February 26, 2017
Position: 18˚ 47’ N x 68˚ 05’ W
Sailing through the Mona Passage between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic
As I write this guest blog entry for the Hudson River Maritime Museum, I am tucked away in the aft cabin of the SSV Corwith Cramer, a 134-foot brigantine, nearing the end of a transit from Portsmouth, Dominica, to Samaná, in the Dominican Republic. This is the second leg of our six-week journey that started in St. Croix, USVI, and will end in Key West after additional stops in Jamaica and Cuba. For this SEA Semester program, Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean, I have the pleasure of working with a group of student crew members and professional ship’s staff conducting oceanographic research and island cultural and environmental exploration. My role involves continuing instruction in Atlantic History, Maritime History and Culture and Maritime Environmental History with my faculty colleagues, the Captain, Chris Nolan, and Chief Scientist. Dr. Jeff Schell. The program, operated by the Sea Education Association (www.sea.edu), began back in Woods Hole over seven weeks ago, and the exploration will continue until we are alongside at our destination in Florida.
Returning to my talk and this blog, let me begin by saying just how honored I felt to be invited to speak at the Museum and then briefly write for this blog on the subject of black mariners in Early America for Black History Month. The fact that my talk also fell on the birthday of activist Rosa Parks made the day all that much more meaningful to me. The topic of free and enslaved maritime workers in Early America and the Atlantic World is one that I have continuously worked on from the early days of my doctoral work and now as part of what I teach in SEA Semester programs. In teaching this subject, I find it effective to begin with an outlining of the changing nature of the historiography of the slave trade, slavery in the Americas and the African American experience up to the modern Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
To begin, I use an image of the diagram of the slave ship Brooks (often spelled: Brookes) to start a discussion of both the slave trade and they ways in which people from various parts of Africa enter into the story. Most students are now familiar with the abolitionist image, and many can tell me that the diagram that those working to end the slave trade created is of an actual ship that did make slave trading voyages. Fewer students, however, are aware that the 450-person capacity that is indicated in the diagram is after England began regulating the slave trade. After then sharing with students that we have records indicating that the ship carried more than 600 enslaved people on board on more than one trip, I discuss how much of the historical work done in decades past on the slave trade, and indeed of the plantation system itself, treated these enslaved people as mere passive recipients of historical actions rather than active creators of historical events. Recent work on the slave trade has uncovered plenty of evidence of active participation of the enslaved in this chapter of history, much of it in the realm of resistance and uprisings. Still, there is a tendency to gloss over the actions of those forced to toil for others in the surveys that cover the system of slavery in a broader context of national or regional history.
I feel that it is very important to let students know that much of this glossing over, or what I would call an ignoring of agency, in the literature is a result of misconceptions about the nature of the work that enslaved people did in the Americas. In my classes, I display some generic work or occupation images for students to first identify and then decide whether or not the activity could have been done by slaves. Classic images of gang labor in fields are juxtaposed to what are thought of as more skilled occupations that ranged from printing to tailoring, carpentry to blacksmithing, and from shipbuilding to deep-sea sailing. While some of the occupations outside of field work fit into students’ perceptions of common work for enslaved people (I have usually referenced enslaved maritime workers at some point prior to this exercise, so that one is no surprise to them), many are surprised that all of the examples I give can be connected to common instances of unfree workers doing that work. The truth is, enslaved people were put to work in almost any setting where any kind of labor was needed. In fact, masters often relied on previously developed and demonstrated skill or knowledge among those they purchased for forced labor. It is important to note that the system of slavery was equally brutal and terroristic for such non-plantation workers. Still, pointing out that labor in the fields, while also requiring skill, was not the only work that enslaved people did helps to break down some erroneous preconceptions about the forced labor system and it opens up the possibility for a deeper discussion of enslaved maritime workers.
Drawing upon my own dissertation research that focused on river boatmen and other enslaved maritime workers in South Carolina, I also point out to my students that close supervision of such skilled men in their work was often sacrificed to maximize the efficiency of the transport of cash crops. Thus, slave boatmen in the Carolina Lowcountry often worked in all black crews with no supervision as they traveled, on locally constructed boats called pettiaugers, from plantation to port and back again delivering rice and indigo or carrying provisions. Again, the desire to move goods and people as efficiently as possible in South Carolina, and in the Atlantic World more broadly, meant that any desire or efforts to completely isolate enslaved people to their plantations or other areas of work were undermined by this need for constant movement—a need that brought people and news in and out these environments on a regular basis. This has pretty broad implications for the enslaved, and one of these was the fact that the process of dehumanization of slaves that was at the heart of the plantation complex was countered to some degree by the ability of enslaved people to create and keep open avenues of communication. These avenues or outlets kept mobile maritime workers and plantation workers alike aware of what was happening in the regions around them and connected to family or surrogates for family, thereby maintaining useful knowledge and relationships that helped to maintain a sense of self that was not determined by the slave regime.
After this introduction to enslaved maritime workers and some of the ramifications of the existence of such a group on a somewhat localized level, I typically turn to some examples of maritime workers, enslaved and free, to begin working out larger implications. As I did in my talk, I like to give examples of maritime workers who appear in “runaway slave advertisements” that appeared throughout the Colonial and Antebellum periods in North America. For instance, this is an advertisement from a newspaper published in Charleston:
...Ran away last night... A negro man named Tom, born in the Havanna, speaks Spanish and French, a very likely fellow, and somewhat used to the house carpenter’s trade... Peter, a short well set fellow... Pompey, a middle sized [fellow]... [h]e can write and read, and talk good English, [a] wench named Arabella, is very likely, short and slim... and [h]er child [who] answers to the name of Castila... As there is a small schooner or fishing boat missing this day, it’s suspected they may have [gone] off in her; and as some other Negroes are missing, among whom is a French or Spanish fellow, a fisherman, it is strongly suspected that they are gone to the Southward on their way to the Havanna. Any person or persons apprehending and securing said Negroes so that the subscriber may have them again, shall receive One Hundred Pounds currency reward, besides all reasonable charges. (South-Carolina Gazette, June 27, 1768.)
This is one of many advertisements that highlighted either the use of a boat in running away, or an experienced maritime worker/sailor as the runaway, or, as seen here, in some cases both. While this example has local implications, it also indicates that enslaved maritime workers and other skilled slaves moved throughout the Atlantic and shared their knowledge and expertise with one another in actions of resistance to the system of slavery.
One particularly famous example of such an enslaved maritime worker was Olaudah Equiano. As a slave sailor working out of Montserrat in the Caribbean (an island we sailed by just two days ago), Equiano was able to move throughout the Atlantic World as a “hired out” slave. What this meant was that he and those in a similar situation were sent out to work, sometimes in ways specified by a master but also arranged by the enslaved themselves, for wages, but the hired out slave was to return the bulk of those wages to his or her master. What it meant for Equiano in particular was the chance to earn his freedom, as his master had agreed to allow him to do so after he earned a particular sum. With his hard-earned freedom, this experienced mariner and highly literate man (he had learned to read from another sailor) set out to convince the public in England, through a published account of his life, that the slave trade and slavery should be ended.
When I teach about Equiano, I tend to emphasize the moments in the account of his life where he relates instances where, as the only enslaved sailor on board, the crew treated him as a peer with no concern about his legal position as a slave or prejudices regarding his African heritage. Even the captains he worked for, with some exceptions, assessed he was treated the same way any other sailor would have been. Those familiar with conditions on board eighteenth century merchant vessels might say that this was not “good” treatment, as seamen in this era were treated rather poorly, but for Equiano and others in his situation, it was a significant improvement. After explaining the circumstances of Equiano’s work life, I usually stop to explain to my students that it was common enough to have enslaved sailors on board, and even to work with enslaved pilots (the people responsible for taking command of vessels entering or clearing out from ports) that most sailors in the 1700s would not have found it at all out of the ordinary, so his experiences with equal treatment on board ships was not an exception.
Respect for black sailors was also apparent on shore, and this was apparent in the celebration of Crispus Attucks as a participant and martyr in the Boston Massacre. Attucks was a free black dockworker and sailor in Boston, and as such, his actions cast a light on the maritime nature of this pivotal Revolutionary event. While Paul Revere’s depiction of the event features harmless looking, middling to well- to- do Boston residents being attacked, the reality was that dockworkers and apprentices, aggressively confronted the soldiers in an expression of anger and frustration over the fact that the off duty British soldiers were taking work away from them. Indeed, in most contemporary accounts of the event, Attucks was acknowledged as the leader of this group and, at the time, he was celebrated for his bravery and honored in death after taking the first bullet fired by the British soldiers.
In nearby Dartmouth, Massachusetts, Paul Cuffee, the son of a free black man and Native American woman, worked his way from a sailor on whale ships to captain, merchant and owner of several trading vessels. His economic and social prowess was evident in his receiving an audience with President James Madison in a successful attempt to receive an exemption from the embargo then in effect regarding the importation of British goods. Cuffee’s and Equiano’s interests in terms of their activism overlapped in that they were both involved in efforts to create a community for free black people wishing to leave the Americas or Great Britain and start anew in Sierra Leone. On a personal note, I was pleased to discover when I moved to Providence, Rhode Island, that Paul Cuffee’s legacy is still being celebrated through a charter school that bears his name with a mission that highlights his accomplishments.
Finally, in my talk I highlighted the actions of David Walker. This free black man, born in the South and well traveled, eventually settled in Boston where he opened a used clothing store. Spurred on by the atrocities he had witnessed in and around the plantation system, Walker became a forceful advocate for the abolition of slavery and published a pamphlet in 1829 calling for an end to enslavement by any means possible, including armed insurrection. Taking full advantage of regular contact with his sailor clientele, he managed to gain their assistance in smuggling his pamphlet, “Walker’s Appeal,” into the Plantation South: he sewed copies into the coats of sailors. Walker was successful enough in the distribution of his pamphlet that Southern leaders offered a $3,000.00 reward for his head or $10,000.00 for anyone who could bring Walker to the South. Walker died in his home not too long after the second issue of his appeal was published, and although the timing is suspicious, evidence suggests that, like his daughter a short time before, he succumbed to tuberculosis.
In my talk, I provided these four profiles, from the Caribbean up to the Northeast United States, to highlight some significant and celebrated activist figures in the Afro Caribbean and African American maritime communities. They are examples of people working in a very public way to advocate for the end of slavery, but also for general democratic principles, and in the Early Republic period, for equal rights for free people of African descent. Less public but equally important were those runaway slaves, the men and women who thwarted attempts to extract all of their energy and labor value for the profit of the colonial and Antebellum slaveholders, who maintained connections to each other and to the broader Atlantic World in ways that resisted efforts to strip them of their dignity and humanity. Much of this resistance was accomplished with the aid of mobile maritime laborers who kept people and ideas circulating and contributed to a broader, long-term effort to resist the tyranny of the plantation complex and the cold economic calculus that it fostered.
When I teach students about the African American Civil Rights movement, a topic that comes up in standard United States history textbooks as a phenomenon starting in the 1950s and running through the 1970s, I work to correct the notion that concern and activism over rights was a twentieth century phenomenon. Using examples such as those I have provided here, I talk about the civil rights movement that began from the moment enslaved people were forced across the Atlantic and into the plantation complex and continues to today. This is not to downplay the powerful actions of activists from Thurgood Marshall, attacking segregation in the courts, to bold figures like Rosa Parks, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, encouraging the mass action and civil disobedience to Stokely Carmichael and others who pushed forward with the Black Power initiatives. On the contrary, the economic success of black mariners, a success that extended well beyond the limited examples I have provided here, were instrumental in creating a foundation for secure black communities, first in the Northeast, but eventually throughout the urban United States, that provided the solid support system for the activists of the mid-twentieth century. A black middle class was an essential element for that period of activism, and black mariners from the Colonial Era through the Early Republic set the stage for that social and economic development. In this way, they were responsible for shaping freedom then and now.
These are some of the themes I emphasize in my classes, even for programs like the one I am teaching now. Connections between the United States and the Caribbean are complex but strong, and a comparative approach helps students contextualize everything from economic relations to the cultural mixing that comes from long-standing patterns of mobility throughout the Atlantic. I am looking forward to exploring more of this with my students in our upcoming port stops.
Again, it was a great honor to be able to share my work and teaching approaches with the friends of the Hudson River Maritime Museum. Thanks to Lana Chassman for reaching out to me for the opportunity to speak, to Carla Lesh for inviting me to write this blog, to the rest of the staff of the Museum and to those who came out to hear my talk.
Craig Marin, PhD
Assistant Professor of Maritime Studies
Sea Education Association
Select Bibliography/Suggested Readings
Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard, 1998.
Berlin, Ira, and Philip Morgan, editors. The Slaves’ Economy: Independent Production by Slaves in the Americas. Portland: Frank Cass, 1991.
Bolster, Jeffrey. Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.
Buchanan, Thomas. Black Life on the Mississippi: Slaves, Free Blacks, and the Western Steamboat World. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
Cecelski, David. Waterman’s Song: Slavery and Freedom in North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
Egerton, Douglas R. Gabriels’ Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993 .
Farr, James Barker. Black Odyssey: The Seafaring Traditions of Afro-Americans. New York: Peter Lang, 1989.
Franklin, John Hope, and Loren Schweninger. Runaway Slave: Rebels on the Plantation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Frey, Sylvia. Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.
Hall, N. A. T. “Maritime Maroons: ‘Grand Marronage’ from the Danish West Indies.” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 42, No. 4, Oct., 1985, 476-498.
Horton, James Oliver, and Lois E. Horton. In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community, and Protest Among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Knight, Franklin W. and Peggy Liss, Editors. Atlantic Port Cities: Economy, Culture and Society in the Atlantic World, 1650-1850. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1991.
Landers, Jane. Black Society in Spanish Florida. University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Lemisch, Jesse. “Jack Tar in the Streets.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 25, No.3, July 1968, 371-407.
Linebaugh, Peter, and Marcus Rediker. The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. Boston: Beacon Press, 2000.
Nash, Gary. The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America. New York: Viking Press, 2005.
Putney, Martha S. Black Sailors: Afro-American Merchant Seamen and Whalemen Prior to the Civil War. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987.
Pybus, Cassandra. Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and their Global Quest for Liberty. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006.
Quarles, Benjamin. The Negro in the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961.
Rediker, Marcus. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Rediker, Marcus. The Slave Ship: A Human History. New York: Viking Penguin, 2007.
Scott, Julius. “The Common Wind: Currents of Afro-American Communication in the Era of the Haitian Revolution.” PhD Dissertation, Duke University, 1986.
Young, Alfred. The American Revolution : Explorations in the History of American Radicalism. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1976.
Tugboats are, and long have been, the workhorses of the Hudson River moving needed cargoes up and down the river in large quantities more cheaply than by other means. Today the tugs move bulk cargo like fuel oil, cement, crushed rock, and scrap metal. In earlier times the cargoes were somewhat different, but tugs have been needed going back well into the 19th century. Since demand for many products is year round, the tugs must work all year including during the winter when ice can freeze the river entirely.
Since about the 1940s, the U.S. Coast Guard has kept a channel open on the Hudson during winters of heavy ice. However, before that time, heavier commercial tugs from companies like Cornell were used as icebreakers in their home areas. As the accompanying photo shows, in severe winters in the early 20th century, even the best icebreaker tugs were not able to keep a channel open in the Hudson.
As the ice began to encroach on the Hudson River each year, many activities – fishing, shipping goods, passenger service – ceased. But unlike today, the coming of ice did not mean an end to all activity. For the Hudson River, winter was just another season of work and play.
When it came to transportation on the river in the winter, the boats often remained in the water as long as possible. In the days of wooden boats, some of the heavier boats’ hulls were reinforced with iron to enable them to break through the ice. Ferry services continued as long as they were able to break through the ice with their heavy iron or steel hulls. Larger tugboats pulled barges as long as their iron or steel hulls could navigate through the ice. Commercial vessels like tugs and barges were not removed from the creeks or river in the winter, but spent the season frozen in along the shores. In the 20th century, with the formation of the Coast Guard, their steel vessels patrolled the Hudson, breaking ice and looking out for boats that needed help.
As the Hudson gradually froze over completely and the ice thickened up, it was time for ice harvesting. Begun in the early 19th century on Rockland Lake to service New York City, the demand for ice soon outstripped the capacity of local freshwater lakes in New York and New Jersey to provide enough ice. Areas on the Hudson beginning around Kingston became the perfect place to harvest natural ice. Well above the salt line (south of Poughkeepise), and located where the river widens with easy shore access, Kingston became prime ice harvesting territory featuring enormous white and yellow wooden ice houses up and down the shores of the Hudson and the Rondout Creek. Over time ice harvesting expanded further north to Albany and beyond.
The ice had to be eight to twelve inches thick for optimal harvesting. Employing seasonal workers like fishermen, tug boat men, farmers, brick yard and quarry workers, and anyone else willing to brave the weather for some wintertime income, ice harvesting was an enormous business. Blocks of ice weighing upwards of 300 pounds were packed floor to ceiling in enormous ice houses and packed with marsh hay, or other insulators to keep the ice frozen until summer, when it would be loaded onto barges and headed south for New York City and locations as far away as the Caribbean and India.
To cut ice, the area in front of the ice house was marked off into a grid by an ice plow very much like a farmer’s plow which was pulled by a horse. Then men with large saws cut through the ice along the grid lines. After that the large cakes of ice were floated along a channel of open water into shore guided by men using long pike poles. On reaching shore the ice cakes were loaded onto a conveyor built powered by a steam engine and moved up into the ice house. In the ice house men with pike poles guided the ice cakes along into chutes to fill the ice houses rooms. In spring and summer the ice houses were gradually unloaded as the ice was shipped out.
The use of natural ice declined with the onset of both electric refrigeration and the use of electricity to create artificial ice, which was deemed to be purer and cleaner. Ice harvesting for personal use did continue on many of the Hudson River estates and in rural areas. In the 1930s some people were using gasoline-powered mechanized ice harvesting equipment, but horse-drawn and human-powered equipment was the norm for nearly one hundred years.
The onset of winter also offered recreational opportunities. Ice skating was a longtime popular pastime for young people, but ice yachting or boating was a Hudson River staple for decades. First popularized around the Civil War, ice boating fell out of favor until a revival around the turn of the last century. The sport was primarily practiced by wealthy sportsmen who loved the speed involved.
The enormous wooden stern steerer ice boats would be taken apart and stored in barns and outbuildings all year, just waiting for the winter ice to be thick enough for the ice boating season. Ice boats are extremely fast due to the lack of friction on their metal-capped wooden runners. Powered by the wind, the largest ice boats can top out at over 100 miles per hour. They were once the fastest vehicles on earth. Old stern steerers still exist today along the Hudson and when the ice gets thick enough on Tivoli Bay or Orange Lake or, best of all, the Hudson, you’ll find enthusiasts braving the icy cold winds for an exhilarating ride.
The Hudson River sloop was the main means of transportation on the Hudson River from the early days of Dutch settlement in the 17th century (1600s) until the advent of the steamboat as an affordable alternative in the 1820s. Based on a Dutch design, this single-masted sailboat carried passengers and cargoes up and down the Hudson River between New York and Albany and points in between for over two hundred years. There were hundreds of these vessels. A trip between New York and Albany could take anywhere from 24 hours (a very fast trip) to several days, as speed was dependent on wind and weather conditions. Passengers prepared by bringing food and drink to enhance what was offered on board, and something to do with their time, like books and sewing in case the wind was light. Sometimes if there was no wind a sloop would anchor, and passengers would go ashore for a picnic or a stroll.
For cargo that was perishable, a slow trip by sail could be a problem, but for many cargoes speed was not as crucial. Food produced in the Hudson Valley was important for centuries to the citizens of New York City, and sloops carried all manner of produce and live animals to provide meat for New York, as well as hay for the horses that traversed the city streets. Lumber, stone, and bricks to build New York City were also transported by sloops on the Hudson. Long after passengers had left the slower sloops for the new speedier steamboats, Hudson River sloops continued to carry bulk cargoes used to build the city. In fact, as late as the 1890s some of the sloops were still being used to transport heavy cargoes like stone, as the sloop was the cheapest way to ship when speed was not that important.
Today a replica Hudson River sloop, the Clearwater, sails the Hudson, as she has since 1969, carrying passengers and teaching them about the importance of cleaning up the Hudson and keeping it clean for the benefit of people and wildlife. A pioneer in the movement to improve the quality of the Hudson River for everyone, the Clearwater has been joined by several other similar and equally important organizations devoted to the cleanup and improvement of the Hudson River.
The Clearwater is also a testament to the beauty of the once common Hudson River sloop.
The Hudson River Maritime is soliciting spooky stories, historic or personal, about or on the Hudson River in preparation for its upcoming Halloween event, "Legends of the Hudson River."
HRMM staff will choose the best of the stories to be featured in our October blog post, where readers can vote for their favorite story! The winner will receive a free Household Membership to HRMM, good for 12 months.
Your story may also be featured in the "Legends of the Hudson River" program!
Legends of the Hudson River
Sunday & Monday, October 30th & 31st
Join the Hudson River Maritime Museum and the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater for two days of family-friendly programs, with no-scare events for small children and slightly spooky events for older children and adults. Public sails on the Clearwater, storytelling, crafts, and more. Full schedule TBA.
To volunteer for our Halloween event, please email email@example.com
The Hudson River Day Line was the premier steamboat line on the Hudson River from the 1860s through the 1940s, carrying millions of passengers between New York City and Albany with stops at the major towns in between. The elegant and speedy steamers of the Day Line were widely known and popular with the traveling public.
Many travelers took the Day Line boats to the Catskill Mountains region for summer vacations accompanied by family and large trunks of clothes. Others took the boats to riverside parks like Bear Mountain State Park and Kingston Point Park where they could spend the day picnicking and relaxing, and then catch another steamer home again in the evening. Many groups from schools, clubs, and other organizations took yearly outings on the Hudson River Day Line.
Whatever the reason for travel, the Hudson River Day Line provided its passengers with comfort, elegance, and some of the most beautiful scenery in the world at reasonable prices. The Hudson Highlands and West Point were known to travelers from Europe from illustrations in travel books, and a visit to New York was not complete without a trip on the Hudson to see these famous sights. A band or orchestra was always provided on board for pleasant travel, as was a fine restaurant and a cafeteria for less formal meals. Other amenities provided included writing rooms, news-stands, barber shops, and on one steamer, a darkroom for passengers to develop their own photographs en route.
The term "floating palaces" aptly described the Hudson River Day Line steamers. Millions of people had happy memories of pleasant summer days on the Hudson River Day Line boats including the Chauncey Vibbard, the Daniel Drew, the Albany, the Hendrick Hudson, the Robert Fulton, the Washington Irving, the Alexander Hamilton, and the Peter Stuyvesant.
The 1920s were perhaps the most successful years for the Day Line with nearly two million passengers carried in the peak year of 1925 when seven steamers were running. The Depression years of the 1930s, though, were down years for the Day Line, as they were for many other companies. After an upsurge of business during World War II in the 1940s because of gas rationing for cars, the company's fortunes declined. With a postwar return to prosperity, and a huge increase in the production of passenger cars, travel by steamboat seemed old-fashioned to many.
The Hudson River Day Line of the Van Santvoords and the Olcotts, the original owners, finished with the sale of the company in 1948. In the early 1950s three steamers remained on the successor Day Line-the Robert Fulton, the Alexander Hamilton, and the Peter Stuyvesant. In the early 1960s there were two steamers left, and in September 1971 the last survivor of the Day Line, the Alexander Hamilton, finished the glorious run of the steamboat on the Hudson River.
In 1923, the Hudson River Day Line created a recreational park at Indian Point, south of Peekskill on the east shore of the Hudson, for Day Line passengers. The original purchase of 320 acres, a former farm, extended more than a mile along the riverbank. Indian Point Park was a day trip destination for Day Line passengers set up to rival the popular park at Bear Mountain.
A 1923 Hudson River Day Line magazine article described the park as a “shady and always cool resting spot for those who wish to escape the city’s heat.” The park featured a cafeteria, picnic tables, swings, two baseball diamonds “for boys and young men” and lots of shade trees. The amusement area had rides and games for all ages, a dance hall, a beer hall and miniature golf.
Water activities included the riverfront beach, a swimming pool, rowing on a “tranquil mountain lake” and speedboat rides.
Indian Point Park provided a woodland respite for city dwellers. The Hudson River Day Line steamers left New York City docks in mid-morning, arrived at Indian Point Park at lunch time, giving passengers three hours to spend at the park before returning to the New York City docks in the late afternoon. The park property backed up to the Croton and Mt. Kisco reservoirs that provided water to New York City. Walks through the forested lands and along wildflower paths were outlined in Day Line brochures. In addition, a farm on the property provided produce for the meals served on the Hudson River Day Line steamers.
From 1923 to 1948 Indian Point Park was operated by the Hudson River Day Line. In 1948 the park was closed to be reopened under new ownership in 1950, at which point cars and buses brought visitors to the park. By the mid-1950s the amusement park closed and the property was purchased by Consolidated Edison Gas and Electric Company for the nuclear power plant that opened in 1962.
Earlier in March, the New York Times wrote an article about the digitization efforts of large museums across the globe. Dramatic increases in visitor traffic have endangered some collections and digitizing them – taking high-resolution photos or scans of documents, images, and objects – is one way of protecting the collections. But digitization is also about democratizing access and making collections available to people unable to visit the museum.
When we first opened in 1980, digitization was a distant dream and physical exhibits served the needs of our community. But today improvements in technology quality and cost have allowed even the smallest museum to begin digitizing its collection to become accessible beyond regular operating hours.
Starting with volunteers in 2006, the Hudson River Maritime Museum began digitizing its photo collection. Until recently the majority of these digitized images were relatively inaccessible to the public, although they are frequently seen in HRMM’s “Shipping News” feature in the Kingston Times.
In 2012, the Hudson River Maritime Museum undertook a large project in preserving several oral histories from local fishermen. We had received a grant from Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), in partnership with the Sound & Story Project of the Hudson Valley, to record and digitize these histories so that researchers and the community would have access to the stories. We uploaded this project to Hudson River Valley Heritage, an online digital repository for cultural organizations throughout the Hudson Valley, and it is both accessible on our website and HRVH’s research portal. This small project – digitizing 20 cassette tapes – took three years of digitizing, training, and metadata creation and was an important first step in our digitizing efforts.
As we move into the twenty-first century, we have become accustomed to having a world of information at our fingertips. Archival information – the bulk of what historians and genealogists use – still remains locked away to the general public. While we at HRMM open our archives door to researchers and help researchers unable to travel to Kingston, NY, sharing our archives online allows for broader access. Recently museum and libraries have pushed to digitize their collections; the New York Public Library made tens of thousands of public domain items available to the public this past winter. Despite concerns that showing the public exhibits and archival material would drive down museum attendance, for the majority of institutions, attendance continues to increase in part because of these ongoing efforts.
Our new Assistant Curator, Carla Lesh, has been digitizing more of our Donald Ringwald Collection, which consists of thousands of photographs and pieces of ephemera, including extensive information on the Hudson River Day Line and Steamer Mary Powell. Mr. Ringwald quite literally wrote the books on the Hudson River Day Line and the Mary Powell.
Many of these images are already available online at HRVH.
Our plans are to continue to digitize our entire collection and share it with the public. Please continue to check our social media for updates on release dates for when these collections go live. We will also update our website to reflect these changes with links directly to the HRVH portal.
By Sarah Wassberg, Director of Education and Allynne Lange, Curator
Much has been made of the American shad. A large, silvery herring, this celebrated fish was once one of the three most often commercially caught fish in the Hudson River.
Shad is an anadromous fish, meaning that like salmon it is born in fresh water, lives its adult life in the ocean, and comes back up Atlantic coast rivers to spawn. Unlike salmon, shad do not then die but rather swim back out to sea to live and breed again.
Although shad begin their runs up rivers as early as March, April is usually the month in which shad return in significant numbers to the Hudson, their arrival heralded by the blooming of the “shad bush,” also known as the serviceberry or Saskatoon. The shad run generally lasts until the end of May or early June.
Shad are a prey fish for many larger fish such as striped bass, as well as food for humans. Ever since humans first lived in the Hudson Valley, the annual spring shad run provided much-needed protein after the long winter.
Shad are valued for their tasty flesh, which has almost twice the levels of omega 3s as salmon, as well as for their rich eggs or roe. Although delicious, as a herring shad is very bony, taking eleven cuts to fillet. Traditionally, the female or “roe” shad was much more desirable than the male or “buck” shad due to its eggs and larger size. Roe was either harvested by gently squeezing it out of the female or by gutting the fish and removing the whole egg sack, which was generally lightly battered or floured and fried in bacon fat for an extra-rich dish. Shad roe was historically considered a spring delicacy in the Hudson Valley.
Although you can sport fish for shad, they have traditionally been caught with stake nets in the lower Hudson and drift nets in the mid-Hudson and north. The stake nets were long, rectangular nets affixed to long wooden poles in the shallower areas of the Hudson River. Drift nets, also long and rectangular, were cast from the shad boats on a favorable tide. As the tide flowed the fish were caught in the nets which hung vertically like curtains with weights on the bottom edge. Nets must be pulled up and fish removed by hand before the tide changes. If left in the nets too long the shad will die or, as happened to fisherman Edward Hatzmann, eels will go up inside the live roe shad and eat the eggs right out of them.
Over the past ten or more years, the yearly shad run has dwindled dramatically, and shad is now considered endangered and may not be caught. Reasons for this change are many, including predator fish like the striped bass, as well as offshore fishing. Whatever the reasons, the shad, once the harbingers of spring, are much missed.
Shad boats are specially designed rowboats (later powered by outboard motors) which are wide with a relatively shallow draft. Working two or more men to a boat, one man would row while the other would run out the nets in the morning, and then collect the net a few hours later, generally removing the shad to the bottom of the boat as the nets were pulled in. A special wooden platform at the stern of the boat made it easier to pile the nets and remove the shad. You can see a restored shad boat in the East Gallery of the museum. Port Ewen fisherman George Clark recounts working in all weather.
Fishing for shad commercially was hard work. Often fishermen were up as early as 3 or 4 AM and worked one or sometimes both tides. Because shad was a seasonal fish, most fishermen had other jobs. A good shad run meant extra income during a lean time of year, but fishermen in the 20th century rarely made enough money to do much more than break even, especially the larger operations which hired on extra men. George Clark tells of a fish dealer who tries to buy shad from his father for a penny a piece.
Historically shad has been an important food fish, especially during times of hardship. During World War II all fishing was banned in New York Harbor. Fisherman Frank Parslow recounts the impact of rationing and the harbor fishing ban on Hudson River fishermen.
By Allynne Lange, Curator
The most famous of the fourteen keepers of Kingston/ Rondout’s lighthouses was Catherine A. Murdock, who faithfully served for fifty-one years. Born Catherine Parsell in the town of Esopus, she married George W. Murdock in the 1850s.
According to government records, Mrs. Murdock arrived at the old wooden lighthouse, built in 1837 on the south side of the entrance to the Rondout Creek, in 1856 when her husband was appointed head keeper. She arrived with a host of personal belongings, including furniture, and two small children – George and Emma. A third child, James, was born in the lighthouse.
Within a year of his appointment, George W. Murdock, who had gone ashore to Rondout to purchase groceries, was found floating drowned near his loaded rowboat. Despite this tragedy, his widow continued to faithfully maintain the light while also caring for her three young children.
Although there were many applicants for her late husband’s position, Mrs. Murdock was officially appointed by the United States Lighthouse Service as Head Keeper at Rondout on July 11, 1857 with the help of local friends. Her appointment was also due to her own diligent efforts in maintaining the light.
Mrs. Murdock spent ten years, including those of the Civil War, living in the old wooden lighthouse which each year became more and more rickety. The building was threatened by severe storms and the spring freshets, or floods, which regularly occurred. One storm was so fierce that “the house rocked to and fro like a church steeple.” Despite her fear that the building would collapse, Mrs. Murdock faithfully kept the light shining in the tower. Had the light gone out it could have resulted in scores of boatmen losing their bearings and wrecking the vessels with loss of life.
In 1867 when the substantial bluestone lighthouse was built Mrs. Murdock moved her family into their new home. Characterized by a newspaper of the day a “little waterborne castle… where the children were raised to the music of merry waves and dashing spray…,” the new lighthouse must have been a cozy and delightful home. The house was roomy and pleasant with four rooms on each of its two floors. Photographs taken in the family parlor indicate that it was filled – in typical Victorian fashion – with dark furniture that obviously belonged to the family, and wallpapered walls covered with framed photos and prints.
For more than forty years Mrs. Murdock made her home in this bluestone lighthouse. For her vantage point on the river she witnessed the sinking of the passenger steamboat Dean Richmond, the burning of the steamboats Thorn and Clifton, and the barge Gilboa. She effected several rescues, usually with the help of her sons, sometimes nursing the victim back to help. However, due to the extraordinary paperwork required with each rescue, she seldom officially reported these efforts.
One morning before the dikes were built on each side of the Creek’s entrance, as Mrs. Murdock sat in her “little sewing room”, she heard a loud crash and the sound of breaking glass. She turned around and saw a schooner’s bowspirit sticking through the window and half way into the room. The schooner had been crowded into the lighthouse by a steam tug and a large tow of barges which was leaning the Rondout Creek.
According to her own accounts, the worst time that Mrs. Murdock experienced was the night of December 10, 1878 when a large flood occurred in the Rondout Creek and the Hudson River. As the weather worsened the previous day a family friend visited the lighthouse and urged Mrs. Murdock to take her family and go ashore. She replied, “I’m a woman, I know, but if the lighthouse goes down tonight, I go with it.” At midnight Mrs. Murdock went to the top of the tower where she was greeted by the pitch dark night and the sound of rushing and rapidly rising water. At three in the morning, the guard lock at Eddyville gave way. The waters swept everything before it: boats, barges, and tugs were town loose from their moorings and caught up in the raging flood. The lighthouse remained steadfast.
In 1880 her son James Murdock was appointed assistant keeper, and officially began to help his mother in her duties at the lighthouse. James and his wife lived in the lighthouse with his mother. When the new lighthouse was opened in 1915 James was its first keeper.
In 1907 Catherine Murdock, who had by this time remarried someone named Perkins, retired from the lighthouse service and moved ashore. Her fifty-one years of service as a head lighthouse keeper made her the oldest lighthouse keeper in continuous service in the United States at the time of her retirement.
Living full time on the mainland must have been quite an adjustment for this indomitable woman whose whole adult life had been spent on a small island.
Mrs. Murdock Perkins out lived two husbands, both of whom died by drowning. She herself died in 1909 and is buried in the Port Ewen Cemetery with her family, the Parsells.
This blog is written by:
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
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