Welcome to Sail Freighter Fridays! This article is part of a series linked to our new exhibit: "A New Age Of Sail: The History And Future Of Sail Freight In The Hudson Valley," and tells the stories of sailing cargo ships both modern and historical, on the Hudson River and around the world. Anyone interested in how to support Sail Freight should also check out the Conference in November, and the International Windship Association's Decade of Wind Propulsion.
The Sloop Experiment was built in Albany in 1785, and was the second US-Flagged vessel to trade with the Qing Empire in China. Over the course of 18 months, Captain Stewart Dean and the crew of 9 sailed over 14,000 miles each way in a 59-foot, 85 ton sloop around the Cape of Good Hope. The return journey took four months and 12 days, a reasonably fast passage around the Cape and across the Atlantic.
The Experiment carried a hold full of tar, Ginseng, turpentine, alcohol, tobacco, furs, and cash, which were traded in China and surrounding areas for the Chinese luxury goods which were in high demand in New York and Albany.
Cargo brought back included silks, fine porcelain, tea, and other luxury goods. After finding that port fees in China were charged the same for all vessels, regardless of size, the Experiment never made another trip to China, but still turned a decent profit. With the economics of these port fees in favor of larger ships trading with China, the Experiment returned to the Hudson River Trade, carrying passengers and cargo between Albany and New York for a number of years. Captain Dean evidently made several other trips to China, but in other, larger vessels.
It seems the Experiment went back to the Hudson River trade after her famous trip to China, and was unique on the Hudson for having the cabin outfitted and decorated in a Chinese style. It was remarked in 1789 that the Experiment's accommodations were quite comfortable, and the captain entertained guests with stories of the epic voyage he had taken in the vessel 5 years before.
Steven Woods is the Solaris and Education coordinator at HRMM. He earned his Master's degree in Resilient and Sustainable Communities at Prescott College, and wrote his thesis on the revival of Sail Freight for supplying the New York Metro Area's food needs. Steven has worked in Museums for over 20 years.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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