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 First Steamboat "North America"
The first “North America” made her appearance on the Hudson river in the days when steamboats were scarce and not very practical, and after a little more than 10 years of service, she encountered the heavy ice- the nemesis of many steamboats- and had her career abruptly ended on the bottom of the river.
The wooden hull of the “North America” was built by William Capes at New York in 1827, and her engine was constructed by John Stevens at Hoboken, N.J. Her hull was 218 feet long, her beam measured 30 feet across, and her hold was only eight feet deep. She had two vertical beam engines with cylinders having a diameter of four inches with a nine foot stroke.
Robert L. Stevens was the owner of the “North America,” and she was built for service between New York and Albany at a time when river transportation was entering upon an era of prosperity which brought forth many of the now famous steamboats and recorded in history glorious tales of the Hudson river.
The “North America” had a pair of beam engines and, as she was a rather light vessel, her owner had a hog frame on a truss placed in her to stiffen the hull. This was a departure from the methods of steamboat construction of that period and as a result the water lines of the “North America” were rather “hard” and she had what was termed a “spoon bow.”
These engines of the “North America” made 24 revolutions per minute and her history indicates that the vessel was not noted for speed- her best time recorded from New York to Albany being 10 hours and 30 minutes.
When loaded with freight the “North America” drew six feet of water and burned from 25 to 30 cords of wood on the 155 mile trip between New York and Albany.
Robert L. Stevens ran the “North America” for several years and finally sold her to Isaac Newton and others who ran her in line with the “DeWitt Clinton.” In the fall of 1839, while on one of her regular trips from New York to Albany, the “North America” ran afoul of a field of heavy ice a short distance below Albany. She was unable to cope with the pressure of the ice which eventually cut through her planking, causing her to sink into the waters of the Hudson river and thus brought her career to an abrupt end.
The second steamboat "North America"
The 230 foot “North America” appeared in 1839, built by Devine Burtis at Brooklyn. Her vertical beam engine had a 48 inch cylinder and 11 foot stroke and she had two Milliken Patent boilers.
The new steamboat was built for Isaac Newton and other parties for the People’s Line of Albany, and was the second boat called the “North America” which was built for this line plying between Albany and New York.
The “North America” was in service only a short time when she had a new and larger consort, the “South America.” Together, these vessels brought fame to the Hudson river as they plied between the two cities, setting a fine style for the construction of steamboats. They eclipsed all their predecessors both in speed and style, and the “North America” was the first steamboat to use blowers for artificial blast, in the furnaces of boilers, by an independent engine.
The “North America” ran on the Albany route until the year 1850 or 1851, when she was retired from the People’s Line and then used as a consort to the “South America” and the “Hero” on the New York-Hudson night line. She was finally purchased by Captain Jacob H. Tremper, of the Rondout firm of Romer & Tremper night line, and was placed in service between Rondout and New York in line with the steamboat “Manhattan” until the fall of 1860, when she was replaced by the new “James W. Baldwin.”
The vessel was then sold to J. W. Hancox and D.D. Chamberlain, and was chartered out in 1862 and 1863 at $325 and $400 per day. Finally, on July 9, 1863, she was sold to the federal government for $55,000. The “North America” was sunk at Algiers, Louisiana, opposite New Orleans, on October 8, 1863- and later was raised and taken to New Orleans, where she was broken up.
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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