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. See more of Murdock's articles in "Steamboat Biographies".
No. 107- Highlander
Almost from the day she slid down the ways into the water the “Highlander” was a part of the contests between steamboats for the honor of being the fastest and most efficient vessel on a particular route on the river. Later, after her days as a passenger vessel gave way to the era of more modern craft, the “Highlander” was converted into a towboat and continued her useful career on the river up which Henry Hudson’s “Half Moon” sailed centuries before in quest of a route to India.
The wooden hull of the “Highlander” was constructed at New York in the year 1835 by Lawrence and Sneden. The length of her keel was 160 feet, with an overall length of 175 feet, and her beam measured 24 feet wide, her hold eight feet deep. Her engine was the product of the West Point Foundry, being of the vertical beam type with cylinder diameter of 41 inches with a 10-foot stroke. Two iron boilers were located on her guards, and her paddle wheels were 24 feet in diameter with buckets 10 feet long and a dip of 29 inches. She was rated at 313 tons.
The “Highlander” was built for Thomas Powell, Samuel Johnson, and Robert Wordrop, for use on the Hudson river, and she was one of the finest and fastest steamboats of that period. While the “Highlander” was under construction at New York, another steamboat, the “James Madison,” was being built at Philadelphia to run in opposition to the “Highlander” on the Newburgh and New York route. The ensuing contests between these two vessels were frequent, and both steamboats claimed a share of the honors.
The pages of Hudson river steamboat history are marred considerably by the disasters caused by contests between steamboats when overtaxed boilers exploded and fire swept vessels from stem to stern, but these records fail to shed light on any accidents that resulted from the rivalry of the “Highlander” and the “James Madison.”
The “James Madison” was finally placed in service between Albany and New York and her name changed to the “Oneida”- thus bringing to an end the contests with the “Highlander.”
The “Highlander” continued operating on the Newburgh and New York route until 1846 when the steamboat “Thomas Powell,” a new and faster vessel, made her appearance. She was next seen as an excursion steamboat, and later she appeared on the Rondout and New York route, as a passenger vessel.
In 1851 Thomas Cornell purchased the “Oneida” and changed her name back to the “James Madison,” and during this period both the “Highlander” and the “James Madison” were converted into towboats. In 1852 the “Highlander” and the “James Madison” were towing out of the Rondout creek to New York- the “James Madison” in the service of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company and the “Highlander” for the Pennsylvania Coal Company from the Port Ewen docks.
Following the season of 1852 the “Highlander” was taken to the Delaware river where she was used as a towboat until 1866 when she was dismantled and her engine installed in a new towboat, the “William H. Aspinwall.”
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.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to support more history blog content, please make a donation to the Hudson River Maritime Museum or become a member today!
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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.
Become a member and receive benefits like unlimited free museum admission, discounts on classes, programs, and in the museum store, plus invitations to members-only events.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum receives no federal, state, or municipal funding except through competitive, project-based grants. Your donation helps support our mission of education and preservation.