Sea History 087 - Winter 1998-1999

Page 18

Those swirling currents of commerce gave New York merchants and suppliers a fair tide for farther development. Never short of initiative and energy, New York simply forged ahead, piling one advance on another, with cumulative effect. dem and fo r Briti sh and E uropean products. Bob Albion came to New York at our invitation thirty yea rs ago, in 1968 , to celebrate the l 50th anni ve rsary of the launch of th e Black Ball Line, on 5 Jan uary 18 18. I asked him whether th ere wasn ' t so mething a li ttle special abo ut New Yorkers, beyond th e good location of the port, that ex pl ain ed their unique impact o n America n seafaring. We talked of the dive rse population that had existed from th e first European settlem ent under the Dutch, and th e necessa ry tol erance of new ideas and different ways of doing things th at this di ve rsity had brought about. Bob , a New Englander born a nd bred , enjoyed New York tremendously-its bossiness, its brash , adventurous and contentious peo pl e-and h e had particularly enj oyed talking to New Yo rk shipping peo ple about th e h arddri ving practi ces of their ancesto rs. H e had also pursued th e statisti cal study of maritime history in greater depth and w ith more originality th an anyone before him . But o n th is qu estion, of ex plaining New York's success, h e paused. "T here are so me thin gs yo u ca n' t exactl y measure," I rem ember him saying. "The m eas urem ents we get lead to intangibles like creati vity, openness, drive and just pl ain gut instincts. You do n ' t get th e New York sto ry w itho ut those thin gs." You need somethin g more, an "X" factor , we agreed , to ex plain New York's rise as America's grea test sea port. W hat that "X" fa ctor had add ed to th e d evelopment of New Yo rk mad e a great difference to Am eri ca in the adventurous days of th e Yo un g Republic. W hat it wou ld add in coming d ecades was to make a difference to th e wo rld. ~

competition from foreign and dom estic suppliers. The abundant suppl y of low-cost British manufacturers had the unanticipated res ult of making New York, already the leading American seapo rt, a great national market for goods which had bee n in short supply for years of embargo and war.






Those swirling currents of com merce gave New York merchants and suppliers a fa ir tide for furth er develop ment. Neve r short of initi ative and energy, New York simply fo rged ahead, pilin g o ne adva nce on another, with cumul ative effect. The sa iling of the first Black Ball packet, with which we began this review, was an outstanding d emonstration of New York's willingness and p ositive desire to inn ovate. To rhe grea t historian of th e port, Robert G. Albion , this sailing stood as the symboli c signal of N ew York's preeminence-a symbolism m ad e stro nge r by rhe fact that no one else tried th e radi ca l step of o n-time sa ilin g to a set, regul ar schedul e unril the Black Ball had paid off ri chly fo r its sponsors, and until the lin e itself had secured a leadin g pos itio n which it held until steam repl aced sai l in the ca rriage of passe nge rs and fast freight across rhe Adantic. New York's wealth and New Yorkers' wi llingness to invest in new proj ects led to the openin g of the Eri e Canal in 1825 , whi ch b ro ught the agricultural produce of th e America n Midwest pouring into New York at prices that drove Hudson River farme rs out of busin ess . T his huge ca pital effort, by far th e greatest single proj ect ever undertaken up to th at tim e, attracted new immi grant labo r, w hi ch swelled the passenger rolls of the packer ships. T he fast-growing population of New York in turn soon raised th e Very large stock of used and rare nautical books! Free catalog. On-line catalog at: "'""ll)-1c tt.t1' RL BOOMS lit!\ nautical/ I Barnstable Rd. Hyannis MA 02601 phone: (508) 778-2929, fax (SOS) 778-2922 e-mail: nautical @capecod .net



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