Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mount Vernon Batteau Project/ Guest Blog Post

Building the Batteau: George Washington’s Mount Vernon Fisheries

By Luke J. Pecoraro, PhD

Director of Archaeology, George Washington’s Mount Vernon

   Upon George Washington’s inheritance of Mount Vernon in the mid-eighteenth century, his 2,500 acre holding was characterized by a contemporary source as a “neglected and mediocre plantation” (Walsh, 2001: 54). At pains to keep his estate solvent and also return a profit, Washington made the bold leap from tobacco monoculture to wheat, experimenting with at least 60 different crops in addition to fishing the Potomac River. Of all Washington’s economic pursuits perhaps none were as consistently lucrative as his fisheries; it is estimated that in a spring fishing season that Washington’s operations netted 1.3 million shad and herring, often accounting for more income than any one single crop (Walsh 2001: 52).  
   Both shad and herring were significant food fish in the 18 th century, and at Mount Vernon served both the internal plantation community as well as the broader Atlantic World (Fig. 1). The fishing operations on the Potomac River generally ran from March through May, and during this period enslaved laborers worked from dawn to dusk in small watercraft with seine nets to haul the fish to shore. At the appointed landing sites, the fish would be sorted by species, cleaned, and either salted and barreled for sale to plantations in the West Indies or smoked and sun-dried for consumption by the slaves on Washington’s farms (Atkins 1994: 66). Washington stipulated that each adult slave receive 20 herring per month; during the Revolutionary War when salt was particularly scarce, Washington’s farm manager informed him:

“…I have but very little salt, of which we must make the most. I mean to make a brine and after cutting off the head and bellys dipping them in the brine for but a short time, then hang them up and cure them by smoke, or dry them in the sun; for our people being so long accustomed to have fish whenever they wanted, would think it very hard to have none at all…” (Thompson 1999-2002: 19)

   Archaeological evidence from Mount Vernon’s House for Families, a slave quarter near the Mansion House, yielded hundreds of fish bones and the quantities of shad and herring remains found certainly back up the documentary evidence. What is more, deposits from the House for Families dating from 1780-1790 indicates that herring was a critical element to slave diet, perhaps suggesting that Washington intensified his fishing operations during this period (Bowen et al. 2016: 117).(Fig. 2) Despite what is known of the fisheries at Mount Vernon, little documentary evidence survives relating to the boats used for this lucrative enterprise. Watercraft described in Washington’s writings name vessel types such as a schooner, yawl, brigantine, barge, batteau, and simply “fishing boats”. At least one schooner is thought to have been built by Washington’s carpenters at Mount Vernon, but the small craft used for fishing seem to have been rented during the spring from neighboring planters (Walsh 2001: 52).
   Mount Vernon had a blacksmith shop and a carpenter shop which helped to make the plantation reasonably self-sufficient, and it is likely that Washington’s hired white artisans and enslaved blacksmiths and carpenters built or maintained watercraft for the fisheries (Fig. 3). In an effort to interpret George Washington’s fisheries, the historic trades team along with skilled volunteers from the Alexandria, VA boat-building community is completing the construction of a 21-foot batteau. The batteau is being built on-site at Mount Vernon’s Pioneer Farm location, using traditional methods and reproduction 18 th century tools (Figs. 4, 5). 
   The plan of the batteau comes from the collection of plans compiled by Howard I. Chapelle who served as the curator of maritime history at the Smithsonian Institution from 1957 to 1967. Chapelle’s drawing of the batteau underway at Mount Vernon comes from his work American Small Sailing Craft (1936), a formative text that detailed construction of classic American workboats (Fig. 6). Visitors to Mount Vernon will have the opportunity this summer to visit the craftsmen as they complete the batteau, in addition to watching the up-to- the-minute process online by visiting To learn more about the archaeology program at Mount Vernon and the material recovered, please visit us at


Atkins, Stephen C. 1994 An Archaeological Perspective on the African-American Slave Diet at Mount Vernon’s House forFamilies. MA Thesis, Dept. of Anthropology, College of William and Mary. Williamsburg, VA.

Bowen, Joanne, et al. 2016 Faunal Analysis for Mount Vernon: South Grove Assemblages (44FX762/17), House for Families  Assemblages (44FX762/40 and 44FX762/47). Manuscript prepared for Mount Vernon’s Archaeology Program, Dept. of Historic Preservation and Collections. Colonial Williamsburg Dept. of Archaeological Research. Williamsburg, VA.

Thompson, Mary V. 1999-2002 “’Better…fed than Negroes Generally Are?’: Diet of Mount Vernon Slaves.” Manuscript on file, Mount Vernon Ladies Association. Mount Vernon, VA.

Walsh, Lorena S. 2001 “Slavery and Agriculture at Mount Vernon,” in Philip J. Schwarz, editor, Slavery at the Home of George Washington. Mount Vernon Ladies Association: Mount Vernon, VA. pp. 47-77.

Figure 1: Approximate locations of George Washington’s fisheries.

Figure 2: fish bones and scales recovered from the House for Families excavation.

Figure 3: (l) 18th c. compass or dividers in use by the batteau builders, alongside (r) an example recovered archaeologically at Mount Vernon.


Figure 4: Batteau under construction.

Figure 5: Replica tools for boat building.

Figure 6: Chapelle’s 1936 batteau plan.  

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Virginia Maritime Heritage Update/ CSS RICHMOND

Virginia Maritime Heritage Update/ CSS RICHMOND

Over the past three years Michael Nusbaum and his colleagues have been working with Department of Historic Resources, Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, associates of VCU, as well as NOAA to document the remains of the Confederate warship CSS Richmond and associated sites.  This blog post is to clarify to my international colleagues this project, which has been somewhat closed to the media and the general archaeological community.  The project is well planned and Michael Nusbaum (a passionate avocational)  has gone to a great length to construct a valid research objective in recording these sites, their current state of preservation, and help Department of Historic Resources develop a management plan.  Department of Historic Resources state conservator Katherine Ridgway has taken into her possession new and used equipment from the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News to aid in the conservation of any recovered material.  While the release of information and data has been small we all await the publication of the site drawings, photographs of conserved recovered materials, and final field recording publication.  All maritime archaeologists in Virginia hope that this project will usher in a revival, one which has been much awaited since 1989, of Virginia’s establishment of sustainable long term infrastructure to replace the sporadic and disparate recording standards of the past 25 years in regard to our shared submerged cultural heritage.    We hope that this will inspire not only those scholars imbued with a fascination with the lost cause of the greycoats, but those who love any and all forms of maritime culture in Virginia. 

For more official information you can direct your questions to Dr. Mike Barber, State Archaeologist of Virginia.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

500th anniversary of Waldseemüller's 1516 Carta Marina.

October 6-7 (Washington, DC, USA)
The Library of Congress in Washington, DC will hold a two-day lecture series and celebration of Waldseemüller's 1516 Carta Marina.  Originally published in 1516, this event will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Carta Marina with lectures on "Washington Facts or Fictions: Debating the Mysteries of Early Modern Science and Cartography."  For more information, contact John Hessler, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress, at jhes(at)loc.go

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Monthly publication highlight: A Study of a 16th -century wooden vessel from the Netherlands by Margaret Logan


The sixteenth century, specifically concerning shipbuilding, presents a gap in the available information. As Jacques van Damme of the Scheepsvaartmuseum Baasrode put it, "It's a hole" (Van Damme, 2013, personal communication). The period is sandwiched between the Middle Ages and the dawn of the  Dutch Golden Age, two periods with relative wealths of information, data, and material. For this reason, the discovery of a vessel dated to this particular period provides a small glimpse into  the usually-dim era of shipbuilders and shipbuilding.

OE34, a wooden flush-plank vessel roughly 16m long and 5m wide, and dated (both dendrochronologically and relatively) to the second half of the sixteenth century, was discovered in 1979 in a reclamated polder in Flevoland, the Netherlands. The vessel featured ceiling planking, anextensive framing system, and hull planking, as well as an assortment of associated finds. Theseincluded a few weapons, barrels of quicklime, coins, ceramic pitchers, and more. Over the course of two sessions in 2011 and 2012, under the direction of the International Fieldschool of Maritime Archaeology Flevoland, the vessel was excavated and deposed. The author herself participated in thesecond session of excavation. Sources will therefore be the excavation drawings and photographs, as well as comparisons to other vessels which are either contemporaneous with OE34 or feature similar constructional characteristics.

It is the aim of this thesis to present the vessel in it's entirety, both in constructional elementsand associated finds. Perhaps, in the course of such scrutiny, it is possible to discern what the vesselmay have been used for, and maybe even some conclusive statements can be made about the shipbuilders who constructed it. It will not be a question of which typology of water-craft to place the vessel. The author goes so far as to argue that such endeavours in and of themselves do little in the way of academic research, and in the attempt to shed light on the past. To, dare I say, simply categorize a vessel based on construction method is moot. Rather, what can the comprehensive analysis of a vessel tell us, if anything, about its possible function, and about those who built and sailed it? "[Ships'] remains, like the words of historical texts, carry meaning of far more interpretive value than simple identification like labels in an old-fashioned museum case. A far better strategy is an approach that seeks to capitalize on the source materials in a more integrated way" (Adams, 2003, p 42). This holistic approach will take into account three aspects of the vessel. First, the historical setting in which the vessel was built and operated—namely the Netherlands in the period leading to the Dutch Golden Age. Second, and more strongly, the construction of the vessel; careful and methodical observation of every element of the vessel can reveal what methods and materials were used when building it, as well as the constructional philosophy behind it.  Third and lastly, to a lesser degree, the myriad associated finds will be considered, and the information which can be gleaned from them. For example, coins found in the course of excavation revealed the foundering date of the vessel, based on the lack of a particular mark or stamp on those coins.

One may almost call this approach an anthropological one: the human aspect should always be the final destination of a research question. Quantitative data concerning the archaeological record is crucial and infinitely useful, when used as a magnifying glass, microscope, or telescope to those who created, used, and/or discarded or lost the artefact in question. With this small wooden vessel from the Low Countries, approached with a holistic (almost anthropological) view, the author hopes to come to conclusive statements concerning who built and used her. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Context and Perspective: Fastenings and wood use in colonial Chesapeake shipbuilding.

Ships fastenings cannot be understood as a standalone topic.  They are intimately linked to the materials they join together.  Neither can ships fastenings be understood without the economic context in which they are used.

Several studies have been completed on the merchant fleet employed in the Chesapeake during the 17th and 18th century and some data on wood use has been introduced into this regions research paradigms, but the goal of this past collected works was of a broad scope.  The finite use of wood in the Chesapeake is best discussed in a two part dialogue.  The first deals with how the wood was selected for shipbuilding, and export.  The second part deals with how the types of wood for shipbuilding and export changed through time. 

Selecting Timber:

First and foremost, it must be understood that wood selection could come from two avenues, by plantation owners, or by agents of the crown for shipbuilding.  A series of parliamentary acts beginning in 1691 made the selection of timber from the North American colonies a priority.  Either way, the tending, selecting, and harvesting of trees would have been as follows.

Trees in stands or forests are the preferred source for tall wood for making planning, keel, deadrise, sternpost, and gripe structures on ships.  The competition for light causes the primary species (white oak) employed in the making of these parts to grow proportionally than if they had been grown in an open field.  It would have been difficult for the shipwright, lumber merchant to determine the exact height of a tree in a crowded forest, however, by measuring the diameter of the base of the trunk, for oak a general ratio of 1:15 could be used to approximate.  1 being the diameter, and 15 being the height.  That process can be seen in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1

After performing a measurement on the trunk of a disease and knot free round white oak tree, it would be felled with either an ax or long saw.  The branches would be trimmed back to where their curvature had a still useful diameter.  All of the timber would have had all of its bark removed for sale to tanneries and other industries.  The shipwright/ timber merchant would choose likely between 20-100 trees at a time for this process, often assisted in his labors by slaves.  The long logs would then be rolled downslope and floated down creeks and rivers to the larger towns for processing.  Some of the logs would be turned into expanded extended logboats of a type employed in the British Isles during the 17th-19th centuries as can be seen in Fig. 2.  This logboat is in essence the canoe version of the much larger cargo “Rose’s Tobacco” boat. 

Fig. 2

As all species of lumber trees became less prevalent during the later half of the 18th century many properties were dedicated to their growth, and forests were jealously guarded.  In these more sparsely dense forests, and plantation roads, trees had less competition for light and grew shorter, often having a width to height ratio of 1:10-12.  They were more prone to disease such as core rot, and if not tended to they would develop knots which prevented the wood from being easily split to make long boards.  Saw marks become the norm and show the decline in lumber resources when one examines late 18th and 19th century buildings in the Chesapeake region as prior to the third quarter of the century building employed split and broadaxed toolmarks.

The plantation owner or his agent would have employed the same type of simple ratio mathematics to determine the height and readiness of the trees on the plantation estate.  Using perspective, the workman would have employed simple formula a x d = h, where a is the actual height, d is the distance the observer has walked from the object, and h is the observed height.  The workman would have tied a knotted line unto the tree, with knots in 1 foot intervals, similar in style to the maritime chip log, and once the tree to be measured was one foot in perspective, he would count the knots back to the tree and do very simple arithmetic as can be seen in Fig. 3.

Fig. 3

The same method would be employed for moving the trees, water was a natural resource that enable exports to go out and imports to come into the Chesapeake.  However, during the later part of the 18th century trees often fell into the river and caused “snags”, these had to be cleared by slaves and servants to keep the inland waterways open for trade, but often meant the slave master had several slaves managing the riverbanks, making the clearing and herding trees along the rivers for the first stretch of their journey easier Fig 4.

Fig. 4

Once the timber had reached a port town after floating, it would be left to dry for several months before it was processed.  The two types of processing most common at port towns such as Alexandria, would have been splitting with wedges, or pit sawing.  Splitting wood enables the preservation of the long grain of the wood, making boards, beams, and frames prepared this way more durable than pit sawing.  Pit sawing, achieved with the long saw Fig 5. Would have enabled more control and efficient usage of lumber, however, it was often employed when wood of lower quality was brought in.

Fig. 5

 Logs with core rot, and knots are difficult if not impossible to split, yet they retain wood that is useful for the architectural wood trade.  The shipwright/ timber merchant would have looked the trees over that were harvested for these imperfections, but as white oak, pine, and tall straight cedar became scarce in the Chesapeake onwards the end of the 18th century, merchants often did not have a choice in the timber they selected.  Fig. 6 shows knots and core rot.

Fig. 6

A general tendency has emerged for those large wrecks of vessels built in the Middle Atlantic during the 18th century in regard to wood use.  The center portion of the tree, with its dense core wood was reserved for keel, gripe, deadrise, and other critical structures in boats and ships.  The outer concave grained sections split off from the core were relegated to ceiling, decking, and outer hull planking depending upon quality with more and more pine being employed later in the 18th century.  The corners of the log where split off would become stringers or bilge clamps, and the scrap wood from the outside would become the treenails. All of this can be seen in Fig. 7.

Fig. 7


Much work in this field work places emphasis on the belief that white oak was preferred for shipbuilding, and in a way it was.  Further scholars have somewhat bent the data to say that it was more durable or wear resistant, both statements are unsupportable.  Upon early exploration of the Chesapeake by the Dutch, English, and Spanish during the late 16th century, a world of timber resources was revealed and subsequently exploited.  The primary timber species initially exploited were, white oak, red oak, maple, cypress, and white pine.  Species such as yellow or loblolly pine, the devil woods, were relegated to split rail fences. 

Native peoples also heavily exploited wood resources for watercraft.  Large extended ad expanded log canoes of upwards of 12 meters in length existed in the Chesapeake during the 16th century.  Some of the first laws employed by European colonists in the Chesapeake dealt with the theft of these watercraft by Europeans.  It would appear that cypress and oak were preferred, but any tree with a suitable trunk could be employed.  These logboats may appear in our mind primitive, but the people of the British Isles and Continent employed expanded and extended logboats well into the 19th century.

Due to the lower population density of the colonies during the 17th century, wood usage can be described as wasteful.  However, after the Baltic timber collapse during the 1640’s and 1650’s more and more timber was exported from Virginia to Europe, primarily for housing construction.  Wood for export from the entire Middle Atlantic colonies from the 1680’s and later are usually recorded in merchant ledgers as being in board feet.  This is usually taken to mean, boards of 1 foot with, 1 inch thick.  Primary export wood is nearly always white oak. 

Throughout the 18th century stands of white oak became less prevalent along the Chesapeake estuaries.  Foraging parties were forced to go further inland for ships timbers, as the wood necessary was only available out of 1 in 10 white oak trees or less and even then only certain sections of the tree were useful.  White oak trees of poorer quality were pit sawn after they had been floated downstream to export towns like Alexandria.  This timber made up part of the burgeoning trade with Hispanola for sugar, Martinique for silk and fine clothes, and St Eustatius for everything else the colonies wanted to smuggle in.  Grain and lumber were the most common commodities traded for smuggled goods and were a sticking point which helped lead to the American Revolution. 

Kelso mentions in his text the colonists’ reluctance to buy boats made from mulberry and cedar, however, from a wider perspective, the Spanish had banned the harvesting of fruitwoods and cedar on Cuba during the 2nd half of the 18th century, necessitating import of white oak from the colonies for the building of sugar plantations.  The reason why ships constructed of Cuban cedar were so sough after was their rot resistance, a ship build of Cuban cedar would last twice as long as one built form oak.  Here in the colonies fruitwoods and cedar were employed for the same reason but due to the smaller nature of the trees in the Chesapeake.  The small cedar trees meant that shallop to sloop size vessels could be built of these materials but it would be impractical to build anything larger.   Due to the low cargo capacity of these boat designs, the colonists favored boat of oak, which could be built larger and improve their profits. 

For this reason large oceangoing vessels were constructed with their lower hulls of white oak, often with white pine as deck planking.  Eventually, during the late 18th century, white oak would be largely exhausted and timber of southern live oak would be imported into the Chesapeake from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.  Southern live oak and pin oaks can often be found planted on the properties of the former colonial plantations, like historic Scotchtown, home of the patriot Patrick Henry in Hanover, Virginia. 

Special thanks goes to Ann Reid, Historic Site Supervisor for Patrick Henry’s Scotchtown Preservation Virginia. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

The humble ships spike: what’s in a name?

As I tried to make clear in my last blog post, ships fastenings can tell us about the construction of boats and ships in the Chesapeake, but they can also tell us about the life of a vessel.  The lowly ships spike is a great example.  They are often misidentified in the catalogues of archaeological excavations all over the Chesapeake region.  While generally similar to large nails used in terrestrial architecture, both wrought iron ships spikes and ceiling nails have a much wider shoulder just below the rose head. 
As a general rule the use of iron fastenings on ocean going vessels during the 17th and 18th century was not considered best practice.  However, there comes a point in the life of a vessel that the primary fastenings, the treenails, fail to hold even after successive repairs.  Often as a last step wrought iron ships spikes are added to draw the outer planking back down.  In poorly constructed vessels this can be done at the onset of construction.  The wider shoulder on wrought iron ships spikes and ceiling nails had the purpose of compressing the wood in the planking and to draw it taught to the framing (Fig. 1A).  The ships spikes also had the advantage that as the ship hogged, pitched, and twisted as it sailed, the nail head wouldn’t loosen as it had been pre-compressed when applied. 
Fig. 1

Ships ceiling nails, if purpose made, would have had the same wide shoulder as the repair type ships spikes (Fig. 1B).  Often times though, purpose made ceiling nails would not have been available to boatyards.  Both of these fastenings required special nail making tools to fabricate.  It is not an odd occurrence to see normal board nails in the ceiling planking of boats and ships constructed in the Chesapeake during the 17th and 18th century. 

As ships spikes were added at the end of a vessels life cycle, they were often taken out when the ships were broken down and reused as they contained a considerable amount of iron content.  Sometimes lose timbers wash up on our shores from the 17th and 18th century which have “molds” of the ships spikes heads (Fig. 2). 
Fig. 2

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Hold fast to your fastenings!

Ships fastenings get the short end of the recording time in most archaeological projects.  The lack of recording data on these pieces of material culture for the Chesapeake region have caused both misinformation as well as a perpetuation of low to no recording for sites.  We lose out on understanding the work history and general construction of the ship if they are not recorded.
Treenails are the most common large fastenings recovered from archaeological contexts as well as loose ship finds.  Treenails fall into three general types: Drawknife sided, compressed sided, or machine made.  Drawknife sided treenails are the most common found from Chesapeake contexts (Fig 1, A).  They are the simplest to make, and were often made from scrap wood not large enough for framing, planking, and ceiling.  They are made by taking a piece of scrap wood, often white oak or hickory, which is then drawknifed with 7-11 sides.  Diameter ranges from 25-37 mm are common.  Length can be upwards of 30 cm.  Compressed sided treenails are the next most common type observed in the Chesapeake region (Fig 1, B).  These treenails are often made from scrap pieces of work found in the building yard much the same as the drawknifed ones.  These treenails are made by forcing scrap wood through an iron or steel die plate with a pre-formed hole.  This shears off excess from the premade treenail, but also compresses the fiber of the wood along the long axis of the treenail.  Often times these treenails were fitted and hammered home in the direction in which they are drawn out of the die plate.  This causes the fibers to expand if the treenail is disturbed in its fastening hole.  Sizes are often the same as for drawknifed treenails. The least common of the treenails observed in the Chesapeake are the machine made treenails (Fig 1, C).  These are turned upon a lathe and made round and true with a graver chisel.  These fastenings have not been observed by the author often and would appear to be far more common after 1870.  They are often much smaller being 15-25 mm in diameter and shorter.    

Fig. 1

Treenails as fastenings used on the external portions of ships hulls have the virtues of they do not corrode like metal fastenings, hold firm but are fibrous and have tensile flexibility, and are repairable if they become damaged.  As mentioned in my previous blog post, colonial vessels of the Chesapeake region were launched quickly, English vessels, especially English military vessels, had a tendency to sit on the stocks being built for years, often their treenails had to be repaired even before they entered the water.  Treenails found on colonial built vessels from Virginia and Maryland have a tendency to be unmodified, that is that the head of the treenail has been hammered home after being nearly cut flush.  This can be seen in Figure 2 top left.    As colonial vessels of the Chesapeake were launched quickly, no shrinkage of the treenail and planking occurred before the wood swelled upon entering the water for service.  Often treenails became damaged when their entire head portion which held fast the outer planking would be compressed nearly evenly on all sides.  This was often caused by a great deal of stress and the treenail would be pulled from its framing hole.  The ships carpenter upon careening the boat would fix this by drilling a hole through the center of the treenail all the way to the frame interface and would stuff caulking in this hole before hammering a square peg, often made of cedar 10-20 cm. deep to expand the treenail in the frame and form an new head as can be seen in Fig. 2 top center.  Another way that a badly damaged treenail could be repaired during the 18th and 19th century if its head was intact but it had been pulled from its frame would be to extract it partially and bisect it with a broad axe, pack it full of oakum and caulking and hammer it back home smartly into its frame.  This can be seen in Fig. 2 upper right.  Military vessels are built “stiff” and they don’t incur the hull stresses that commercial vessels often due under the burden of heavy cargo.  Fast sailing vessels such as racing yachts are the same.  They however incur fore aft stresses as they sail which compresses the head of treenails along the hull in one direction.  One way to repair this is to drive a rectangular wedge in to spread the head out of the damaged treenail as can be seen in Fig. 2 bottom left.  The worst of damaged treenails have two options in being repaired.  Firstly a second treenail could be placed diagonally through the original forming a double treenail.  Or as colonists in the Chesapeake did not have access to drydocks but crude careening yards only, the treenail would often be extracted, bisected and oakum caulking and a square plug added and the treenail driven home smartly as seen in Fig. 2 bottom right.

Fig. 2

While this is not exhaustive it shows many of the ways ships carpenters in the Chesapeake remedied problems with wooden fastenings during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Hopefully this blog post will draw attention to record these features.  I will write another post soon drawing on my knowledge of iron fastenings on 18th century ships and boats of the Chesapeake.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Monthly Research Highlight

The Atlantic world economy and colonial Connecticut
by Avitable, Joseph

  My dissertation situates Connecticut's integration within the evolving Atlantic economy, stressing its central role in the development of a market economy in the colony. To compensate for the colony's missing port records, I have constructed a detailed database of the volume of shipping between Connecticut and the Atlantic World using all extant port records from the rest of British America, merchant records and account books, all extant shipping lists in colonial newspapers, as well as the Dutch West Indian port records. My research has revealed that earlier images of Connecticut's "minor" role in the Atlantic World Economy are misplaced. Connecticut producers eagerly exploited the growing markets throughout the Atlantic World, exporting lumber, foodstuffs and livestock. Connecticut was the largest single supplier of horses, cows, sheep, and oxen to the sugar plantations in the West Indies. In addition, my research on Dutch port records indicates a much larger volume of smuggling between Connecticut and the foreign West Indies. Furthermore, Connecticut had a considerable shipbuilding industry. For many years, Connecticut shipyards supplied vessels to resident merchants and merchants throughout the Atlantic World. Connecticut's integration into the Atlantic economy fostered the development of a market economy in the colony. Scholars have generally agreed that colonial port towns and their immediate hinterlands throughout British North America were integrated into the Atlantic economy not long after their initial settlement. What is not so clear is the process of the expansion of the market from the port towns deeper into the hinterland. The unprecedented increase in colonial American consumption of British manufactured goods and tropical groceries after 1700 induced the "industrious revolution" in Connecticut, as households devoted greater efforts to produce for market exchange to obtain the means to pay for these imported commodities. Transportation improvements opened the countryside to direct access to production for Atlantic markets. Distributing imports and collecting commodities produced in the countryside, retail stores and taverns spread the market economy throughout Connecticut. The process was quite complex. In the seventeenth century, commerce with the West Indies promoted specialization in maritime activities in the urban towns of Connecticut. As the scale of trade increased, Connecticut merchants drew larger regions into production for market exchange to supply commodities for export markets and the growing resident urban population. Over time, a domestic market developed within Connecticut. The entire process of market expansion within Connecticut was clearly tied to the vicissitudes of the Atlantic economy.

Dissertations & Theses Europe Full Text: History
ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global
Udgiver:ProQuest Dissertations Publishing
ISBN:1109424671, 9781109424676
American history

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Why did the Royal Navy have to refit or condemn and scuttle most of the ships they captured from us during the American Revolution?

Why did the Royal Navy have to refit or condemn and scuttle most of the ships they captured from us during the American Revolution?
Lets face it, the facts of history are against Virginia and Maryland having a good reputation in regards to the construction and maintenance of larger trade and warships during the 18th century.
The more I researched what was the cause of this, the more confusion and misinformation I encountered.  As this is a big part of an upcoming presentation I felt it best to get my thoughts on paper. 

So, here in brief are the reasons why our ships were so terrible.

During the 18th century the plantations and the Glasgow/Liverpool/Bristol/London tobacco barons were not inclined to build vessels which were quick sailing ships or long lasting as those properties were not necessary for the trade that the Chesapeake vessels were employed in.  As a general rule the larger vessels followed the general lines of the West Indies traders built in Great Britain.  The colonial vessels built in the Chesapeake region were as a general rule in outward appearances similar to their British counterparts, but a lack of effort in their construction which would have allowed them to have longer service lives also set them apart.   Colonial vessels were most frequently built at the deep draft tobacco ports of the region such as Alexandria.  A vessel of 150-250 tons for the tobacco trade could be quickly and crudely assembled by a shipwright and crew of 75-150 men in three to four months from the time the keel was laid until the vessel was set in the water to receive deck planking, masts, and rigging.  

Often shipbuilders would use white oak which was not fully cured and still fairly green.  The quickness of the launch of colonial vessels was to prevent the ship from shrinking on the stocks.  Due to this the keel was quickly laid with poorly made table scarves held together by undesirable iron fastenings.  The transom and bow structure would be quickly laid, and whereas English vessels would have thick and sturdy deadwood rise blocks built upon the keel, colonial shipwrights often employed quickly and lightly built square blocking in the stem and stern rise.  These timbers were often held fast to these blocks and the keel by large iron drift pins, these however, were not for later structural integrity, but rather they helped these frames stay firm as the out planking was quickly wrapped around the hull.  The treenails, see Fig. 1, were quickly made on a sawhorse with a drawknife. Being sided treenails they often worked their way out of their fastening holes and needed constant attention and repair by the ships carpenter after launch.  

Once the roughly made hull was planked, her treenails, which had been left long all over the hull, would have been hammered home tight one last time, sawn off and the ship would have had its outer planking planed quickly flush.  The vessel was then quickly caulked, coated in a mixture of cow hair, tar, sulfur, and pitch.  Then a layer of sacrificial planking made of cedar or white pine would be affixed over with cedar nails.  All attempt was made to limit the exposure of iron fastenings to salt water.  The sacrificial planking helped protect the vulnerable white oak ships timbers from attack from the marine worms which would render an unprotected ship useless within a few months.

Once the lowest strake, the garboad was treenailed in place from bow to stern, prefabricated scantling sections would be  placed on the keel and garboard, often crudely notched with limber holes to let the water flow underneath them as these boats always leaked.  These pre-made sections would be quickly made by "rack of eye" and were made up of the floor timbers, first, and second futtocks held together longitudinally by drift pins.  For a 90 foot long vessel 7-9 of these pre-made sections would be placed in and held upright by leaned in posts as they quickly had their planking and ceiling treenailed on.  These scantling sections were not held to the keel by drift pins, but were allowed to float above the keel (Fig. 2)  

Often when a colonial tobacco ship was made, timber of undesirable shape would be used in the lower hull,  these areas would either be quickly trimmed off with a broad axe, or furring blocks would have to be added to cushion the hull planking.  In the center part of the ship as the planking and ceiling wrapped its way up the hull, loose futtocks would be treenailed in place to give the hull additional strength in a manner which is more similar to Dutch ship construction than English examples.  Whether this was due to a convergence in shipbuilding practices or that it was copied from Dutch vessels encountered by local shipwrights has yet to be illuminated.  

The ceiling and keelson would often be held in place by iron fastenings instead of being treenailed in place proper.  Often times the ceiling planking would only extend to the turn of the bilge.  As the hull was planked quickly the masts would be laid in the bottom of the boat before the hull was fully planked so that they could be raised with ease by block and tackle while the hull was in the water and having her decks finished.  

The fitting of  extra futtocks and frame members to the areas of the stern and bow rise would have made repair of the hull from within difficult Fig. 3.  While white oak trees could be found that were bifurcating, often times curving arms of oak trees would have been used blocking off access to the planking in those areas.  Once teredo or worm damage had occurred in these areas of a ship she was on the downhill side to being broken down.  The square blocking used in colonial vessels made the construction of drains and limbers in these areas problematic also increasing rot in the stem and stern.

Lastly, we need to discuss the life cycle of a colonial tobacco boat.  These boats were primarily employed in the direct tobacco and refined goods trade, or the triangle trade.  They returned to their homeports every 3-9 months, and were careened.  Careening was common throughout the Chesapeake and involved bringing the boat in on the highest tides to an area which had a hard sandy bottom so that a ships outer sacrificial planking could be replaced, her treenails could be tightened and repaired, and her roughly flat joint planking could be recaulked.  Royal Navy vessels and large English trading ships were often required to take much longer voyages with less access to careening yards.  Royal Navy vessels had beveled outer hull planking often with battens to hold their caulking in place.  This measure was almost never taken on American built commercial vessels Fig. 4.

All of the abovementioned construction deficiencies would have meant that for a colonial merchant vessel to get a broad arrow mark, she would have had to have been ripped apart piece by piece and put back together.  That is something the Royal Navy could not cost effectively do.  

I hope this answers some questions, and if you want send me an e-mail if you want to know where I have pulled this data from, both books and journal articles.