Tag Archives: Maritime History

New ‘Crossing the Delaware’ on Display Amid Debate


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The New-York Historical Society is displaying Mort Künstler’s “Washington’s Crossing at McKonkey’s Ferry” until January 17, 2012. Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” commemorates General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on December 25 in 1776 during the American Revolutionary War. His original painting is part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mort Künstler, a New York artist known for his historical paintings, has created what he considers a more historically accurate version of Washington crossing the Delaware River. The painting was unveiled at the New-York Historical Society on Monday, December 26, the date in 1776 that Washington led his troops into battle in Trenton after crossing the Delaware.

David Hackett Fischer, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Washington’s Crossing, and featured speaker at the unveiling, says Künstler’s version is “quite accurate” and “got more right than any other image.”

The original painting shows the Betsy Ross flag flying, however that flag was not adopted until 1777; Mr. Künstler’s version has no flag. The original painting depicts the action taking place in the middle of the day, though the actual crossing took place during a stormy night. Based on historical research, the new painting shows Washington and company in a flat-bottomed ferry boat rather than on a row boat.

On that last detail however, there has been some debate. Rick Spilman, writing in the Old Salt Blog, noted:

“The problem is that most historians think that the American crossing of the Delaware used Durham boats, large flat-bottomed boats which hauled cargo such as ore, pig-iron, timber, and produce from upcountry mines, forests and farms down the Delaware River to Philadelphia’s thriving markets and port. Robert Durham, an engineer at the Durham Iron Works in Reiglesville, Pennsylvania, reputedly designed a prototype for these large cargo boats as early as 1757. Washington wrote to Governor Livingston of New Jersey, directing him to secure “Boats and Craft, all along the Delaware side…particularly the Durham Boats” for his anticipated crossing.”

In any event, you’ll have just one day to compare the two paintings first hand. The newly restored Luetze painting will be unveiled in a new frame in the New American Wing Galleries for Paintings, Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum on January 16, the day before the new Künstler painting comes down at the New-York Historical Society.

Illustrations: Above, Mort Künstler’s “Washington’s Crossing at McKonkey’s Ferry”; below, Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 “Washington Crossing the Delaware”.

State Museum Aquires Unique Stoneware


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After hiding away in private collections – and a California coat closet – for nearly 200 years, a unique piece of early American decorative art is returning home to New York, where it will be housed at the New York State Museum thanks to collector Adam Weitsman. Weitsman, President of Upstate Shredding, also donated a monumental jug, two water coolers considered important by the museum and a gallon jug decorated with the image of a ship.

“The addition of these recent pieces of decorated stoneware surely put the New York State Museum on the map as having the premier collection of American stoneware. Not only are the decorations unique and outstanding as works of American folk art, but the documentation and history of these recent acquisitions enable us to learn so much more about the stoneware industry and those artists who left us such remarkable works of art,” said John Scherer, Historian Emeritus of the New York State Museum.

Weitsman has made a number of donations to the museum in the past, and a Herington incised jug will be an important – and valuable – addition to the collection.

A double-handled, profusely decorated stoneware jug is among the latest items Weitsman has donated. Inscribed “BENJAMIN HERINGTON,” it was bought at auction for what was, at the time, a record-breaking $138,000. The jug, considered by some a masterpiece, was made as a memorial to a 22-year-old potter who drowned in the Norwich, Connecticut harbor in 1823.

The double-handled jug joins two other pottery donations from Weitsman, including a 21 1/2 inch tall jug made in Poughkeepsie in the mid- to late-1800s, and a one-gallon stoneware jug decorated with the image of a ship, made in New York State between 1835-1846. The new acquisitions also include two water coolers made by Jonah Boynton of Albany purchased from New York City dealer Leigh Keno.

Stoneware was an integral part of the history of New York State and the expansion of the country in early days of exploration and settlement. In a time before refrigeration, stoneware was used to store and transport foodstuffs and drinking water. Clay deposits ideal for making stoneware were found around New York State, notably in what is now New Jersey, lower Manhattan and eastern Long Island. New York State became a large stoneware producer and artisans in New York developed durable vessels decorated with rich designs using incision techniques and distinctive rich blue coloring.

Weitsman began collecting American stoneware at age 11 and made his first donation of more than 120 pieces to the museum in 1996. In a 2009 article for Antiques and Fine Art Magazine, ‘Art for the People: Decorated Stoneware from the Weitsman Collection,’ Scherer wrote, “Since his initial donation Weitsman has continued to add at an aggressive pace to the museum’s holdings, making it the premier collection of American decorated stoneware in the country.”

The Weitsman Stoneware Collection is available can be viewed by the general public at the New York State Museum in Albany, New York.

Fort Ticonderoga Acquires 1759 Powder Horn


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Fort Ticonderoga’s collection is strengthened by a recent donation of an engraved powder horn made in 1759. The horn is inscribed “JOSEPH STAB HIS POWDER HORNE 1759.” Joseph Stab’s identity thus far remains silent. A search of available records for the military campaigns of 1759 has not yet revealed who he was.

Stab’s powder horn is nicely engraved with a variety of scenes and images. Directly above his name is a hunting scene depicting a horseman and three hounds chasing a deer. Another part of the horn is engraved with what appears to be Indians in trees shooting at game. A variety of birds, trees and deer are depicted over much of the remainder of the horn along with depictions of sailing ships one of which is identified as “Sloop Oswego.” The British Navy sloop Oswego was constructed on Lake Ontario in 1755 and captured (burned) by the French on August 14, 1756 at the end of the siege of Fort Oswego. Was the sloop depicted on Stab’s horn as a memory of service in a previous military campaign? Further research may reveal the answer.

Powder horns were regularly issued to American provincial and British regular soldiers in the French & Indian War for carrying bulk gunpowder. Unlike what is commonly seen in the movies, soldiers generally did not load their muskets directly from a horn. The horn was a container in which to carry bulk gunpowder to later be used in making paper cartridges. Many soldiers had their horns engraved perhaps as a way of commemorating their military service. Although there is little direct information that survives regarding the process of engraving a powder horn, it appears from scant evidence that most horns were engraved by a only a handful of men, perhaps individuals with known artistic or engraving skills, serving as fellow soldiers in the army. Some powder horns have poetic phrases reflecting upon specific events and military campaigns; others are inscribed with only the owner’s name and date. Many powder horns have maps or floral or naturalistic scenes engraved on their surfaces. Each horn, however it is decorated is a unique record of a person’s military experience.

Fort Ticonderoga’s collection of 18th-century military objects is celebrated as one of the best of its type in the world. The collection of engraved powder horns numbers about seventy-five pieces spanning the French & Indian War and American Revolution. According to Chris Fox, Fort Ticonderoga’s Curator of Collections, “Each powder horn is unique and has a story to tell.”

Dozens of engraved powder horns are exhibited in the museum each season and many will be featured in the museum’s newest exhibit Bullets & Blades: The Weapons of America’s Colonial Wars and Revolution opening May 2012.

Vietnam War Graffiti Exhibit Opens Veterans Day


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The personal thoughts and feelings of American soldiers and Marines going to war in Southeast Asia come to life in the “Marking Time: Voyage to Vietnam” exhibition opening Nov. 11 (Veterans Day) at the New York State Museum.

The stories of these soldiers and Marines are told through the graffiti they left behind on the bunk canvases they slept on, aboard a ship that brought them to Vietnam in 1966-67. Eight canvases inscribed by soldiers from New York state are included in the traveling exhibition, open until Feb. 26, 2012. Uncertain about their future, the young troop passengers inscribed personal thoughts about families, hometowns, patriotism, love, anxiety, discomfort and humor.

Their canvases, bunks and personal items were discovered in 1997 onboard the General Nelson M. Walker. The transport ship was being scrapped after seeing service during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. In between it was in reserve status in a Hudson River berthing area, near New York City, for six years. Military historian Art Beltrone discovered the historic graffiti and other artifacts during a trip to Virginia’s James River Reserve Fleet, where the ship had been relocated from New York.

When discovered, the Walker was a veritable floating time capsule, filled with hundreds of historical artifacts relating to the Vietnam War, the 1960s, and the men who went to war. Many of those artifacts will be on display. Included is an original eight-man rack of sleeping bunks, complete with the original mattresses, sheets, pillows, blankets and life vests. The rack shows how confining living space was during the uncomfortable 18-23 day, over 5,000-mile voyage to Vietnam. There also is clothing, shoes, comic books, magazines and copies of The Walker Report, the ship’s official newspaper written, printed and distributed by troop passengers. Other personal objects left behind, such as playing cards, empty cigarette and candy wrappers, liquor bottles, religious tracts and rosary beads, were found hidden under the sheets.

The multi-dimensional exhibition also includes two short films, “Marking Time: Voyage to Vietnam” and “Discovery of a Forgotten Troopship,” which can also be viewed online.

The exhibition is curated by Beltrone and his wife, Lee of Keswick, Va. Together they founded the Vietnam Graffiti Project (VGP) which, assisted by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, is dedicated to finding the graffiti writers and Walker voyage passengers to tell and preserve their stories. VGP is still trying to identify many of the writers, including many of those from New York state. Among those who have been found are Harmon Adams of Kenmore, near Buffalo, and Dave Dubreck of Churchville, near Rochester.

World War One and Charles Dabney Baker


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War heroes come from all walks of life, and are deemed noteworthy for all sorts of reasons. In April 1918, during World War I, the North Country was justifiably proud of five lesser headlines in the New York Times beneath a bold proclamation: “Plattsburg Youth A Transport Hero.”

The story was particularly unusual for one main reason—though the youth was a lieutenant in the infantry, he and his foot-soldiers had performed heroic deeds with no land in any direction for perhaps 1000 miles.

Plattsburg (no “h” used in those days) was a principal military training facility, and many death announcements during the war ended with a single, telling entry: “He was a Plattsburg man.” In this case, the Plattsburg man in question, Charles Dabney Baker, was still very much alive and receiving praise from both sides of the Atlantic for astute leadership and remarkable calm during a crisis situation.

The odd circumstances surrounding Baker’s citation complemented his unusual path from childhood to the military. Historically, the vast majority of fighting men do not come from affluent backgrounds. Men of money and power have often been able to protect their children from serving. Poorer folks, on the other hand, often joined for the guaranteed income and the financial incentives dangled before them. A few thousand dollars was nothing to a person of wealth, but constituted a small fortune for someone in need.

Charles Baker was certainly part of an affluent family. He was born in Far Rockaway, Long Island in 1891, the son of a Wall Street banker. When he was but eight years old, the family household of four children was supported by a live-in staff that included two nurses, a waitress, a cook, and a chambermaid. A kitchen maid and a laundress were later added. Life was sweet.

Charles graduated from Princeton in 1913 and went to work for the Bankers’ Trust Company in New York City. It was an ongoing life of privilege, but after two years in the banking industry, he opted to join the military. Following a stint on the Mexican border, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant, and then trained at Plattsburg as America finally entered the war in Europe.

For Baker, who was prepared for battle, disappointment ensued when his regiment was ordered to France without him. He was instead tasked with commanding a detachment of men assigned to care for 1600 mules and horses that were being shipped to Europe in support of the troops.

As the journey began, a series of problems developed, culminating in a crisis situation in the middle of the ocean. A powerful storm threatened the mission, with winds estimated at 80–90 miles an hour. The ship was badly tossed, and a coal port lid failed (it was said to have been the work of German spies who had loosened the bolts when the craft was docked).

As the ship began to flood, chaos and disaster loomed. Baker, the highest ranking officer aboard, took charge of his landlubber crew and whipped them into action. The partially flooded ship rocked violently, and its precious cargo suffered terribly. A sailor on board later reported that many of the horses and mules “were literally torn to pieces by the tossing and rolling. Their screams of agony were something awful to listen to.” A number of others drowned.

Under Baker’s orders, bailing crews were assigned, dead and living animals were tended to, and the remaining men battled to keep the ship afloat. Days later, they limped into port and assessed the damages. It was determined that 400 animals had been lost, but the remarkable response by Baker and his infantrymen resulted in the survival of 1200 others. A complete disaster had been averted, and after delivering their cargo, the 165th Infantry was soon on the front line in France.

The story of the ocean trip might have remained untold except for brief mention that appeared in some newspapers. Among those reading the report was a sailor who had shared the voyage. He contacted the newspapers, and soon the story was headline news, praising Baker and his soldiers for great bravery and heroism under extreme conditions.

While the story gathered momentum, Charles and his men were otherwise occupied, already engaging in trench warfare. Just a few weeks after joining the fight, the 165th was pinned down under withering bombardment by the Germans. As Baker encouraged his troops, a shell exploded nearby, puncturing his eardrum.

For three days the barrage continued. Against the advice of his men, Baker endured the pain, refusing to withdraw to seek treatment. He felt his troops were best served if he remained on duty with them.

In early May it was announced that the French government had conferred upon Baker the Croix de Guerre medal, accompanied by the following citation: “First Lieutenant Charles D. Baker showed presence of mind and bravery during a heavy bombardment of nine-inch shells. Went calmly to his post in the trenches despite a destructive fire, assuring the safety of his men and locating the enemy’s mortars which were firing on the positions.”

Baker was forced to spend time recovering in the hospital. Despite his adventures, the frequent praise, and the French medal, Baker was described as humble, unassuming, and much admired and respected by his men. Soon he was back on the battlefield, right in the thick of things.

In July 1918, less than six months after Baker’s arrival in Europe, the 165th was involved in heavy fighting on the Ourcq River about 75 miles northeast of Paris. The Germans had the better position, and Allied forces suffered very heavy casualties as machine gunners cut down hundreds of men. Some of the Allied commanders took to an old method of moving forward by sending only two or three men at a time, backed by intense cover fire. It was difficult and deadly work.

On July 29th, while involved in fierce fighting, Charles Baker was badly injured by machine-gun fire and was once again removed to a base hospital in France. Nearly six weeks later, on September 12, he succumbed to his wounds.

From the crisis on the high seas to his eventual death on the battlefield, barely eight months had passed. It was a tragedy that was repeated millions of times during the war. And in this case, it was duly noted: Baker was a Plattsburg man.

Photo: Charles Dabney Baker, 1913.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

War of 1812: Carrying the Great Rope


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During the War of 1812, control of Lake Ontario was one of many issues considered critical by both sides. A key position for the British was Kingston, Ontario, about thirty miles north of the vital American base at Sackets Harbor. In an effort to establish domination of the lake, the two sites engaged in a shipbuilding race.

The British finished first and gained control, but American builders quickly completed three new ships (two brigs and the huge frigate Superior, larger than its British counterpart). Their launch required only weapons and rigging, which were en route from Brooklyn via Albany. In 1814, hoping to keep those vessels in port, the British sought to disrupt American supply routes. A prime target was Fort Ontario, located at Oswego on the mouth of the Oswego River.


On May 5, the British fleet launched an attack that was repelled by the Americans. On the following day, an intensified assault featured heavy cannon fire from the British. Eventually, the Americans lost the fort and some important armaments, but most of the valuable supplies had been taken upriver to Oswego Falls (now Fulton) for safe storage. The preservation tactic worked, and shortly after the Battle of Oswego, a plan was in place to resume moving war supplies northward to the waiting ships at Sackets Harbor.

Following the attack, the British withdrew to Kingston, but a few weeks later, they were at the Galloo Islands near Sackets Harbor, blockading any marine attempts at supplying this strategic site. Should the materials slip through, it would dramatically tip the scales in favor of the American forces. By monitoring the harbor, the Brits were preventing that from happening, ensuring their superiority on the lake.

A British attempt to destroy the Superior was foiled, and on May 2, the ship was launched. But it was hardly battle-ready, still lacking guns and rigging. Less than three weeks after the attack on Oswego, the critical supplies hidden at Oswego Falls were once again on the move. They had already traveled from Brooklyn to Albany, and then to Oneida Lake. Now, from Oswego Falls, it was time for the final, dangerous leg of the journey.

A land contingent paralleled the 19 American boats as they fairly sneaked up the eastern shoreline of Lake Ontario. At Sandy Creek, the boats were taken inland as far as possible while scouts checked ahead for the presence of British ships. It was a wise move, for the enemy was indeed lurking nearby. Shortly after, the British launched an attack, but in less than a half hour, the Americans had won a resounding victory known as the Battle of Big Sandy Creek.

Despite the win, it was deemed unsafe to risk sending the valued supplies any farther by water, lest they again fall under attack and be captured or destroyed by the British. Wagons, oxen, horses, and manpower were summoned, both from the military and from local residents. The plan was to move the important supplies the remaining distance by land.

The bateaux (boats) were unloaded, and soon a lengthy caravan laden with guns, ship cables, and other supplies was on its way to Sackets Harbor, about 20 miles north. Only one item was yet to be moved—a length of rope, albeit an important one—and it presented a real problem.

This wasn’t just any length of rope. It was intended as the anchor line and/or rigging for the USS Superior, the huge new frigate that could alter the balance of power on the lake. That meant this was a BIG rope. Most descriptions portrayed it as 6 inches thick and 600 feet long, weighing in at just under 5 tons.

No cart was big enough to handle its tremendous size and weight, but if it wasn’t delivered, the Superior would remain port-bound, and the Brits would own the lake. Ingenuity often yields solutions at such critical moments, but sometimes good ol’ elbow grease is the answer. In this case, it was a combination of the two, but the emphasis was clearly on the physical.

A section of the rope (referred to as a cable) was piled on a cart, and the remaining cable was strung out along the trail. Militiamen heaved it to their shoulders, and like one gigantic, ponderous snake, the cable began moving slowly northward behind the cart.

There are various accounts of the trip, and claims as to the number of cable-carriers range from 84 to more than 200. Some say that discouraged men skipped out of the nasty job after a few hours, and that locals stepped in, literally shouldering the burden. None of the stories differed on one count, though: participants were left badly bruised from the incredibly difficult ordeal.

But, they did it! The cable arrived at Sackets Harbor on the afternoon of the second day. The tired men wore abrasions, cuts, and huge, deep-purple bruises as hard-earned badges of valor. At the close of their incredible 20-mile journey, “there was loud cheering the whole length of the cable,” as the men were greeted with music, drumming, flag-waving, and drink—and the princely sum of $2 each for their efforts.

They should have celebrated with a tug-of-war!

As soon as it was deemed seaworthy, the Superior turned the tables on the British, blockading their main shipyard at Kingston and helping establish American dominance of the lake. It was thanks in no small part to the “can-do” attitude exemplified by North Country pioneer folks.

Top Photo: Fort Ontario at Oswego.

Middle Photo: One of several plaques honoring the cable carriers.

Bottom Photo: Map of Lake Ontario sites.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Searching For MacDonough’s War of 1812 Shipyard


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The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum has received a grant of $23,985 from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) to undertake an archeological survey to determine the precise location and established boundaries for MacDonough’s War of 1812 Shipyard in Vergennes, Vermont.

“We are proud to support projects like this that safeguard and preserve American battlefields,” said Jon Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service. “These places are symbols of individual sacrifice and national heritage that we must protect so that this and future generations can understand the struggles that define us as a nation.”


This grant is one of25 National Park Service grants totaling $1.2 million to preserve and protect significant battle sites from all wars fought on American soil. Funded projects preserve battlefields from the Colonial­ Indian Wars through World War II and include site mapping (GPS/GIS data collection), archeological studies, National Register of Historic Places nominations, preservation and management plans.

Federal, state, local, and Tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions are eligible for National Park Service battlefield grants which are awarded annually. Since 1996 more than $12 million has been awarded by ABPP to help preserve significant historic battlefields associated with wars on American soil.

Additional information is online at www.nps.gov/history/hpslabpp. To find out more about how the National Park Service helps communities with historic preservation and recreation projects please visit www.nps.gov/communities.

Artist conception of MacDonough’s War of 1812 Lake Champlain Shipyard Workers by Kevin Crisman, LCMM Collection).

Schoharie Crossing to Host 1792 Batteau Landing


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Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site will host a replica 18th century bateaux (flat-bottomed cargo boats) owned by the Mabee Farm Historic Site and crewed by Schulyers Company of New York Provincials and other reenactors, while in route from Rome to Rotterdam Junction.

The trip is roughly 87 miles long, and recreates similar journeys that occurred on the Mohawk River prior to the building of the Erie Canal. Captain David Manthey and the crew welcomes the public to witness their landing at the Yankee Hill Picnic Area between 5pm and 6pm on the evening of August 25, 2011 and to ask questions. Continue reading

Exhibit Features 100 Years of Adirondack Mail Boats


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The Town of Webb Historical Association and Goodsell Museum, located at 2993 State Route 28 in Old Forge, Herkimer County, is currently featuring the exhibit “Floating Letters-The Town of Webb’s Mail Boats-Over 100 Years of Postal Tradition and Summer Fun” through the end of October.

The exhibit presents the history of the delivery of mail by boat in the Town of Webb on the Fulton Chain of Lakes, Big Moose Lake, Twitchell Lake, Rondaxe Lake, Silver Lake, and other locations from the early 1880s until the present. The exhibit includes photographs, certificates, ledgers and maps -as well as a wide assortment of custom leather & canvas/cloth mail pouches donated or on loan for the exhibit.

Included in the exhibit is the story of the Railway Postal Office (RPO) – a unique contract issued to Dr. William Seward Webb & the Fulton Chain Navigation Co. in 1901 whereby an official postal clerk rode on the boats to cancel mail, sell stamps & money orders, and perform other postal duties.

Additional exhibits at the Goodsell Museum include those on Adirondack wildlife, the Goodsell Family (George Goodsell was the first ‘mayor’ of the Village of Old Forge in 1903) and the 90th Anniversary of the Thendara Golf Club. The next featured exhibition, on early medicine, will open December 1st. The Webb Historical Association maintains a regular exhibit on early local doctors which will help form the basis the of the new exhibit.

The Goodsell Museum is open year-round; there is no admission charge.

The museum is also participating in Old Forge’s “First Friday Art Walk” events by including special exhibits connecting art with historical themes. On July 1st from 5-8PM they will have one of Lottie Tuttle’s oil paintings on display. Lottie was one of the Adirondack’s first female guides, she and her husband invented the devil bug fishing lure that was manufactured in Old Forge and marketed across the United States in the early 1900’s.

On July 9th the Association will hold its 9th Annual Benefit Auction. Preview and registration starts at 1 pm, bidding at 2 pm with auctioneer June DeLair from Constableville Auction Hall. The auction is held under a tent on the Goodsell Museum grounds and will include antiques, collectibles, new and nearly new items donated from members and friends of the museum.

The Association also has other programs, workshops, and walking tours. More information can be found online or by contacting Gail Murray, Director, via e-mail at historicaldirector@frontiernet.net or by phone at

Photo: The Steamboat Hunter – Captain Jonathan Meeker delivered mail to hotels and camps as early as 1883.

Maritime Museum Has New Longboat, New Exhibit


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The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s (LCMM) 2011 season has already kicked off and features the newest Champlain Longboat, Maple. Student boat builders, faculty members from the Hannaford Career Center’s Diversified Occupations program, and LCMM boatbuilding staff recently launched the boat at Basin Harbor.

Also new this year is the exhibit “From the Page’s Edge: Water in Literature and Art” which reveals a wide array of personal connections between art, literature, and the natural world.

In this interdisciplinary exhibit, nineteen contemporary artists from New York City, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Jersey, Maryland, and upstate New York share some of the literary sources and life experiences that inspired them. Their artworks – in diverse media – range from representational to abstract. Their literary selections are as well-known as an African-American spiritual or an essay by Thoreau, and as private as personal poetry. Lake Champlain’s shipwrecks inspired the poetry of UVM Professor Daniel Lusk and a painting by Vergennes artist Eloise Beil.

Exhibit curator Virginia Creighton, a New York City artist with family connections in Ripton, Vermont, recalls childhood adventures in a flooded yard: “My sister and I were tomboys. We went out the side door . . . straight to the flooded low ground next to the garage. . . to wade in amongst the growing stalks of rhubarb.” Creighton’s painting “Kid’s House” was her response to that memory and the poem “in Just” by e. e. cummings, which evokes a youthful spring “when the world was mud-luscious” and “puddle-wonderful.”

From the Page’s Edge will be on view at LCMM through June 26. A color catalog of the exhibition will be available at LCMM and online.

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, located at 4472 Basin Harbor Road, seven miles west of Vergennes, is open daily. A world-class nautical archaeological research center with a lakeside campus of eighteen buildings, LCMM operates a fleet of full-sized and operational replica vessels, with a staff including educators, boat builders and curators. The museum’s team of nautical archaeologists has explored the lake’s 300+ historic shipwrecks, transforming their discoveries into hands-on exhibits, films, and programs.

LCMM brings the past of Lake Champlain to the public through special events, exhibits, courses and workshops, summer camps, and traveling replica vessels that encourage historical perspective and cultural connections between communities. More information about new exhibits, special events, and on-water programs, and the itinerary for schooner Lois McClure can be found on the Maritime Museum website.

Photo: Champlain Longboat Maple ready for launch day.

House Votes to Return Tripoli Vets Bodies


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Last week the United States House of Representatives passed a bill including an amendment authored by U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers, (R-MI), and Frank LoBiondo, (R-NJ), that would require the Department of Defense to repatriate the remains of 13 US Navy commandos buried in two mass graves in Tripoli, Libya since 1804.

The amendment – which would repatriate, identify and honor the sailors with a military funeral – was attached to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). After passing the full House, the NDAA now heads to the US Senate for consideration.

“My father, my father’s father, and his father’s father have wanted the remains of Master Commandant Richard Somers returned home, and we’ve worked for it since he and the men of the USS Intrepid were lost in Libya in 1804,” said Dean Somers of Somers Point, New Jersey. “This is long, long overdue, and it wasn’t until we met recently with Rep. Frank Lobiondo and Chairman Rogers when we thought it was finally possible.”

Somers and his crew were lost on an ill-fated mission to destroy Tripoli’s naval fleet during the Barbary Wars of the early 19th century. When their bodies of America’s first Navy commandos washed up on the beach in Tripoli, the bashaw – the king of the pirates – invited a pack of dogs to devour them as American prisoners of war looked on. The 13 remain buried today jumbled together in two Libyan graves. One of those graves is unmarked and underfoot on Green Square, the site of decades of anti-America rallies.

On September 4th 1804, Somers was in command of fire ship Intrepid which had been recently seized from its Tripolean crew, was prepared as a “floating volcano” and readied to be sailed into Tripoli harbor and blown up in the midst of the enemy fleet under the walls of the city. She exploded prematurely, while entering the harbor killing Somers and his entire crew of volunteers.

Since 1804, there have been six ships of the US Navy that have been named USS Somers in his honor. In 2004, the state assembly in New Jersey passed two resolutions calling for the return of the sailor’s remains. The town of Somers, New York, located in Westchester County is named in his honor.

The City of Somers Point, named after the Master Commandant’s family and still their residence, has worked on repatriation for decades. Additionally, the descendants of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wish for the return of the remains of his uncle, Lt. Henry Wadsworth, who served as second in command on the fire ship Intrepid when it was lost during the Barbary Wars. Born shortly after the failed mission, the legendary poet was named after his heroic uncle.

Illustration: Engraving, “Blowing Up of the Fire Ship Intrepid commanded by Capt. Somers in the Harbour of Tripoli on the night of 4th Sepr. 1804.”

Champlain Maritime Museum Announces Changes


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The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM) is undergoing its first change in leadership in the 26 years since it was founded. Art Cohn and LCMM’s Board of Directors have just unveiled their transition plan for the next years of leadership for LCMM.

This fall, Art Cohn, co-founder and executive director, will take on the new role of Senior Advisor and Special Projects Director, while Erick Tichonuk and Adam Kane, both longtime members of the museum staff, will ascend to the position of Co-Executive Directors.

Tichonuk will have primary responsibility for the fleet, museum programs and operations, while Kane will be Archaeological Director of LCMM’s Maritime Research Institute. They will work in tandem on the overall leadership of LCMM.

In a letter sent to community leaders, museum members and supporters, Cohn explained “Several years ago I began to ponder the prospect of transition, and I came to believe that passing leadership of the museum to the next generation was perhaps the most important responsibility I would have. Over the years, I have focused very hard on identifying and recruiting the best and brightest to the museum with the hope and expectation that the next generation of leaders would be among them. I am pleased to report that they were.”

Sandy Jacobs, LCMM Board Chair from 2006 to 2009, and Darcey Hale, incoming Board Chair who took office on May 1, elaborated: “The museum is what it is today because of the vision that Art Cohn and Bob Beach had 26 years ago, Art’s skillful leadership, his devotion to every aspect of the institution and, most of all, his passion for everything that relates to Lake Champlain. As many of you have so aptly stated, ‘Art is the Maritime Museum.’ Adam Kane and Erick Tichonuk have worked closely with Art for many years, helping to shape the values and the culture of the museum, and they have been thoughtful and thorough in their proposal for carrying forward the Museum’s mission and vision. We are confident that under their leadership the museum will continue to grow and to flourish.” “Two more talented, dedicated and thoughtful people you could not find,” Cohn declared, “I am so pleased for them and for the museum family.”

The announcement comes as the Maritime Museum prepares to launch into a typically busy “open” season. Kane is deploying teams of LCMM nautical archaeologists to fieldwork and consultations in Onondaga Lake and Lake George as well as Lake Champlain, while Tichonuk directs the installation of the museum’s new exhibits, readies the Philadelphia II and Lois McClure for the new season, and works with waterfront communities around the lake in anticipation of the schooner’s “Farm and Forest” tour this summer. In the months ahead, LCMM’s Board and leadership staff will also be engaged in a strategic planning process that will chart LCMM’s future course. “This is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to reach out and celebrate the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum – past, present and future,” Hale exclaims. “We are sincerely grateful to all of the many people who over the years have demonstrated their support, interest, and belief that LCMM plays a vital role in the history and well being of our region and far beyond.” Cohn concurs: “We have just celebrated LCMM’s twenty-fifth anniversary year, and this positive transition plan provides assurance that the museum will build upon its accomplishments and be even more productive in the years to come.”

Photo: LCMM Co-founder and Executive Director Art Cohn (center) with Erick Tichonuk (left) and Adam Kane, who will become Co-Executive Directors of Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in the fall.

War Of 1812 Symposium Planned for Ogdensburg


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During the War of 1812 the dogs of war barked and bit along the U.S. northern frontier from Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain as American forces tangled with their British and Canadian counterparts for two-and-a-half years. The War of 1812 in this region, and its wider implications, will be topics at the third annual War of 1812 Symposium April 29-30 in Ogdensburg, NY, sponsored by the Fort La Présentation Association.

The five presentations by authoritative Canadians and Americans are: Ogdensburg and Prescott during the War of 1812, Paul Fortier; American supply efforts on Lake Ontario: “Cooper’s Ark,” Richard Palmer; “Colonel Louis” and the Native American role in the War of 1812, Darren Bonaparte; The war on the St. Lawrence River, Victor Suthren; and Excavation of American Graves at the 1812 Burlington Cantonment, Kate Kenny. The post-dinner address by Patrick Wilder is the Battle of Sackets Harbor


“We established the symposium in advance of the war’s 2012 bicentennial to help develop a broader public understanding of the War of 1812, so important to the evolution of the United States and Canada,” said Barbara O’Keefe, President of the Fort La Présentation Association. “The annual symposium is a vibrant forum of scholars from both sides of the boarder presenting informative seminars to an enthusiastic audience of academics, history buffs and re-enactors.”

The cost of the symposium is $100 for the Saturday seminars and after-dinner speaker, including a light continental breakfast, a buffet lunch and a sit-down dinner. The Friday evening meet-and-greet with period entertainment by Celtic harpist Sue Croft and hors d’oeuvres is $10.

The symposium and dinner fee for Fort La Présentation Association members is $90, and they will pay $10 for the meet-and-greet.

Other pricing options are available: $80 for the Saturday seminars without dinner; and $35 for the dinner with speaker.

Seminar details and registration instructions on the Fort La Présentation Association webpage.

The Freight House Restaurant in Ogdensburg will host the symposium, as it has in previous years.

The Fort La Présentation Association is a not-for-profit corporation based in Ogdensburg, New York. Its mission is to sponsor or benefit the historically accurate reconstruction of Fort de la Présentation (1749) in close proximity to the original site on Lighthouse Point.

Seminar Presenters

Darren Bonaparte from the Mohawk community of Ahkwesáhsne on the St. Lawrence River is an historical journalist. He created the Wampum Chronicles website in 1999 to promote his research into the history and culture of the Rotinonhsión:ni—the People of the Longhouse. Mr. Bonaparte has been published by Indian Country Today, Native Americas, Aboriginal Voices and Winds of Change, and he has served as an historical consultant for the PBS miniseries The War That Made America; Champlain: The Lake Between; and The Forgotten War: The Struggle for North America.

Paul Fortier, of Kingston, ON, worked 10 years as a military curator and historian for Parks Canada and a following 10 years as a manager at the National Archives of Canada. While living in Prescott, ON, the home he restored was the Stockade Barracks, British military headquarters on the St. Lawrence River during the War of 1812. Mr. Fortier is a founder of the re-enacted Regiment of Canadian Fencible Infantry. He owns Jessup Food & Heritage, providing period food services at Upper Canada Village, Fort Henry and Fort York.

Kate Kenney is the Program Historian at the University of Vermont Consulting Archeology Program. She supervises historic artifact analysis and also helps supervise field work, particularly at historic sites. She is the senior author of Archaeological Investigations at the Old Burial Ground, St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Ms. Kenny has organized and conducted UVM CAP public outreach, including presentations to elementary and high school students. Personal research projects involve Vermont history from the earliest settlement through to the Civil War.

Richard F. Palmer of Syracuse is a senior editor of “Inland Seas,” the quarterly of the Great Lakes Historical Society, and has written some 40 articles for the publication, covering more than 250 years of Lake Ontario’s maritime history. His presentation on “Cooper’s Ark,” is the story of a short-lived floating fortress built in Oswego during the War of 1812, but lost in a storm while sailing to Sackets Harbor. He’ll also recount the attempt to raft lumber for the construction of ships from Oak Orchard to Sackets Harbor; the delivery was intercepted by the British.

Victor Suthren, from Merrickville, Ontario, is an author and historian. He served as Director General of the Canadian War Museum from 1986 to 1998, and is an Honorary Captain in the Canadian Navy and advisor to the Directorate of Naval History and Heritage, Department of National Defence (Canada). He has worked as an advisor to film and television productions and has voyaged extensively as a seaman in traditional “tall ships.” Mr. Suthren has published several works of historical non-fiction, as well as two series of historical sea fiction.

Patrick Wilder is an historian retired from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. He is the author of The Battle of Sackett’s Harbour, 1813.

Photo: Canadian Fencibles Colours, courtesy Fort La Présentation Association.

Historic Canal Tug Urger Concludes 2010 Season


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More than 5,000 schoolchildren visited the historic tugboat Urger during the recently concluded 19th season as an educational resource for the New York State Canal System.

During the summer months, the Urger hosts thousands of visitors at numerous Canal festivals and events throughout the Canal Corridor. The Urger also provided one of the many highlights at the 2010 World Canals Conference held in Rochester in September.

Canal Corporation Director Carmella R. Mantello said, “The tug Urger educational program has once again been a great success. Thousands of schoolchildren from across New York State participate every year in hands on activities to learn about the significant and unparalleled role New York’s Canals have played in shaping our state and nation. The Canal Corporation is pleased to partner with communities and schools throughout the Canal corridor to allow the public to learn firsthand about this historic vessel and to learn about the past, present and future of the New York State Canal System.”

The tug Urger logged more than 3,000 miles traveling across the Canal System during 2010. During the spring and fall educational programs, the Urger visited more than 30 communities. Students in fourth-grade classes at local schools take field trips to the tug and participate in shoreside, “hands-on” educational sessions. There they learn about the history of the Canals and the role construction of the Erie Canal played in making New York the “Empire State.”

Throughout the summer months, the Urger represented the Canal Corporation at many Canal-related events and festivals throughout the system, as well as being a featured vessel at this year’s World Canals Conference.

During the winter months, the Urger is in dry dock in Lyons, New York, where canal staff will be preparing it for the 2011 navigation season.

Celebrating more than 100 years of service, the tug Urger is the Canal Corporation’s flagship vessel. It was christened the Henry J. Dornbos in Michigan on June 13, 1901, and saw service as a fishing boat in the Great Lakes for two decades.

In the early 1920s, the tug was sold, renamed the Urger, and entered the New York State Canal fleet. Stationed in Waterford, the Urger served more than 60 years hauling machinery, dredges, and scows on the Erie and Champlain Canals until she was retired from service in the late 1980s.

In 1991 Capt. Schuyler M. Meyer, Jr., founder for the private non-profit State Council on Waterways, was given a permit to operate the tug as a floating classroom along the canal system, teaching elementary school students about the original Erie Canal and today’s expanded, modern-day inland waterway. Upon Capt. Meyer’s passing in the mid 1990s, the Canal Corporation continued the program and used the Urger as the official ambassador for the New York State Canal System, serving as the focal point of its educational program since 1994.

The Urger has been on the State and National Registers of Historic Places since September, 2001.

The Tug Urger Educational Program is available to all New York State schools at no cost. Class size and presentations are limited and are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.

For more information on how to take advantage of this educational program or to schedule a visit to your community, call 518-471-5349 or visit the Canal Corporation’s Website and click on “Tugboat Urger.”

The New York State Canal System is comprised of four historic waterways, the Erie, the Champlain, the Oswego and the Cayuga-Seneca Canals. Spanning 524 miles across New York State, the waterway links the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes and the Niagara River with communities rich in history and culture.

Photo: State canals Director Carmella R. Mantello is shown speaking with local school children who are touring the 109 year-old Tug Urger in Waterford Harbor. The historic state vessel cruises the 524-mile state canal system each season teaching young students about the early canal era and today’s modern-day inland waterway.

Admiral Byrd’s ‘City of New York’ Relics at Auction


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The wheel, binnacle (compass) and bell from the ship the City of New York, famously used in Admiral Byrd’s 1929 exploration of Antarctica, and infamously a ship that failed to aid the imperiled Titanic, will be offered for the first time at public auction on November 17th in Dallas, Texas. The items are expected to bring over $10,000.

The history of the City of New York began in 1885, when she was known as the Samson, a 170-foot steam barque, whose first duty was as a sealing ship operating in arctic waters. On the night of April 14, 1912, loaded with 3000 pounds of illegal frozen seal in her hold, Samson was in the waters off Newfoundland and Labrador.

“On the horizon the crew saw signal rockets fired into the night by an unidentified ship,” said auction director Tom Slater. “Fearing a boarding by the Royal Navy, the crew doused the ship’s lights and quickly steamed out of the area. A few days later the captain of Samson heard the news of the sinking of RMS Titanic with the loss of 1517 lives.”

As additional news of the disaster spread, it became clear to the captain and crew of Samson that they did not come to the Titanic’s aid. The captain of SS Californian, another ship in the vicinity which did not respond, was publicly pilloried and became an outcast. Those on the Samson all wisely kept quiet about their unknowing abandonment of Titanic until 1962, the 50th anniversary of the sinking.

The Samson continued to ply the icy waters of the world, well known to the men racing to find glory in the arctic and Antarctic. In 1915 it rescued Sir Ernest Shackleton, who, having been beaten to the South Pole by Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen, turned his attention to an attempt to cross the Antarctic continent. When his ship, the Endurance, became icebound, it was the Samson that finally got him and his men to safe harbor after more than a year in the icy wilds.

It was actually Amundsen himself that recommended Samson to America’s Admiral Richard Byrd, who was planning an expedition to the Antarctic. Byrd followed his friend’s advice and purchased Samson to be his flagship on the expedition. It was renamed the City of New York, and in 1928 went with Byrd on his first expedition, along with one more ship and three airplanes. From there, City of New York participated in the photographic expeditions and geological surveys and the famous Nov. 28, 1929 flight to the South Pole and back, which captivated the world.

“The flight was successful, if harrowing, and it entered Byrd into the history books,” said Slater. “The expedition returned to North America on June 18, 1930 and was honored with the gold medal of the American Geographical Society.”

Byrd became wildly popular, and interest in his expedition did not diminish. In 1932, City of New York was sailed through the Great Lakes to the site of the Chicago World’s Fair. There, the ship was outfitted with artifacts of the expedition, and served as a floating museum throughout the fair.

In 1944, legendary yachtsman Lou Kennedy, bought City of New York, and converted her into a three-masted schooner. During the refitting, Kennedy discovered the ship’s wheel, binnacle (compass), and bell were all original equipment on Samson, and that Byrd had the bell and wheel engraved with the ship’s new name, City of New York when he retrofitted it in 1927. Kennedy replaced them and kept the originals, along with an intricately knotted ceremonial bell-pull used to ring President Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard when he visited the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. The old ship burned and sank in 1953, ending a long career where she played a role in some of the twentieth century’s greatest sea tragedies and triumphs.

Heritage Auctions, headed by Steve Ivy, Jim Halperin and Greg Rohan, is the world’s third largest auction house, with annual sales more than $600 million, and 500,000+ registered online bidder members. For more information about Heritage Auctions, and to join and gain access to a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, visit HA.com.

Early American Crime Site Launches Podcast


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One of the more interesting early American sites on the internets, Anthony Vaver’s Early American Crime, is now available as a podcast. Beginning with “Early American Criminals: Thomas Mount and the Flash Company,” you can subscribe to hear (as well as read) tales of America’s earliest criminals.

Early American Crime features stories about the criminal underworld of colonial America and the early United States including criminal profiles, cultural essays, features on early crime slang, and an outstanding series of posts on convict transportation including it’s evolution as a new form of punishment, the business of transportation, convict voyages, and the end of the system.

Vaver described his site when it launched in 2008 by saying: “Crime and its punishment are among the top social concerns in the United States today. Over one percent of the adult population in the United States now lives in prison, and even though the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it holds almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Stories of crime fill our newspapers and affect the elections of our public officials. Yet, we as Americans know little about the history of crime and punishment that has brought us to this point. My hope is that this website will help provide a more complete understanding of crime and punishment in America by focusing on its early appearance and practice.”

The site is well worth taking a look at, and now also a listen to.

Historic Civil War Coastal Survey Documents Online


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In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in 2011, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has assembled a special historical collection of maps, charts, and documents prepared by the U.S. Coast Survey during the war years. The collection, “Charting a More Perfect Union,” contains over 400 documents, available free from NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey website.

Coast Survey’s collection includes 394 Civil War-era maps, including nautical charts used for naval campaigns, and maps of troop movements and battlefields. Rarely seen publications include Notes on the Coast, prepared by Coast Survey to help Union forces plan naval blockades against the Confederacy, and the annual report summaries by Superintendent Bache as he detailed the trials and tribulations of producing the maps and charts needed to meet growing military demands.

In the nation’s early years, the United States lost more ships to accidents than to war. In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson established the Survey of the Coast to produce the nautical charts necessary for maritime safety, defense and the establishment of national boundaries. By 1861, Coast Survey was the government’s leading scientific agency, charting coastlines and determining land elevations for the nation. Today, the Office of Coast Survey still meets its maritime responsibilities as a part of NOAA, surveying America’s coasts and producing the nation’s nautical charts.

In his annual report on Dec. 15, 1861, Coast Survey Superintendent Alexander Bache wrote, “it has been judged expedient during the past year to suspend usual foreign distribution” of reports on the progress of maps and charts. Distribution of maps, charts, and sketches almost tripled in the 1861 “due to the demands of the War and Navy Departments.” However, because the Coast Survey could not easily ascertain the loyalties of private citizens, private distribution of maps was severely restricted among “applicants who were not well known having been referred to the representative of the congressional district from which the application had been mailed.”

The Civil War special collection is accessible through a searchable online database.

Illustration: Map of the Battlefield of Chickamauga. U.S. Coast Survey cartographers traveled with Union forces to produce battlefield maps during the Civil War. Courtesy NOAA.

George Washington’s Great Gamble Author Event


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Fort Ticonderoga’s 2010 Author Series concludes on Sunday, October 17th, with James Nelson, author of George Washington’s Great Gamble: And the Sea Battle That Won the American Revolution. The program takes place in the Deborah Clarke Mars Education Center at Fort Ticonderoga at 2:00 p.m., followed by a book signing at 3:00 p.m. in the Fort Ticonderoga Museum Store. The program is included in the cost of admission.

In George Washington’s Great Gamble, Nelson tells the story of the greatest naval engagement of the American Revolution. In the opening months of 1781, General George Washington feared his army would not survive the coming campaign season. The spring and summer only served to reinforce his despair, but in late summer the changing circumstances of war presented a once-in-a-war opportunity for a French armada to hold off the mighty British navy while his own troops with French reinforcements would drive Lord Cornwallis’s forces to the Chesapeake. The Battle of the Capes would prove the only time the French ever fought the Royal Navy to a draw; but for the British army it was a catastrophe, leading to Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown.

James L. Nelson is the author of 15 works of fiction and nonfiction. His novels include the five books of his “Revolution at Sea” saga and three in his “Brethren of the Coast” series. His novel Glory in the Name won the American Library Association’s W.Y. Boyd Literary Award for Best Military Fiction. He is also the author of Benedict Arnold’s Navy and George Washington’s Secret Navy, which earned the Samuel Eliot Morison Award.

‘The Black Pirate’ Showing in Albany


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“The Black Pirate” (United States, 1926, 94 minutes, color, silent with live piano accompaniment provided by Mike Schiffer) will be shown on Friday, October 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus. Sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute, the screening is free and open to the public.

Starring the greatest of all swashbucklers, Douglas Fairbanks (who also wrote the script), “The Black Pirate” is widely hailed as one of the most spectacular action films of the silent era. Directed by Albert Parker, the film also pioneered the art of color with its use of “two-strip Technicolor.”

For additional information contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.