepted on her way from Nassau to Wilmington, Delaware by the U.S.S. Montgomery. She was close enough to shore to land her passengers and pilot before the navy boarding party could stop them. The crew were captured but as British nationals were later released.

As a prize of war the Pet was sent to Boston to be auctioned off and in April 1864 she was purchased by Franklyn Snow of Boston for $35,500. The new owner changed her name to the Commerce and she began a new life as the first of the Boston Boats shuttling between Charlottetown and Boston under the name of the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company. On her arrival in Halifax one newspaper there described her as a gentlemen’s yacht but noted her appearance had been spoiled by the addition of increased accommodation although the writer did concede that her cabins were “nicely fitted”. She arrived in Charlottetown in late May accompanied by her owner who, according to the Islander,  “made himself most agreeably acquainted with the many citizens of Charlottetown.”

Islander 9 September 1864

Beginning with a bi-weekly service, the Commerce, ex Pet, was joined in early August by a larger vessel, the steamer Franconia. This ship was American-built, and at 179 feet, was considerably larger than the Commerce. Her arrival at Charlottetown seems to have been accorded more coverage than that of the Commerce, perhaps because owner Franklyn Snow provided an excursion to Point Prim for, as the Islander stated, “all the world and his wife” and most of the leading politicians of the colony provided entertainment for the captive audience in the form of speeches praising the enterprise.  George Coles noted this was the first attempt at providing regular service since the visits of the Albatross  more than twenty years earlier. The addition of the Franconia to the Boston and Colonial fleet meant that Charlottetown would have regular weekly service to Boston with each of the vessels leaving their respective ports every Monday and arriving on Friday.

The provision of regular service was a major advancement for the colony. Previously shippers had to take advantage of what ever opportunity presented itself, often not knowing when a ship would arrive until it appeared in the harbor.  This was especially welcome for shippers of perishable goods such as oysters, eggs, meat and produce which could go directly to market in Boston or Halifax. While an alternative route using the ships of the P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company and several Canadian and American rail lines was available, the cargo would have to be handled several times as it had to be transferred from ship to wagon or rail several times. Another advantage was speed. The steamers could reach their port within four days, including stops at Pictou, Canso, and Halifax. Sailing vessels could take much longer. The direct service also suited passengers who could make the trip for as little as eight dollars – with additional cost for cabins and meals.

The question of the day was whether or not the trade would support the venture. The Islander’s editor noted that “The Americans have been, and are, our best customers” and suggested that by inducing the American fishing fleet, which annually visited Island waters, to harvest the herring and ship their catches on the fast steamers rather than having to return to their ports, could provide additional trade.

An added concern was that the Boston service would have a negative impact on the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company which had just made a major investment in a new vessel, the Princess of Wales.  However, at the close of navigation the Islander was able to report that the Boston run had been “well patronized” and that the receipts for the Steam Navigation Company had not fallen off.

That year, navigation closed on December 21st with the Franconia being the last vessel to work its way through the harbour ice to the open channel.  She carried some 12,500 bushels of oats, 150 sheep and a quantity of poultry as well as other goods.

The following year the Commerce returned but the Franconia did not. She was replaced on the run by the Greyhound. By 1870 the Franconia had become the property of the Maine Steamship Co. and was used on their Portland to New York route for many years.  For the next half-century the Boston Boat was a vital part of the Island’s communication  system. During the period many vessels and several companies served on the route  and they both responded to, and helped forge, the close linkages between the Island and the Boston States.

* Vessels in the P.E.I. service which had a civil war connection include the Greyhound, Oriental, Miramichi, St. Lawrence, Worcester, Carroll, Somerset, Westmoreland and Lady Le Marchant,

 

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U.S. Civil War left a Legacy on P.E.I. Marine History

Steamer at Plant Line Wharf 1893. Public Archives and Records Office. Sterling Collection Accession 3218/70.

The image is a striking one. A handsome two-funnel paddle steamer is tied up to the Plant Line wharf in  Charlottetown.  In the album where the image is found, a date of 1893 is attached to the picture. However there is no name given and no name can be found on the ship. What could it be and why was it in Charlottetown harbour?

By 1893 the day of the side-wheel paddle steamer was long past.  Screw steamers had proven to be more powerful and, more importantly, cheaper to run.  As passenger and freight boats they had long since been supplanted by newer models, except perhaps in England where paddle-wheelers continued to be used as tugs for many years.  So it is likely that the mystery boat is an older vessel. It appears to be of iron or steel construction and seems in good condition.

Without more clues it seemed that the ship was destined to remain nameless and then a reader of this column gave me the answer. He was, and continues to be, an inveterate researcher and genealogist and has probably viewed more miles of microfilm than anyone in the province.

The ship, he suggested,  was the S.S. Miramichi and like so many of the vessels coming in and out of Charlottetown there was a story to tell.

I have several times remarked on the amazing number of times that the Island steamers were associated with the American Civil War. The Boston boats; Oriental (Minna), Greyhound, and St. Lawrence (General Whiting) all had been blockade runners while the Worcester, Carroll, Somerset,  Westmorland and Lady LeMarchant all had roles on the Union side. The Miramichi was also engaged in the conflict but not under that name.

S.S./U.S.S. Bat. Drawing by Erik Heyl from Early America Steamers, 1953.

The Liverpool shipbuilding firm of Jones, Quiggins & Co. built a large number of blockade runners for either private owners or the government of the Confederacy. In 1864 four identical sister-ships; Bat, Deer, Owl, and Stag were launched from their yards between June and August.  Built of steel, they were all 230 feet overall, 26 feet wide and were relatively shallow draft drawing only 6 feet 6 inches when fully loaded.  Although schooner rigged their primary propulsion was from 180 horse-power twin vertical oscillating Watt engines fired by two boilers driving side paddle wheels.  The fine straight lines were surmounted by two funnels.  One of the outstanding features of this class of blockade runners was the speed of the vessels. She reached 14 knots in trials but was capable of higher speeds when loaded as the paddles were then deeper in the water. These ships were each designed to carry from 800 to 850 bales of cotton through the Union blockade and provide revenue for the beleaguered south. On return trips they would carry necessary supplies and materials for the war effort.

The Bat was launched on 1 August 1864 and within a few days was pressed into service. On her first trip for the Confederacy she carried a cargo of shoe machinery across the Atlantic. Stopping for coal at Halifax she headed south to try and sneak into the port of Wilmington North Carolina. She evaded several of the blockade ships but was spotted by the patrol vessel U.S.S. Montgomery. The Bat was unable to get up to speed before she was fired on. A single shot hit the Bat’s deckhouse fatally wounding a crew member and the ship surrendered immediately.  The Bat was sent to Boston where she was condemned as a war prize and purchased in November 1864 by the U.S. Navy for $150,000. As the U.S.S. Bat she saw out the rest of the war without incident.

Auctioned in New York following the end of the war she was sold for less than $30,000 and renamed the S.S. Teazer. She may have operated between Boston or New York and New Orleans but in 1872 she came to Quebec having been purchased by the Quebec & Gulf Ports Steamship Company and was renamed the S.S. Miramichi.

The Quebec and Gulf Ports Steamship Company had the Royal Mail contract for voyages between Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia running several iron paddle-wheel steamers. Passengers and freight connected at Shediac and Pictou for Prince Edward Island although after Confederation the line, renamed the Quebec Steamship Company in 1880, often made regular stops at Charlottetown.  By the 1890s the  Miramichi was also a regular visitor to Summerside as well. In 1895 the Miramichi was replaced by the S.S. Campana and the thirty-year-old Miramichi, ed-Teazer, ex-Bat, continued on routes on the St. Lawrence and the Gulf. In 1902 she became the property of the Richelieu & Ontario Navigation Company but appears to have been scrapped shortly after.

The preponderance of former civil war vessels seeing service in P.E.I. waters raises the question of the effect of the war on the economy of the region. Up to the mid 1860s P.E.I. had a strong shipbuilding industry but it disappeared in the following years. Was a contributing cause the large number of ships built for both sides in the American conflict which were released on the market after the war’s end?  Hundreds of vessels at cheap price were suddenly available.  Certainly we have seen how inexpensive and modern steamers on both the Atlantic coastal services and in the Gulf came from surplus vessels built or purchased for war shipping and naval activities.

With the exception of the photo shown above there appear to be no pictures of the Bat or any of her three sister ships so this picture is a valuable artifact, not just of the history of Prince Edward Island, but for the remarkable story of the blockade runners and the navy of the Confederate States.

More detailed accounts of the Bat’s short war-time history are found in a number of published accounts but is most easily accessed in a Wikipedia article found here.  As usual Kevin Griffin’s history of the Clarke Steamship Company contains invaluable information about the shipping in the Gulf of St. Lawrence including services between Quebec and Prince Edward Island.

I am indebted to champion researcher Gary Carroll for providing the key to unlock the mystery of the unknown paddle-wheeler.

The Boston, Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Company.

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 GreyhoundHowever 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.

Carroll

S.S. Carroll (or perhaps the Worcester) in Charlottetown harbour about 1893. Public Archives and Records Office photo

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.

Carroll-02

Drawing by Erik Heyl for his book Early American Steamers Vol 1. 1953.

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.

Carroll3

S.S. Carroll in busy Boston Harbour.

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.

Worcester001

Advertisement in the Annual Report of the Boston Board of Trade 1884 p. 167

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.

merrimack

Steamer Merrimack

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. However other vessels also held the title although they only ran for brief periods. The two were joined by the 260 foot, 2200 ton Merrimack in 1886. This vessel was already 27 years old and had seen service as a leased transport during the civil war. She was on a route to Brazil for a number of years and then had sailed between Boston and Halifax. On her first trip to Charlottetown in July 1886 with one hundred passengers she fetched up on Rifleman Reef but was able to get off the following day.  Her brief service ended in July 1887 when she was lost without loss of life on Little Hope Island Nova Scotia. In 1891 the two steamers were briefly joined by a former trans-Atlantic steamer, The State of Indiana.

Carroll

ANTONIO NICOLO GASPARO JACOBSEN Danish/American, 1850-1921 The American passenger vessel Carroll Signed and dated lower right “A. Jacobsen 1918” http://myartblogcollection.blogspot.com/2015_07_26_archive.html

In late fall of that 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.

Confusingly in 1889 a Canadian company the Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Company had been incorporated. This company had no relationship with the Boston firm and was Halifax-based and linked to the Pickford and Black interests. Their steamer, the Princess Beatrice, which operated beginning in 1889 was wrecked near Isaacs Harbour, N.S. in September 1890. She was replaced by the Fastnet.    

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North Atlantic Steamship Company advertisement. Boston Globe 13 October 1893.

However by the end of 1892 the Boston, Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Company was insolvent, with the blame placed on the imprudent purchase of the State of Indiana.  In that year and in 1893 the Worcester and the Carroll were operated by the North Atlantic Steamship Company but they appear to have been in direct competition with the recently-formed Canada Atlantic and Plant Line. A pooling arrangement with the Canada Atlantic line had been cancelled in 1891.  A price war saw tickets from Boston to Charlottetown go as low as $3.50 for a berth. However, 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.