Editor's Note: The following text is a verbatim transcription of an article written by George W. Murdock, for the Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman newspaper in the 1930s. Murdock, a veteran marine engineer, wrote a regular column. Articles transcribed by HRMM volunteer Adam Kaplan. For more of Murdock's articles, see the "Steamboat Biographies" category.
eThe steamboat “John Sylvester” is another sidewheeler which began her career on “foreign waters,” came to the Hudson river for use as an excursion vessel, and finally ended her career under a different name in southern waters.
The wooden hull of the “John Sylvester” was built by Michael Allison at Jersey City, N.J., in 1866; and her engine was the product of Murphy, McCurdy & Warden of New York. Her hull was 193 feet in length, (overall length of 207 feet) breadth of beam 30 feet, over the guards she measured 50 feet; depth of hold nine feet seven inches. The gross tonnage of the “John Sylvester” was listed at 495, and the net tonnage was 338, and her engine was the vertical beam type with a cylinder diameter of 44 inches with a 10 foot stroke.
Originally the “John Sylvester” plied the waters of the James river as a dayboat between Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia, carrying passengers and mail. She was a swift sidewheel steamboat of very trim lines, and was capable of a speed of 18 miles per hour. The “John Sylvester” made her first trip on the James river on April 7, 1866, and remained on this route until March 22, 1878, when she was transferred for a very short term of service on the Delaware river.
During the summer of 1878 the “John Sylvester” made her first appearance in New York waters where she was employed in the excursion bussiness. For a number of years the steamboat was in service during the summer months carrying excursionist to the picnic groves along the lower reaches of the Hudson river as far as Newburgh. She was also in service on Long Island Sound to Sands Point, Bay Ridge, Coney Island, Rockaway, and several other smaller resorts.
While she was in use as an excursion steamboat in the summer months on the Hudson river and Long Island Sound, the “John Sylvester” spent the winter months on the St. Johns river in Florida as a dayboat. Unlike many of the river steamboats familiar to the folks of the Hudson valley, the “John Sylvester” did not lie idle during the winter while the river was ice-bound; and thus while she was plying the waters of the St. Johns river she established a speed record between Jacksonville and Palalka- a distance of 75 miles- of four hours and 15 minutes.
The “John Sylvester” was finally purchased by Anning Smith who operated her around New York harbor for a time. Later he took the steamboat to Bridgeport, Connecticut- running her on excursions out of Bridgeport on Long Island Sound.
On June 20, 1920, the “John Sylvester” was sold to a concern in Baltimore, Maryland. Her new owners renamed her the “Starlight,” and put her in service carrying excursionists along the shores of Chesapeake Bay- until she sank at a wharf in Baltimore, bringing to a close her career.
George W. Murdock, (b. 1853-d. 1940) was a veteran marine engineer who served on the steamboats "Utica", "Sunnyside", "City of Troy", and "Mary Powell". He also helped dismantle engines in scrapped steamboats in the winter months and later in his career worked as an engineer at the brickyards in Port Ewen. In 1883 he moved to Brooklyn, NY and operated several private yachts. He ended his career working in power houses in the outer boroughs of New York City. His mother Catherine Murdock was the keeper of the Rondout Lighthouse for 50 years.
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