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
The tale of the steamboat “Sarah E. Brown,” known for a period in her existence as the “fish market boat,” begins in 1860, travels through the Civil War and comes to the Rondout creek harbor, and finally ends as the wreckers tear apart the remains of the vessel which lost a battle with the ice in the creek and was wrecked beyond repair, in the year 1893.
The wooden hull of the “Sarah E. Brown” was built at Brooklyn in 1860. She was 91 feet long, breadth of beam 19 feet five inches, depth of hold five feet eight inches. Her gross tonnage was listed at 45, with a net tonnage of 22, and she was propelled by a vertical beam engine with a cylinder diameter of 24 inches with a six foot stroke.
As can be ascertained from the above dimensions, the “Sarah E. Brown” was a small side wheel steamboat, which was built for towing service in and around New York harbor. There were many vessels similar to the “Sarah E. Brown” in use for the same purpose at that period in steamboat history. Shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the “Sarah E. Brown” was taken over by the war department and placed in service on the Potomac river, being used principally in places where the river was too shallow for the larger vessels to navigate safely.
In 1865, at the close of the war, the “Sarah E. Brown” was brought north to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and tied up, and the following year she was sold to Thomas Cornell along with another side wheel steamboat, the “Ceres.” These two vessels, both painted black according to the practice of the federal government during the war, arrived at Rondout and were used for towing purposes in and around the Rondout creek.
Under the command of Captain Sandy Forsythe, the “Sarah E. Brown,” with Peter Powell as chief engineer, became a familiar sight along the river in the vicinity of the mouth of the Rondout creek.
The year 1869 marks the event which brought the nickname of the “fish market boat” to the “Sarah E. Brown.” A collision with an ice barge stove in the wheelhouse of the “Sarah E. Brown” carrying away much of the woodwork and leaving only the letters S.E.B. of her full name. Immediately some wag along the docks found the three letters could be the initial letters to the words “suckers,” “eels” and “bullheads,” and so the “Sarah E. Brown” came into the name of the “fish market boat.”
During the winter of 1870 the “Sarah E. Brown” was rebuilt at Sleightsburgh by Morgan Everyone, and Major Cornell was asked what name he wished for the rebuilt craft. It is reported that Major Cornell in turn asked Captain Sandy Forsythe what name he thought would be appropriate, and the captain replied that the name “Sandy” would do. Thus the “Sarah E. Brown” became the towboat “Sandy.”
The “Sandy” was in use around the Rondout harbor until the fall of 1892, and then it was an accident which occurred during the period when she was tied up for the winter, that brought the career of the “Sandy” to a close. N March 13, 1893, the ice in the upper section of the Rondout creek broke loose due to a spring freshet, and thousands off tons of ice rode the raging torrent down the creek. The onslaught of this mass swept many of the tied-up vessels from their moorings, and the side of the “Sandy” was crushed, causing the wrecked steamboat to sink. She was raised but was found to be in such condition that she was no longer of any use, and she was sold to Jacob Herold and broken up at Rondout.
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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