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.
This blog is written by:
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
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