Sea History 087 - Winter 1998-1999

Page 13


America Begins to Change the Atlantic World, Led by a Powerful "X" Factor in New York's Way of Doing Things by Peter Stanford nowflakes whirled dow n out of the gray winter sky as the England. T heir reaso ning ran co mpl etely co ntrary to the custombells of St. Paul's C hapel at Broadway and Ful ro n Street rang ary practice of a ship departing only when she'd loaded a fai rly out th e hour- ten-o 'clock ofa frosty winter morning. It was complete cargo. People we re taken aback when she d id actually sail Mo nday, 5 Jan uary 1818, and the horses that had drawn the on tim e. T he co unterpart ship that the owners had arranged to sail carriages bringing anxious relatives and well-wishers down ro New from Liverpool in England did not sa il as scheduled on 1 January, Yo rk's South Street wa terfro nt snorted puffs of steam fro m their but delayed her sai ling til 9 January, when her cargo was co mplete. nostrils as they shifted from foo t ro foo t, wa iting fo r whatever was Most owners wo uld have been pleased to get that full loading, but going to happen. these we re no ordinary owners. They persisted in their vision of At the foot of Ful ro n Street the pewtery East Rive r wa ter slid regular, on-time sailings . An d in th e future, all Black Ball packets through th e pilin gs of th e pi ers, bearin g an occasion al shee t of sailed on time. ice on its way downriver towa rd the sea. Just to the north, at the T he Bl ack Ballers soon began to command premiu m rates and Beekm an Street pier, a tall, bluffto sail with full holds as sh ippers bowed, smartly painted and varlearned to get their goods aboard on nished ship lay with sails hanging in time, knowing that the ship would M ost owners would have been pleased to get leave when she said she wo uld. And their gear. As the St. Paul 's bells sounded the hour, the big shi p, over that full loading, but these were no ord inary the company did everything else to one hundred fee t in length, the last ass ure fast, regular d e! ive ry of owners. They p ersisted in their vision of wo rd in transAdantic travel, cast off cargo-as fas t and regular as the her lines forward and hauled out of regular, on-time sailings. A nd in the future, passage could be made in a sailing the slip on her sp ring line, the me n ship dependent on the vaga ries of all Black Ball p ackets sailed on time. forwa rd smartl y h oisted jib and the wind. fores taysa il. They backed the graceThe line sailed nothin g but new, ful airfo ils against the chilly wind to big ships of around 400 rons, in a swing the beauty's head off, as other hands tailed on ro the time when ocean freighters seldom exceeded 100 tons. T heir foretopsail ya rd halyard, hoisting the grea t sail to pull the ship skippers cracked on sail and drove th ese big ships as ships on the forward and out into the seaward stream . T here may have been a North Atlanti c run had never been dri ve n before. In the 1820s song or two on deck aboard this great ship that wo uld be these vessels es tablished an ave rage cross ing time from New York re membered in song and story, but we may be sure there were the ro Liverpoo l of onl y 22 days. The return journey rook 40 days on usual sharp commands-"Look alive there!" '"Vas t heaving!" average. T hese runs co uld be much longe r or a good deal shorter, "That's well, the fore braces!" and the like-for the language of the depending o n wind and weather. But th e Black Ball Line inaugusea has not changed much since that distant snowy day, and the rated what was a virtually new mode of Atlantic crossing, accomway of backi ng a square rigger out of her sli p, not at all. plishi ng the passage, com ing and go in g, in something like half the So the 400-to n packet fames Monroe set fo rth on th e first cusro mary time. rransAdancic passage of th e Black Ball Line. T he p ro ud vessel T he prescient French observer H ector St. John de C revecoeur, stood high out of the wa ter, fo r she carri ed only a small cargo of wh om we saw in our last in stallment call ing attention to Ameriapples, cotto n and turpentine from Southern fields and fo rests, cans as "a new race of man," co uld have take n pride in the changes and flour, ap ples and other produce from New England and local the sailin g of these ships wo uld bring about-fo r he had sa id this New Yo rk and New Jersey fa rms. It was much less than she could new man, the American, wo uld "o ne day cause a great change ro carry and less than she did carry on her subsequent voyages under the wo rld ." th e Blac k Ball fl ag. And o nl y eight passe ngers we re visible o n deck "The Venturesome Pursuit" rather than the 28 she was designed to carry, as the ship stood dow nriver toward the Na rrows and the open sea beyond . It was no accident that the Black Ball Line was conce ived and T he f ames Monroesetoutca rrying less than half her capacity fo r sail ed from New Yo rk. New Yo rk had risen ro preemin ence among a simple reason: her owners had decreed that she wo uld leave at Ameri ca's seaporrs in a startlingly sho rt tim e after the British ten-o'clock that morning, rain or shine or even, as it wo rked out, pulled out of the burnt-out city. British so ldi ers had occupied the snow-whi ch was partic ul arly bad because a sudden flur ry could city fo r over seven yea rs, from mid-1 776 unti l 25 N ove mber co mpletely close down visibili ty. T he owners were a co nso rtium 1783 , when the occupying arm y marched ro its boats ro board the of five men headed by Jeremiah T hompson, known up and down ships that roo k th em back to E ngland, in acco rdance with th e the Atlantic seaboard as "that wily old Q uaker. " His partn ers were T reaty of Pa ris which en ded the lo ng wa r. T hey left behind th em bankers and shippers interested in the burgeo ning trade with a shatte red city, whose on ly fu nction had been as an increasingly