Sloops of the Hudson Chapter Three

Sloops of the Hudson

An Historical sketch of the Packet and Market
Sloops of the last century, with a record
Of their names; together with personal
Reminiscences of certain
Of the notable North River
Sailing masters.

By William E. Verplanck
Moses W. Collyer

G. P. Putnam’s Sons
New York and London

The Knickerbocker Press


 This book is available through the public library system. Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin

Part 3

Personal reminiscences of Captain
George D. Woolsey (1)

I became quite familiar whit he names of the packet sloops sailing from Newburgh, for at this time, 1825, my father was captain of the packet Illinois running from Newburgh to New York, carrying passengers and produce from the farms and sailing from David Crawford’s wharf at Newburgh.

1         George David Woolsey was born at Poughkeepsie on the 12th day of October, 1829, and 
died at Newburgh on the 23d day of March, 1900. He married Timna Quick of Milton-on-
Hudson. They had four children: Charles D., who died in infancy; Charles C., Anna H., now Mrs.
Cosman, and Harriet, not Mrs. Garner.  Mrs. Woolsey, the widow, is now living on Grand 

Street, Newburgh.

The Manuscript from which these reminiscences were taken was in a fragmentary condition when
Mrs. Woolsey gave it to Cap. M. W. Collyer for publication. So much as appears here is all that was
available or deemed germane to the subject of this book.—W. E. V.

There were also the sloops Favorite, 1825, Orange Packet, 1825, Eclipse, 1825, James Monroe, 1830, Meridian, 1835, David Belknap, 1838, Benjamin Stagg, 1838, and the John Beveridge,(1)  1838.  The greater number of these vessels, with many others were built here at the village of Newburgh, and at Sand’s dock, Milton, before my recollection. However, they were in use, and employed in the freight and passenger business from Newburgh, some of them before, and some after my coming on the scene of action.  Mr. Samuel Wood, a man who belonged to a family of shipbuilders, conducted the business at or near the foot of South Street, then called Academy Hill.  He being an uncle of my father, by marrying Grandfather Woolsey’s sister, has given me this information. Also, I have known his only son, who was quite a prominent and successful business man in New York City until his death in the fifties.

(1)     Named from a brewer of Newburgh, whose ale was known throughout the State.—W. E. V.

There was a brother also, named Timothy Wood, conducting the ship-building, either at Athens or Coxsackie. I remember of one of the up-river packets being named Timothy Wood in his honor.

All of the vessels built in those early days were very sharp, much dead rise, deep keel, with great draught of water.  For vessels of their carrying capacity, the Illinois with a capacity of about 135 or 140 tons, when loaded, had a draught of about twelve feet. Having a deep keel running the whole length of the vessel, and of much greater depth aft than forward, the man who was in command, or sailing master of these packets must necessarily be well acquainted with navigation on the river, conversant with all the shoals, sand-bars, rocks, and obstructions, so as to keep them from grounding and making their trips regularly, for they were advertised to sail on certain days from Newburgh, and also from New York.

The old packet Illinois, as we first remember her construction, had a cabin about half the length of the vessel for the accommodation of passengers, two after-cabins or state-rooms, altogether in both cabins some twenty-six or twenty-eight berths.  The cabin was built of hard wood, much of it mahogany, with a very large oval mirror across the bulkhead, separating the main cabin form the state-rooms aft.  Panels composed of mahogany, mirrors in panels at head of berths, with goldbead around. She had very long companion-way, with large brass signal lamp hanging in the center for light at night, and a floor of hard wood, kept very white and clean. Everything then known for the comfort of the passengers was done that could be done.  There was nearly as much preparation to go to New York then on a packet, as people make now to go to Europe.  The women brought their sewing to fill up their time industriously, for at times in very dull weather, the packets would be some two days on the passage.  The hold of the packets was always divided by separate bins for the different kinds of grain and produce brought by the farmers. What was termed the forecastle, the place set apart for culinary purposes, was arranged much after the manner of the house of that day, having a chimney and fireplace, and a brick hearth in order to keep the vessel from fire.  There were four berths also in the forecastle for the accommodation of the men on the vessel.  Frequently we would have the Illinois  loaded decks to the water, especially in the fall; hold full of all kinds of grain; the long quarter-deck filled with butter, dead hogs, and often I have seen a sheep-pen around where we used to steer, full of sheep, which made it nice and warm for the man at the helm in cold weather.  Frequently we would have live-stock on the main deck, lashed to a pole running fore and aft from mast to quarter-deck. In fact the business, if my memory serves rightly, increased wonderfully, so that I have seen all kinds of produce in wagons, waiting for their turn to be unloaded, standing from Crawford’s dock up into Water Street, for some distance, and when the packets were thus so full and heavily loaded, they were towed to New York, for there were steamboats also, of the first old type, running from Newburgh at that time, which we will mention in their proper place.

The water-front of the village of Newburgh, was very different from the way it is now situated—the docks having all been extended out into the river. Once we had twenty-five to thirty-five feet of water all along the east side of Front Street, having seen the whaling ships laying where the Erie Freight Depot and office now are. The Highlander, when she first came, about 1834 or 1835, had her dock at the south side of First Street, where the public sheds now are. B. Carpenter’s dock on the same line of Front Street, foot of Carpenter Street.  At the foot of First Street was a slip, where John McCormic kept boats to let. Every available space along the docks was used for ranks of wood piled there for the use of the steamboats, as they all used wood for steaming purposes, there then being no anthracite coal.

The Illinois used to lay where Cameron’s  lumber office now is. There was a short pier built out where the Long Dock now is, for the Albany boats to land at.  The Newburgh and Fishkill ferry, under its present effective and efficient management, has become the most perfect system of ferriage to accommodate the public, outside of New York City. Our ferry system and its environments have indeed kept pace with the growth and prosperity of the city.  Its progress and advance date back in my time, since its purchase by Mr. Thomas Powell, about 1835. Mr. David Crawford also extended a dock out from the foot of Third Street about 1836 or 1837, for the opposition boats running from New York to Albany to land at.  The next dock north of and adjoining David Crawford’s, was called DeWint’s dock, where a packet sailed from.  Then came the Oakley and Davis dock, which was the last and the farthest north of the regular packer and steamboat docks in the freighting and forwarding business between the village and New York City.

While I am giving an account of my recollections of the old sloop packets running from the village of Newburgh, probably it will not be out of place here to mention the fact, that a few years before my time a sloop met with a very serious and disastrous accident. It was the sloop Neptune.  The accident caused such a gloomy and melancholy feeling through the village and county, that it was some time before it was forgotten; in fact, I remember its being often referred to by the men on the vessels and others.  If I remember the account correctly, it happened in this manner: About 1824 or 1825, late in the fall, about the time when we often have heavy northwest winds, which make it very dangerous navigating through the Highlands, the sloop left New York with about fifty tons of plaster, some of it on deck, also quantities of goods for stores. There were some fifty or fifty-five passengers, men, women, and children also on the packet.  If I rightly heard the account, the captain, whose name was Halstead, remained in New York, as they frequently did, to settle up and collect bills. The man in charge, or sailing-master of the packet was John Decker, whom I well knew, for after the unfortunate accident he never could get any other position as sailing-master on the packets or vessels, and he took up the business of cartman in New York, where I frequently saw him in my time, as he used to cart produce from the Illinois and other packets. He was a very tall and powerfully built man, about six feet two or threes inches tall, high cheek-bones, very large bones, hands large and drawn somewhat out of shape, eves small and red, or bloodshot. He was rather a remarkable appearing man, I being young, and knowing of the prevailing talk about him, caused me to notice him particularly, and was so impressed by his peculiar look, I can thus describe him. (1)

 (1)        This disaster took place in the most dangerous part of the Worragat or Werrygut, (there is no Settled spelling). Perhaps the name is derived from the Dutch word Weer, weather, and Gat, a hole or gut.  This reach extends from Pollipel’s Island, off Storm King, southward to Constitution Island, opposite West Point, a distance of about four miles.  When the wind is south or north—that is, parallel with the course of the river, no difficulty is experienced by sailing vessels, no matter how fresh it blows.  It is the westerly winds, either N.W. or S. W., that cause trouble. For instance, a sloop may be close-hauled passing through Newburgh Bay, beating down against a fresh southwester. Before Cornwall is reached the sheets can be started, and as she passes into the Worragat the wind will be fair, with occasional heavy flaws for the west, and I have even had to jibe back and forth when passing Little Stony Point. The fair wind holds until West Point is reached, then it becomes dead ahead to the north end of the Race.  Here the wind is fair again, which will carry the sloop out of the Highlands, past Verplanck’s and Stony Points, and into the broad waters of Haverstraw Bay and Tappen Zee where it is plain sailing again.—W. E. V.

 The packet came through the lower part of the river all right, although it was blowing very heavy and puffy.  Coming around West Point it could be seen from Cold Spring up through to Pollipel’s Island that the heavy puffs were very dangerous, therefore requiring the utmost skill in navigating and handling the vessel.  When off Little Stony Point where, when blowing from the northwest, there is always much heavier gusts of wind than anywhere else in the Highlands, as the wind comes rushing down through the low valley between Storm King and the Crow’s Nest on the south (what we then used to call Mother Cronk’s Cove) the wind often comes with such force that it picks up the water up as it comes, but it always gives warning, for you can see the impression on the water, and hear the roar as it comes. Then the careful navigator, with good judgment, will be prepared to meet it by having good steerage way on his vessel, and getting the head-sail in before it strikes the vessel.  It appears by the account, that Decker had the Neptune double-reefed at the time, but did not get in the head-sail, therefore when the heavy quall struck the packet she went over and down so low that the plaster shifted, and into the forecastle companionway, which was forward and on the starboard side, the water began to rush and she filled and sunk. Out of the fifty or fifty-five passengers and the crew, I believe there were but sixteen or eighteen saved.  I think that the late Levi D. Woolsey was on board and was saved.  The late Captain John Polhemus had a brother, Jacob Polhemus, who was employed on the packet, and was drowned in trying to save a lady.  I remember that his widow afterwards married a Judge Bates, who resided on Montgomery Street, between Fourth and Fifth streets.

This serious accident was long remembered and talked of in the village. The Neptune was raised and sold  off to the east end of Long Island, at Sag Harbor, a port where whale ships were owned and fitted out; also, they discharge their oil there instead of going to New York with it.  The owners bought the Neptune, and she was kept in the business of carrying hogsheads and barrels of oil from Sag Harbor to New York for years afterwards, as I have frequently seen her coming into New York, loaded with oil. I think she was kept carrying oil until the business of bringing oil to Sag Harbor ceased.

Formerly the business of freighting and forwarding on the River and Long Island Sound was done exclusively by sailing vessels or packets, as they were called, before and about the time the first steamboats were built.  Steam was destined to make and produce a great change in the affairs and business on both water and land.  As steamboats began to be built, multiply, and increase in numbers and efficiency, they were in a few years much improved from those built before my time, I remember most of the first steamboats built for and employed on the River. They were still in active service when I came on the scene of action.  Some of those first old steamers were bought and used in conjunction with the packets here at Newburgh, in carrying the produce and passengers to New York. Probably twenty-five or twenty-six years had intervened from the first steamboat, the Clermont, in 1807 or 1808, up to the standpoint which I take. During the interval there had been quite a number of steamboats built. The Providence,  one of the first built for use between New York and Providence, was soon superseded, and her place taken by something superior which, if I am rightly informed, was the Chancelor Livingstone and the United States, and they also, in due time, the same as the Providence were transferred to the Hudson River. The steamboat Providence in conjunction with the sloops Favorite and the James Monroe  made their regular trips from Oakley and Davis’s dock, for it must be remembered that the business at that time was done from Newburgh, controlling a vast extent of territory, Orange County, the lower part of Ulster, Sullivan, and Delaware counties.

Captain Levi D. Woolsey was  captain of the Providence. Having been personally acquainted with Captain Woolsey, and often conversed with him in regard to his early days and life, I remember him as a man of firm decision of character, strictly on the line of justice and equity, careful, also watchful in his business relationship.  His branch of the Woolsey family, like all of that name in this country, came for one original stock, who came to this country in 1623 and settled at Flushing, Long Island, where they owned a plantation and were established.  From this head or stock came the numerous branches of the Woolsey family. The branch to which Captain Levi D. Woolsey and Captain Elijah L. Woolsey belonged, settled in Ulster County, from whence have come numerous descendants. Captain Woolsey lived to an advanced age, residing at Newburgh with his children until he died in the year 1888, having been born in 1800.

From David Crawford’s dock sailed the Illinois, of which Captain John Polhemus was at first master, and in 1835 succeeded by Captain Elijah L. Woolsey, the steamboat Baltimore, Captain Robert Wardrop, was in conjunction, making trips regularly Wednesday for Newburgh and Saturday from New York.  Often the packet had so much freight, it was necessary to be towed by the steamer.  At Benjamin Carpenter’s dock, which was the first dock south of the ferry, the steamboat William Young made regular trips once a week.  The captain of this steamer, I believe, was named Halstead, not the Captain Charles Halstead of later years, but the one who was captain of the sloop Neptune at the time of her capsizing some years before off Little Stony Point.

I do not remember any packet in conjunction with the steamer William Young. The steamer  James Madison,  Captain Perry, about the year 1836 or 1837 was built to take her place, and the William Young  was then taken to Low Point and commenced freighting from there, if memory serves rightly, in the place of the sloop packet Matteawan. About this time also, I remember there was a change at David Crawford’s dock. The steamboat  Washington had been built to take the place of the steamer Baltimore.  Captain Charles Johnston was the first captain of the steamer Washington. He was the son of the Rev. John Johnston, who was so long pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in the village.  Some few years before these new steamers came to Newburgh, a Captain Chase had the sloop Eclipse, running regularly to New York from De Wint’s dock, just north of D. Crawford’s dock, and about the year 1838 or 1839 the sloop David Belknap was built to take the place of the sloop Eclipse.  Captain Simonson was her captain. They also had the steamboat Norfolk. Captain Charles Johnston having become associated with Captain Simonson, commanded the steamer Norfolk. The sloop David Belknap was frequently towed by the Norfolk.  I remember that the David Belknap was a few years after sold to parties in New York and converted into a schooner, she being staunch, well-built, of good shape and dimensions, heavily timbered, thoroughly treenailed and fastened. She was used a number of years as a coasting vessel and regular packet form New York to Charleston and Savannah, as I frequently saw her after, in that business, laying at or near Pier 8 or 10 East River, discharging and receiving freight for Southern coastwise ports.

Before Captain Simonson became associated with Captain Charles Johnston in business at De Wint’s dock, about the year 1835 or 1836, he was captain of the sloop Meridian, then running from Oakley and Davis’s dock. This firm having disposed of the steamboat Providence, had the steamer Superior, Captain James H. Leeds, running also to New York.

There was a steamboat running from either De Wint’s or Oakley or Davis’s dock later on, say from 1838 to 1840, by the name of General Jackson. I remember her running from Newburgh, but cannot fairly say where from.  At the south part of the village, adjoining the Whaling Dock on the north, Thomas Powell & Company had a line for freight and passenger boats to New York, but I don not remember their having any sloop packets. The first steamboat which I call to mind of theirs was the Highlander, which was built expressly for this company at Philadelphia about the year 1834 or 1835. She was greatly in advance and superior to all other steamers then built. She had the same old style of square stern which at that time was so much in vogue.  In a few years, however, the designers overcame and gave a more symmetrical shape to the stern and after part of the steamers. The steamers of former build were full forward, having much the shape of the sailing vessels, but the Highlander was quite different, having a sharp bow, and carrying this sharpness well aft.  She also had more shear then they had formerly given to the steamers.  Her engine was more powerful, having a walking-beam, but I cannot say how much stroke, but it was more than usual.  She made the passage to New York in better time than the former boats, say some five hours.  She had more steam room also, having two boilers, one on each side of the boat.  The accommodations for passengers had been greatly increased.  On the whole the Highlander was much in advance of the former steamers. When she first came to Newburgh the steamers still used wood for steaming purposes, but it was not long after she came that anthracite coal was discovered, and soon brought to market by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company in large lumps, just as taken from the mines, therefore the people who used it, had to break it up small for use.

Steamers rapidly increased in number both on Long Island Sound and the Hudson River. I will mention others of the old ones, as they were familiar to me, having seen the most of them, and those which I have seen, I was conversant with by hearing others discuss their merits, good qualities and speed, for it was expected that every new steamer that came out was to be superior to the last, especially in speed.  My father, Captain Elijah L. Woolsey, who often told us of his early life, commenced business on the river on the packet sloop Intelligence, from New Paltz, now called Highland, some time before I was born, sailing from there some few years. He afterwards engaged with Richard Davis & Sons, who owned what they called the Lower Dock at Poughkeepsie, carrying on the freighting business very extensively. They had one of the largest, and as was conceded at that time and for years after, the fastest vessel afloat.  She was named the Richard Davis, after the senior owner of the concern. She was a surprise and a wonder to all who went on the water.  My father sailed her for some years, and while he was on this packet from Poughkeepsie I first saw the light, and was named for or by, one of the sons, George Davis Woolsey. The Davises were progressive people, and up to the times, and therefore in due time they sold the packet, Richard Davis, and bought the steamboat, Lady Richmond, on which my father was pilot.  I have heard him tell of going down with her in December, probably the last trip for the year, loaded very deep with produce, especially tons of poultry and game. The ice cut the oakum or caulking out of the seams, and it was leaking so badly they had to put her ashore just below Tarrytown, where she filled, and much of her valuable cargo was lost or destroyed.  The old packet Richard Davis was still in use in my time.  I remember her being rebuilt somewhere up the river, and had her named changed to James Haddon.

There was a number of steamers built for Long Island Sound, run there a few years, and then transferred to the River. Whether the Lady Richmond was one of those, I cannot say, but the Philadelphia and United States both were, and transferred to the Hudson River and put on the night line between New York and Albany, calling the Philadelphia the New Philadelphia, landing at Newburgh where the Long Dock is.  Old Mr. Casterline was the general agent at Newburgh. Both vessels were afterwards used a towboats, towing from New Brunswick. The Philadelphia being in use the longest time. The United States was broken up about 1840.

There was an opposition line also landing at Mr. David Crawford’s dock, the Ohio with two walking-beams, two separate engines, the Constitution and Constellation. This opposition was a night line also. The day line of steamers from New York to Albany were the Novelty and Champion, two fast boats for their day. The steamer Albany was after wards on the day line to Albany. She had a beam-engine, with increased speed and power, and was rebuilt in the year 1837 or 1838, with quite a long, low false stern, carrying a yawl-boat turned bottom up on it.  The Champion and Erie were, as near as I can remember, kept on the day line from New York to Albany until about the year 1842.

I must not omit to notice the Swiftsure Line running from Albany. I remember their boats very clearly, having often seen them—the Commerce, the Swiftsure, and the Oliver Ellsworth. All of them had crosshead engines. They all towed what they called safety-barges, carrying freight and passengers. I think the object of towing the safety-barges was, as they claimed, the greater safety of the property and passengers entrusted to them. They all became towboats on the river. The Oliver Ellsworth was cut through in Newburgh bay by the ice, some years ago, and was run ashore and sunk just below the Danskammer.  The Commerce was rebuilt in the year 1855, name changed to Ontario, and used as a tow-boat until late years. The Swiftsure was worn out some years before. About this time the steamer De Witt Clinton was running on the night line to Albany, but I don not remember which line she belonged to. However, some time in the forties she was dismantled, her hull used as a barge, her engine, which was a good one, placed in a new hull, and, if I remember rightly, she was then named the Knickerbocker.

There were opposition lines of steamers also on Long Island Sound. There had been large sloop and schooner packets running from all of the principal places, like Bridgeport, New Haven, up the Connecticut to Hartford, New London, Providence, and Fall River. I have some of the packets not in mind, and they were staunch and splendid vessels, running to New York. There were regular packets also established, running from Albany to all of the Eastern ports and cities of any size.  They always loaded to their fullest capacity with feed, flour, and all kinds of produce. Albany was a lively, teeming city at that time, vessels laying six to eight abreast, especially in the fall months. Plenty of freight, many anxious to get vessels to load for all ports on the River or Sound, paying excellent prices. But the change came on Long Island Sound, the same as on the Hudson, by the introduction of steam and steamboats. It came somewhat slower to the East than on the River. The Eastern people were more attached to their vessels. Also, the vessels at that time were considered more safe to carry their goods and produce, as they were thought more seaworthy than the steamers that were then built. it must be remembered that the steamboat of fifty or sixty years ago was a very crude affair, in an unfinished, rough state, to what they became afterwards. The elements were also much greater to contend with on the Sound and down the coast around Point Judith, and also to New Bedford and Boston.

I suppose there are many alive to-day who remember the terrible, unfortunate accident on January 13,1840, in a blinding, northeast snow-storm, when somewhere between Oldfield Light and Horton’s Point the steamboat Lexington, which had many passengers on, and loaded with store goods and numerous bales of cotton, bound from New York to Providence, caught fire, burned up. And with no help for the unfortunate people on board.  But three or four were saved of all the souls on board, and those endured the elements and suffered worse than death, lashed to a bale of cotton, and were for hours adrift and were not rescued, and finally went ashore on the Long Island shore. There was one of the Woolsey family on board and lost, who lived at Norwich, Connecticut, and left a widow and seven children. This accident, I remember, cast a gloom over all, and was much conversed about through this section of the country.

On the opposition line between New York and Providence, was the steamboat John W. Richmond, which was built about the year 1838. She was of an improved type, something superior to the Lexington, which had been built some years before.  The name of this steamer brings to my recollection a peculiar and singular incident which I will relate. About the year 1800, and some years after, there was living in the city of Providence a very prominent and influential citizen who was a leader in the city’s municipal affairs.  He also was a popular and  successful physician, having acquired a competency; he having stock in the opposition line, this steamer, John W. Richmond, was named for him. He had also in his possession much of the State of Rhode Island’s Revolutionary Debt, in bonds and stocks. I frequently, when on my trips eastward, bound around Point Judith, would stop at Stonington, a city at the east end of Fisher’s Island Sound, near the state line of Rhode Island and Connecticut, it being the terminus of the Stonington line of steamers, connecting by railroad to Providence, Boston, or any points eastward. In thick, foggy weather it was very convenient to stop there; although the harbor is not so large, it is quite safe, having a good breakwater on the west, which has been greatly improved since I have been down that way, the government has extended it much farther to the south, out in the Sound, and made it higher, the holding-ground, or anchorage, is very good indeed, so that in ordinary weather it is a good harbor for vessels that are not too large. On one of my many trips eastward about the year 1874, it being very thick weather, I stopped at Stonington, as was my custom to see what I could learn, I wandered off in the suburbs of the city, near the State line, I came across an old burial place which had been used by the people of Stonington for many years; in fact, it was selected as the first burial place for the town.  A few years before 1874, as the town had grown to a city and the population increased, they bought other grounds situated in a different section, and rural and modern in appearance. In the old grounds I saw but one tall white marble shaft and the only one in the old place, my curiosity led me to go and examine it, and I found this inscription on one of the four sides:

     “Henrietta Richmond, wife of John W. Richmond, born November 29th, 1782, died July 17th, 1849.” On the opposite side of the shaft was this inscription, “Doctor John W. Richmond, born September 25th, 1775, died March 4th, 1857. When Rhode Island by her legislation from 1844 to 1850 repudiated her Revolutionary Debt, Doctor Richmond removed from that state to this Borough, and selected this as his family burying place, unwilling that the remains of himself and family should be disgraced by being a part of the common earth of a repudiating state.”

On the other two sides of the shaft was an inscription of the birth and death of his children, which I did not copy. It appears, as I was informed afterwards, that he had some ten or twelve thousand dollars of the State of Rhode Island’s Revolutionary script or certificates, and during these years mentioned, between 1844 and 1850, he had been offered fifty cents on the dollar for them, but refused to take it, and when the State repudiated the whole debt, he of course, lost all, so he would not be disgraced by being buried in the soil of a repudiating State.

My many calls at Stonington for a harbor, caused me to become well acquainted with many of her first and influential citizens. Many old, retired sea-captains and sailors, especially those having been in and on the whaling vessels for years had gained a competency and lived there.  One sailor in particular, who had spent the most and the younger part of his life on whaling ships fitting out at New London, I became very intimate with indeed, and we were near and familiar associates and friends.  His name was Captain George S. Brewster, living a beautiful mansion that was situated on raised ground, near the water, having a clear view of the harbor, Fisher’s Island Sound, Watch Hill, and the Atlantic Ocean east of Montauk Point, in clear weather. A very fitting place for an old sea-captain who had been tossed about by old Neptune, and who had weathered many a rough sea, to spend the few remaining days that he, through the kindness of Providence, had allotted him, for Captain Brewster was a very old man when I first met him about the year 1870, being not far from seventy-eight years of age. I had learned to love him because he had a firm, peculiar character and will, and this will controlled a deep sense of justice, right doing, and equity,  no selfishness or prejudiced ideas, but gentleness, with charity and love for all. Whether others differed with him in opinion, or not, his kindness was always most prominent; he was the type of a true, honest, Christian man.

In order to give to those who peruse these reminiscences of my life, and intelligent idea of the childlike simplicity, the whole-hearted Christian love that controlled the old sailor, I will quote the last paragraph, of closing part of the last letter which I received from the old sailor in the year 1878, January 14th, for he did not live long after this letter was written:

           “We will remember you in our prayers, that you may be blessed and kept; never pass us by without calling, if you can possibly do so without neglect of duty. We shall all be so glad to see you, and all send kind Christian salutations. Make my house your home when ever you come this way. Dear wife and Minnie send love and good wishes, with an interest in your prayers. God bless you and yours.”

I know that there was no deceit, dissembling, or hypocrisy about this old friend and sailor. As far as my observation goes, this type of true Christian manhood is in the past and obsolete. Before I close the narrative of Captain Brewster, I will relate as briefly as possible the manner of my first acquaintance with him. On one of my trips, bound eastward around Point Judith, it being thick weather the last of the week, I stopped for a harbor at Stonington. I recollect I went ashore on Sunday morning to find a meeting of some kind. In wandering along the Main Street, out towards the Point where the lighthouse stood, I came to a house or little chapel with this inscription on the doors, “Holiness to the Lord,” and on the windows was written the time of preaching and the time of their social meetings.  As I approached, there was an old man sweeping the dust and dirt from the stoop. He perceiving me to be a stranger, also a man engaged on the water, for they always can detect each other, saluted me in a very pleasant and kindly manner. There was not a very lengthy conversation, before we commenced to understand each other; the result was that I became acquainted with the little society, and often visited them afterwards, always making his home my home when in the harbor, and many pleasant scenes and incidents occurred when there.  The little company of, say fifty to sixty-five, had been Baptist, which was the principal denomination in Stonington, the old sailor being one of the elders and leaders of the Church, but somehow or in some way they had been led into the Second Advent doctrine, which is so prominent and forcibly taught in the Scriptures of Christ Himself, and all the Apostles and Prophets, many of them pointing to the time of His (Christ’s) presence, and the work to be accomplished at that time. This little society of believers were honest and devoted people, and I , then, not perceiving and understanding the teaching of Scripture on this doctrine as it has been revealed and shown to me since, can see now very plainly that they did not at that time comprehend or understand the Scriptural teaching of the manner of His (Christ’s) coming or presence, nor the object of his coming; for to this world it will be one of the greatest, the grandest events that the world can conceive of, as it will be complete revolution, a change of government, social, political and religious or ecclesiastical; the government is to be upon His (Christ’s) shoulders, old things are to pass away. “Behold, I will make all things new; Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on the earth,” so there must be a turning around—a revolution in due time, when the transfer is made and completed; and if God’s word is true and not false, it is sure to come, and I hope, in the near future.  So I see now, what I did not then, that those devoted people were blinded in respect to the manner and object of the coming and presence of the Son of Man.

The old sailor’s death, I was informed by old Captain Tribble of New London, was singular and remarkable, and was in this way: he was looked up to as the father of the little society, therefore their councilor and guide; he, on a certain evening, in one of their social meetings was discoursing on the Scriptures and the precious promise therein, in order to strengthen their faith and hopes for the future. While talking he was suddenly overcome with heart-failure, and dropped to the floor unconscious, and in a few seconds was dead; thus passing away peacefully and as he thought, in the service of the Truth.

Returning again to my recollections of the steamers of the forties, fifty or sixty years ago, my mind refers back to a class of steamers greatly improved, and much in advance of those I have mentioned. A class of steamers brought forward to a higher rate of speed by the wonderful improvement in machinery and boilers, also by knowledge and instruction gained experimentally in the art of shipbuilding; for about this time there was a complete advancement in the shape, length, symmetry and commodious plans of these steamers. A few which now come to my remembrance, I will mention, such as the Swallow, Rochester, South America, North America, Utica, Robert L. Stevens, not leaving out the old Norwich, for she is still in existence and in everyday use, having been used as a tow-boat since 1850. Her hull and shape appeared to be well-formed and adapted for the ice, as she has been and is now used as a very successful boat in heavy ice.  The Swallow  and Rochester were opposition boats on the night line between New York and Albany, at that time landing all along the river, both leaving the same nights.

On April 7, 1845, a very dark and threatening night, the Swallow left Albany on her usual time with a goodly number of passengers and usual amount of freight. She had not proceeded far, when it set in to snow, the wind blowing heavy from the north and east, with every prospect and indication of its increasing to a gale.  She had, by careful management of the pilot and captain, succeeded in getting to Coxsackie, where she landed, and she should have stayed there, for it proved to become darker, wind increasing to a gale, and the snow blinding the vision so that it was impossible to see anything ahead. I suppose the last object seen after leaving the narrow channel was the light on Four Mile Point.  From that time it was all guess-work until she struck the Little Island Rock, which lay off the upper part of then village of Athens, the pilot supposing that he was far enough down to shape his course to got through Pierce’s Reach, below Athens, which course is much more to the west than the reach above. She must have been going at full speed, for her bow was completely out on the rock, her stern in deep water, which caused her to break in two just aft the forward gangway. There was a number of passengers, about thirteen male, lost.  It being a very cold, severe, northeast snow-storm there were more lost than if it had been warm weather.

The Swallow was a very nice boat for her day, not quite as long as the Rochester, her opponent, nor so low in the water. She had a large bird, a flying swallow, painted on her wheel-house. I remember the same gale did much damage all along the river, there being a number of vessels swamped. There was a very heavy swell in Newburgh bay. The sloop Levant was coming down the river loaded, and trying to make a harbor, sunk at the dock just below First Street. The sloop Rising Sun also, in the same gale, laying to anchor off the lower part of the Hook Mountain, just above Nyack, started her anchors and dragged them below Nyack, went ashore and to pieces, drowning the captain and one man. Somehow, I do not think we now have such severe weather or gales, nor do they last so long as formerly.

About this time, or a little later, there was an incident or accident which happened on one of the up-trips of the Rochester. I remember, also, it was blowing heavy from the southeast, for I was at the Long Dock the same night she landed there.  It was the custom in those days for all of the steamers to carry a good sized yawl-boat at or near the after gangway, where the passengers came aboard; this boat was carried on two heavy iron davits or cranes, with good, suitable threefold tackles attached to the cranes, there being a boat on both sides of the steamer, but for what purpose they were carried there, I cannot conceive, unless in case of accident, if a passenger should fall overboard to rescue him. It was the custom to have one man, expert in handling the boat, a good swimmer, reliable and fearless, selected for the crew, to take charge of the boat at every landing. When she was lowered into the water, the stern and bow-painters were passed around one of the guard-braces, the tackles unhooked, and so the boat was under the guard, aft of the wheel, while landing; the man in her holding the stern-painter tight, keeping the boat close to the hull of the steamer until she left the dock, then the tackles were hooked and the boat hoisted out of the water again. The man chosen for this purpose on the Rochester was Constantine Smith, whom I knew, he being the father of Captain Coleman’s wife, also Captain Jacob DuBois’s wife, so long in the old steamer Norwich. As I have said, when she landed that night it was blowing very heavy from the southeast and there was a strong flood-tide.

I have always noticed in my experience on the river, that in a southeaster, the farther you go up the river, the stronger the wind blows. Also, in a northeaster when leaving Albany, the farther down the river you go, the stronger the wind blows—and so on this particular night when the Rochester reached Coxsackie it was blowing very heavy, which necessitated the steamer backing stronger than usual. Mr. Smith was in the small boat under the guard. There being an extra strain on the painters, they parted, which let the boat go under the wheel, ground up the boat and killed Mr. Smith.  What there was  left of him was found some time afterwards down at Four Mile Point. It was not long after this accident that the custom of carrying the boats in the gangway on davits was abolished. The South America was one of the steamers which has made the best time from New York to Albany. She came out just after the Swallow and Rochester on the night line between New York and Albany.  She was still an improvement on the former boat, and very much so in respect to speed. Her run, stern and after part were much finer and sharper than any other boat which had been built, power greatly increased, so much so, that she made the fastest time from New York to Albany on record, which was something less than eight hours, I think, seven hours and forty-five minutes, making seven landings. Although I remember that the conditions were exceptionally favorable. She having a heavy southeast wind, also a strong flood-tide which she carried all the way through. In those days they did not observe running on schedule time as now, but went through as fast as possible, but this, as far as I know, is the fastest time on record, and in those days was frequently alluded to as the fastest time to Albany from New York.

The other boats which I have spoken of, that came out about that time, were the Utica, Robert L. Stevens, also the Norwich,  which I think was built some little time before the others.  However, they all were used as passenger and freight boats on the river until about the year 1850, and then used as tow-boats.  The old Norwich running from Rondout, was owned by Thomas Cornell and the engineer, a Mr. Moore, who always was on her and ran the engine, he being a very kind, sociable man, and very attentive to his duties as an engineer.  I remember that these three boats, the Utica, Robert L. Stevens, and Norwich in those days were used winters in the ice.  The Utica always had a false bow put on, expressly for the ice. The other two, in the formation of their hulls and bows, were constructed in a manner so that they were a complete success as regards to fighting ice, and if their engines had the increased power which they give boats in these days, they would have been much more efficient in the ice. The Erie Railroad used all three of them, also the powerful Sandy Hook boats, William Webb, New Haven and Doctor Kane, to keep the river open in the winter form Piermont to New York. When the Erie was first constructed, their terminal was at Piermont, some twenty-two or twenty-three miles from the city. All of the freight and passengers from the West were transferred at this point on barges and steamers for New York, which necessitated much work, and very hard, dangerous work and navigation in the severe winters which we formerly had.

The river frequently, in those days, was packed full of heavy ice to the city. I have many times seen the harbor just as full of ice as any other portion of the river; in fact, I have seen people walking across both the East and North Rivers on the ice. Sometimes it would take two days to get to the city with these boats from Piermont. I have heard Captain Jacob DuBois say that at one time, in one of those severe winters, he was one week with the Norwich getting from Piermont to the city.  I know, and am confident from what I have seen and from past experience, that we have not as severe winter weather as formerly, but if we did have now as severe winters, the great advancement and improvements of this, our day, the wonderful accommodation and facilities for travel and transfer of freight of all kinds, which man has invented and sought out, I believe would overcome the severest winters that we ever had, during one or two of those winters of the forties, two of these boats, I remember, the Utica with her false bow, and the Robert L. Stevens attempted the experiment, and did form a daily line between Newburgh and New York, each coming up on alternate days. They succeeded very well in their endeavors, but it was hard work. The wear and severe strain on the wheels and boats in general, I think, caused it to be a failure financially. The winters were quite severe, the river being frozen from shore to shore, they having a track to come through, which they had to break through a fresh every day, the same as our ferry boats do now when the ice is fast. I have seen the boys skating close alongside of them when coming up and often jump from the ice on the Utica’s false bow, or on the Robert L. Steven’s guards.

Before I pass on to mention other steamers, I will notice one which I had nearly forgotten. I can just remember her as running a short time form Cornwall. I am sure that she did not run there long. It was the old steamboat Experiment, a Captain Griswold in charge of her. She ran from there as freight and passenger boat. Where she went to, or what became of her, I cannot say, for, about the year 1840, the sloop Revenge, Captain Joseph Ketcham, had the business, and it was at that time very successfully carried on by him, as he was a thorough business man. I think Reeve Ketcham, the lawyer, in Mr. Cassidy’s office is his son. I remember also that Jesse Masten, so long pilot of the West Point ferry, was the mate and sailing master of the Revenge, and than they went from there to the ferry at West Point when they ferried with rowboats. About this time,1838 or 1840, the steamboat Emerald was sunk just below Cornwall, in the cove between Butter Hill(1)  and the Crow’s Nest, but however, the circumstances of her filling I have forgotten. Then a few years later on they broke her shaft and ran her on the Two Brothers, a reef of rocks a little below West Point Foundry dock at Cold Spring, there also she filled. This was in the year 1845.

(1)   Now called Storm King—W. E. V.

After the sad and fatal disaster of the Neptune, which occurred on November 14,1824, there was a decisive feeling against sloop navigation, in respect to carrying passengers on the sloops and packets. Noticing that their business had fallen off in respect to passengers, and somewhat in freight also, in the following year there was a meeting called in January, of sloop owners and forwarders, to consider the situation. At the meeting there was a committee appointed to look into and report relative to the building of good and efficient steamboats for the purpose of carrying freight and passengers from the village of Newburgh and landings nearby. The chairman of that meeting was Selah Reeve, and David Crawford was secretary. The committee consisted of John P. DeWint, Uriah Lockwood, John Wiltse, Christopher Reeve and David Crawford.

In the winter of 1829 and 1830, Christopher Reeve bought the steamer Baltimore and placed her on the route to New York in the spring of 1830, and ran alternately, first from Reeve’s dock, than from Crawford’s dock.  She, of course, was very rude and commonplace, as all of the first steamers were, yet she was hailed with a popular feeling and regard. The same year, (1830) the William Young which was being built at Low Point was launched. She commenced to run from Benjamin Carpenter’s dock in September. She had much the same appearance as the Baltimore, as I saw both afterwards. Her owners claimed, however, that the Young was the better boat and a better model, and claimed her to be the fastest boat. The Baltimore continued to run from Newburgh until the year 1835, and then was transferred to the Albany route from Newburgh. Then came on the scene of action the steamers Legistator and Providence. In 1833 David Crawford built the steamer Washington and put her on the route in November of that year for the first; she was larger and superior to any which had been built. she created quite a competition and aroused the energies of the other freighting establishments, and caused Mr. Carpenter to build the James Madison in the year of 1835, which was a boat in many points superior to the Washington, being very proud of having the first beam-engine on the river or in the carrying trade.

Mr. Crawford’s business was so increased that he ran both the Baltimore and the Washington for a while. Then Thomas Powell built the steamer Highlander at Philadelphia. She, in her day, was first class, in many respects superior to her rivals, especially in speed. I remember her greatest rival in speed was the Rochester on the Albany and New York route.  It is well known by some of our oldest citizens that there was so much said and such a feeling in respect to the speed of the two boats, that there was a bet made of $1000 to race from New York to Newburgh. The race came off, the Highlander lost by half a minute, on a straight run. The Osceola was a neat little boat for her day and speedy, running between Poughkeepsie and New York, also on the morning line.  The challenged the old Highlander and the old boat won, and so kept her reputation. Up to the time that the Thomas Powell was built (1846) there were wonderful strides made in the speed of steamers on the river, but the progress since has not advanced in speed, only in comfort and convenience to the public.

The first five steamboats that were built for business on the Hudson River were the Clermont, Robert Fulton, Fire-Fly, Paragon and the Lady Richmond.  These boats were built by Bell & Brown of New York City. These steamboats were owned by Robert Fulton and Robert L. Livingston, and at first, run by them. A Mr. Samuel Goodrich in those early days had one of the two shipyards at Coxsackie; Mr. Timothy Wood having the other. These steamers of Mr. Fulton’s and Mr. Livingston’s were frequently repaired at Mr. Goodrich’s shipyard at Coxsackie. Mr. Goodrich afterwards removed to Hyde Park, where he established a shipyard and built the famous old steamer Novelty, carrying on an extensive business there. The construction of the Novelty was begun in the fall of 1830. Her keel was laid alongside of the little creek which flows down through the hills and empties into the Hudson, where the station of the Hudson River Railroad now stands, and when navigation opened in the spring of 1831 she was finished.  In those days the method for getting lumber quickly and to order in the shape it was desired was not the same as it is now.  Along the river was an abundance of all kinds of trees and of any size desired. The ship carpenter could go into the woods and select the keel, stem, stern-post and ship-knees, as he wished. This was done in the case of the Novelty. The engine was built at the Novelty Iron Works, New York City, whence her name.  Her engine was neither cross-head nor walking-beam, but it was a horizontal incline engine. The secret of her great speed at that early day was the smart engine and the new style of boiler, altogether different and a new departure and invention which generated steam faster and of greater volume than the first old boilers in the former boats built.

This improved steamboat boiler was first thought and invention of a man by the name of Bliss. Afterwards a Doctor Mott, a stove dealer, got hold of the patent, and it has ever since been called or known as the Tubular Boiler, but has been greatly improved on since.  For this increased volume and pressure of steam the model of the Novelty was a little too fine; her hull was one hundred and seventy-five feet long; forward her designer had departed from the former style of full bow, therefore when under full pressure of steam she buried to much. This defect was remedied by the construction of a false bow, which overcome the difficulty and gave her the buoyancy of a duck. This false bow was thirty feet long, making her two hundred and five feet long. After her running a while and everything in working order, the Novelty went to Albany and made her memorable trip to New York, her time was seven hours and thirty-five minutes, including landings at Kinderhook, Coxsackie, Hudson, Catskill, Bristol, Red Hook, Kingston Point, Hyde Park, Poughkeepsie, Milton, Newburgh, West Point, Caldwell’s, if the accounts are reliable.  Faster time has been claimed by other boats, but this was a revolution in the speed of side-wheel boats back in the thirties, due to different model and the introduction of the tubular boiler in the Novelty, which has led to the coil boilers afterwards. The Novelty was not run long on the route to Albany, she having the advantage over the boats of the North River Steamboat Company. The history of the Novelty was ended on the North River, there being a contract made with the owner of the Novelty and owners of the other boats and she was taken off. But it must not be forgotten that all of the steamers coming after had tubular boilers. Mr. Samuel Goodrich built other boats and vessels at Hyde Park, viz., the barge J. L. Rathbone, sloop Waterloo, schooner W. L. Ruff, and the Old Hickory for people on Staten Island.

To show the longevity and usefulness of a well-built boat—in fact the vessels, steamers and barges which they built in my younger days are far superior to the wooden vessels of this day, all of our old craft have proved the truth of what I say—take the case of the barge Minnisink which was built at Milton by David Sands, and a more honest shipbuilder never lived, everything he did was done upon honor. Another fact also I have noticed in my long experience is, that the timbers formerly procured and used in my early days were much superior to the timbers and planking used now. The Minnisink’s keel was laid in the year 1838, the frame was of the best of locust, white oak and red cedar.  She was not finished until about 1840, so that her frame was allowed to season well while building; David Crawford of Newburgh then bought her for the freighting business. She was fully and completely fastened with bolts and washers riveted and locust tree-nails wedged. Her original length was one hundred and fifty-five feet. She was fitted up the best of those days both for passengers and for freight. In 1856 Crawford & Company sold her to B. Carpenter & Company, and they in 1864 sold her to Homer Ramsdell. In 1868 her planking was worn so thin by water and ice that Mr. Ramsdell kept her steadily at work until 1872, when she was used as a spare boat and for excursions, and I believe she was then used as a receiving barge in New York, receiving all freight that was not disposed of by the other boats which ran daily, and if memory serves, she was kept by Mr. Ramsdell, usefully employed, until about the year 1879 or so, having been in use for some forty years for Newburg people, and of late years she was used as a lighter around the harbor.




Sloop Catharine, Captain William Wandel, sailed from Daniel Smith’s dock, 1800.

Sailed from Daniel Smith’s dock, two miles above Newburgh, 1804, sloop Confidence, Captain Griggs.

Sloop Sportsman, Daniel T. Smith, captain, 1804, sailed first from Hugh Walsh’s dock, after Daniel Smith’s dock, two miles above Newburgh.

Samuel Seymour carried on the ship-building business at the foot of South Street, Newburgh, until the last of the year 1805. In the year 1804 he fell into the hold of a ship he was building for the West India trade, which accident caused him to be lame afterwards; the shipyard then came into possession of Timothy and Samuel Wood, brothers. Timothy removed to Coxsackie about 1812, built the Timothy Wood  and the Addison  about 1819, when there. Samuel Wood retained the yard at foot of South Street, where he built the Argus, Meridian, Orange Packer, Illinois, and other sloops, also the Neptune (1820), and the Illinois (1818)

In the year 1804, the sloop Diligent, Captain James Bloomer, was run as a packet from Walsh’s dock, village of Newburgh, to New York, freight and passengers.

In the year 1803, the sloop Amelia was on the route from Newburgh to Albany.

In the year 1803, the sloops Jefferson and Two Sisters were run as packets to New York from Newburgh.

In the year 1803, the sloop Fanny, Captain Samuel Logan; also the Orange  and sloop Goliath
were packets to New York.

In the year 1803, the sloop Belvidere, Captain Leonard Carpenter, owner, and the sloop Justice, Captain John Helms ran on the line to New York.

In the year 1804 and 1805, Jacob and Leonard Carpenter had the sloops Mary and Sally Jane  on the line from the village to Newburgh to New York, running from their dock.

In the years 1800 and 1801, the sloops Hopewell, Eliza Washington, and Minerva were run from the village of Newburgh.

In 1802, the Harriet, Goshen,  and Katy Maria were run from his dock, by Jacob Powell, at Newburgh.

Two years before, in the year 1800, he ran the sloop Montgomery, carrying passengers and freight.

On November 11, 1804, the sloop Nelly Maria, Captain Van Keuren of Poughkeepsie, upset opposite the village of Newburgh, in a heavy gale, all hands and passengers were rescued.

The End

 Home            Table of Contents           Transportation Home Page