The photos and text below are from Old-time Ships of Salem, published by the Essex Institute, 1917.
“From the year of its settlement in 1628 until the middle of the 19th century, Salem, in the Massachusetts Bay, was a maritime port surpassed in size and importance by only two or three other seaports along the Atlantic coast. Within a dozen years of the coming of Governor Endecott, vessels from Salem were trading with the West Indies and England and the enterprise and self-reliance of the merchants and shipmasters of this town eventually opened commercial relations with new and distant peoples living upon the shores of all parts of the known world. It has been said with truth that Salem ships traded “with more different peoples in Asia, Africa, South America and the islands of the sea than the ships of all other American ports put together.”
The private armed ship America was the largest, the fastest, the most fortunate and the most famous of all the privateers which at any time sailed out of Salem harbor. She was built for a merchantman in 1803 by Retire Becket under the eye of George Crowninshield Jr. In those days every ship must protect herself. Algerine and Barbary corsairs made the ocean routes and the Mediterranean unsafe, and neither England nor France showed us much more quarter than the pirates. The America was launched with portholes in her sides and never put to sea without a heavy armament .
The good ship Belisarius was launched in October 1794. She measured only ninety-four and one half feet in length with a breadth of only twenty-five feet. She carried most valuable cargoes and paid duties on them ranging from fifteen to twenty-one thousand dollars. After successful voyaging in the India trade for eight years, the beautiful ship Belisarius went to pieces in a gale in the Bay of Tunis in April 1810, the crew and cargo saved.
Cleopatra’s Barge was built by Retire Becket the famous Salem shipbuilder at his yard at the lower end of Derby Street and was launched October 21 1816 She was 83 feet long on the water line, 191 tons displacement, and rigged as a brigantine. After the death of Captain George Crowninshield which occurred in Salem on board the boat, November 26 1817. Cleopatra’s Barge entered the merchant service making several voyages to South America. Later she was taken to the Hawaiian Islands and became the private yacht of King Kamehameha.
The story of the Essex has become a part of every naval history of the United States. In March 1814 she was captured by two British frigates in Valparaiso Bay after a bloody contest in which nearly one half of her crew were killed or wounded.
The ship Friendship was built by Enos Briggs, one of the most noted shipbuilders in Salem, and was launched on May 28 1797. She was 34.2 tons measurement and made seventeen voyages to Batavia, Canton, La Guayra, Cadiz, Leghorn, Madras, London, Hamburg, Archangel and St Petersburg, paying total duties at the Salem Custom House of $141,394.3.3 She was finally captured by the British September 4, 1812 while returning from Archangel under command of Capt. Edward Stanley and was taken to Plymouth, England.
The ship George was one of the large fleet of merchantmen which owed its existence to the enterprise of Captain Joseph Peabody of Salem. For twenty-two years she plied with the regularity of a shuttle between Salem and Calcutta and ranked first in the fleet for speed and reliability ,probably excelling in these qualities any other Indiaman in the country. Her average outward voyages were one hundred and fifteen days in length and her homeward passages averaged one hundred and three days. She was built at Salem in 1814 for a privateer by a company of ship carpenters whom the war had thrown out of work.
No finer picture of a Salem privateer can be presented than the painting by Anton Roux, here reproduced, of the brig Grand Turk, built in 1812 for thirty Salem owners at Wiscasset, Maine. The Grand Turk measured 102 feet in length 28 feet beam and 12 feet 4 inches in depth and carried ninety odd officers and men and eighteen or twenty guns. She had a square stern one deck no galleries and a billet figure-head .
The Hercules was one of the famous ships of old Salem. She was built in Haverhill in the year 1805 and although she went many voyages to all parts of the world was not larger than a small two masted coasting schooner. She made eight successful voyages to the whaling grounds in all parts of the world. The end of her service came in 1847, for on July 27th of that year she was lost off Navigator’s Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
The brig Leander was one of a fleet of eighty-three vessels built or owned between 1790 and 1844 by Captain Joseph Peabody of Salem and all freighted by him from Salem. She was launched at the shipyard of Benjamin Hawkes, July 25, 1821. The Leander was sold at Gambia, July 11, 1844.
The ship Margaret was built for John Derby Benjamin Pickman and Samuel Derby by the famous Retire Becket, whose family had built vessels in Salem for over 150 years. She was launched in the fall of 1800 and sailed on her first voyage November 25th. She was only 91 feet in length, with a capacity of 295 tons and proved to be a very fast sailer. On Sunday May 20th, 1810 a squall struck the ship and she was thrown on her beam ends. The next morning Captain Fairfield and fourteen men left the ship in the long boat and were picked up on Saturday May 26th by the ship Poacher. The survivors arrived at Marblehead June 19, 1810. After the departure of Captain Fairfield, Captain Henry Larcom master of the schooner Mary of Beverly was appointed to act as their head by the thirty-one still remaining on the wreck. On June 30th ,after the most intense suffering ,the boat with three survivors was picked up by the schooner General Johnson.
The ship Mount Vernon was built at the eastern end of Derby Street Salem in 1798 by Retire Becket for Elias Hasket Derby and proved to be the last commercial venture of that great merchant.
The Ulysses was a ship of three hundred and forty tons burden carrying twenty-five men or more and built at Haverhill in 1798 for William Gray Jr of Salem. Her dimensions were length 100 feet breadth 28 feet depth 13 feet 10 inches. Mr Gray born at Lynn in 1760, came early to Salem and entered the counting room of Richard Derby. With Captain Josiah Orne for partner he was despatching ships to Canton as early as May 1790.
The brig Olinda was only 178 tons measurement with a length of 88 feet 2 inches, breadth of 21 feet 2 inches and depth of 10 feet 7 inches which was very small when compared with modern vessel.s The Salem Register of July 21 1825 wrote, “On Tuesday last July 19 at one o clock PM, the Olinda was launched from the ship yard of E. Briggs in South Salem. She will sail for South America in a few days.
Among the many ships famous in the early days of Salem’s maritime history, none is more deserving of honorable mention than the good ship St Paul. The vessel was built in Boston in 1833. The St Paul was the largest vessel of her time owned in Salem only two others exceeding 400 tons. Her departure from Salem was watched from headland to headland until she was lost to view and on her return many an eye awaited her coming and looked brighter when she came Her cargoes filled the spacious storehouses on Phillips Wharf.
The ship Carolina was built in Medford in 1836 by George Fuller for Ammi C. Lombard and measured 395 tons. From the early days,Medford from its location on the winding Mystic river furnished favorable opportunities for many shipyards, and after the Revolution from 1803 to 1846 when shipping again revived , nearly 400 vessels aggregating over 130,000 tons estimated to have cost $6,000,000 were launched there.
The ship Thomas Perkins of Salem was built at Portsmouth in 1837 for David Pingree and Emery Johnson. She was named by Mr. Pingree for his uncle Thomas Perkins who was born in Topsfield, April 2 1758 and died there November 24, 1830. Beginning life as a shoemaker, Mr. Perkins came to Salem at the age of twenty-two and shipped on board a privateer in company with Joseph Peabody who afterwards became his business partner. They were also together on the letter of marque brig Ranger Captain Simmons when she was attacked in the Potomac river in 1782 by three British tory barges, which were brilliantly repulsed. He became captain of the privateers Spitfire and Thrasher and in the latter captured six prizes in a single cruise. He was frequently referred to as Captain Perkins and became an eminent merchant his enterprise aiding very materially in building up the reputation of the City of Salem.
The ship “Iris,” 227 tons burden, was built in Kennebunk, Maine, in 1797 for William Gray, Jr., of Salem, one of the most distinguished merchants of his time, and one of the largest ship-owners in Salem. In 1807 Mr. Gray owned fifteen ships, seven barks, thirteen brigs and one schooner, being one-fourth of all the tonnage of Salem.
The “Brookline” made a double voyage in 1833-36. They from Salem, July 2, 1833. On this voyage the ship cleared for Batavia, went to Canton, thence to Hamburg, back to Manila, and then home to New York, where she arrived March 11, 1836, having left Manila Oct. 6, and St. Helena, Jan. 22. The entire voyage occupied 32 months and nine days.
The ship “Franklin” of Boston, 200 tons burden. She sailed from Boston on December 11, 1798, bound for Batavia on the island of Java. At that time the entire foreign trade of Japan was controlled by the Dutch merchants at Java. and on the arrival of the “Franklin” se was chartered by the Dutch East India Company for 30,000 piastres, for a voyage to and from Japan. This was the first
voyage of an American vessel to Japan.
The Brig “Naiad,” of 259 tons burden, was built in Haverhill in 1817 for Pickering Dodge of Salem and was first registered at the Salem Custom House July 18, 1819, Nathaniel Osgood being the master. On Thursday, October 28, 1819, she arrived from Calcutta on her first voyage, having been struck by lightning the Sunday previous. The second mate, William Griffen, who was on the main topsail yard was
instantly killed and fell into the sea with his clothes burning. The vessel, however, received but trifling damage.