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 Morning Star was a sloop based out of the Rondout Creek in the 1790s, and many of her records were included in Paul Fontenoy's 1994 study of Hudson River Sloops. As a result, we can do some analysis of not only this one sail freighter, but her cargos and the exports of the Rondout Creek in her era, without spending dozens of hours in archives.
This is a good thing, because there's a lot of lessons to be taken from her records. As a Hudson River Sloop, she was designed for our specific waters, with a shallow draft, drop-keel to make sailing upwind easier when enough water was available, and a simple fore-&-aft rig. These elements made the Hudson River Sloops ideally suited to the shifting mudflats and variable winds of the Hudson. In addition, they required relatively few crew members to handle the two or three sails.
As for cargo, while the records aren't listed in tons, we can see a lot of patterns in her bills of lading. Passenger and cargo business was essential for the Sloops, and most passengers were headed North. Most of the cargo, however, was headed South to New York City and beyond. The cargo was principally agricultural goods, which were either used in the city or traded on in the West Indies Provisions Trade. The Hudson Valley was the breadbasket of the West Indies and parts of Southern Europe, but this trade to the West Indies allowed for the constant mono-cropping of sugar on those islands. New York and the Hudson Valley made much of its money off the Slave Trade both directly and indirectly through the provisioning trade. The agricultural trade profit which motivated the settlement and agricultural growth of the Hudson Valley in the 17th and 18th century is inseparable from the Slave Trade.
Returning to the technical side of the discussion, we can also see the sailing season and voyage times from the records of Morning Star. With a 258 day sailing season and 11 voyages, the average duration of a round trip is about 24 days. March must have coincided with the river ice clearing, and December with the ice becoming enough to discourage sailing.
The other thing to notice is how profitable the Sloops were. With a nearly 75% return over expenses, this is a very encouraging business. Profits were boosted by the lack of competition from steam propulsion, in the form of either trains or steamships. As that changed over the next 100 years, the profit margin of sloops declined, but in 1793 they gave a very significant return.
Anyone interested in the technical details of the Hudson River Sloops should find a copy of Fontenoy's book, as it contains a well researched and easily read account of their development and operations for over 200 years.
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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