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American-Built Packets and Freighters of the…

American-Built Packets and Freighters of the 1850s: An Illustrated Study… (2013)

by William L. Crothers

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3118554,844 (4.8)4
"Up and down the Eastern seaboard during the 1850s, American shipyards constructed wooden merchant sailing vessels forming the backbone of the commercial shipping industry. This comprehensive volume appraises in minute detail the construction of these ships, outlining basic design criteria and enumerating and examining every plank and piece of timber involved in the process. More than 150 illustrations"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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Fascinating as a reference book, thoroughly and exhaustively researched and documented. Not really something to read cover to cover. ( )
  Neilsantos | Mar 15, 2015 |
beautifully illustrated and immaculately researched - a wonderful edition to our library. ( )
  lhlady | Oct 8, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a well written book on detail of what was required to construct packets and freighters in the 1850’s. The author delved through the archives of library’s, maritime museums and other found materials to compile this comprehensive look into this craft. This book is not for the casual reader as it is very detailed though fascinating account of what was required to construct these vessels and what affected the natural course of new designs. ( )
  mramos | Feb 14, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Impressive scholarship and presentation: reading Crothers' Illustrated Study amounts to peeking in on a masters class on shipbuilding, not as student but auditor. In two hours' selected reading, a sense of what was overall possible can be had circa 1850 (Crothers positing it as the peak of wooden ships technology). See the Preface and Introduction, and Chapters 1 - 3 (hulls and general characteristics), 16 & 29 (masts), 30 (rigging), and a Conclusion. Later chapters are highly specific, offering a level of detail best read piecemeal, steadily building upon the initial foundation. Crothers acknowledges omitting any detailed discussion of sail-making, despite a detailed review and multiple schematics of the various rigging involved [354].

Given an interest in O'Brien's Aubrey-Maturin novels or the Age of Sail generally, Crothers offers rich background reading into the nature of wooden ships and those who worked them. The timeframe is post-Napoleanic, and Crothers addresses American commercial ships as opposed to the Royal Navy; nevertheless, he provides nuanced insight into design, building, and material of wooden ships, from a vantage effectively placing into wider context the technology available to Jack and his crews. Quite informative.


Commercial ships included schooners, packets, freighters. Packets could be line (regular schedule) or service (sailing when passenger list warranted), interior appointments maintained with comfort in mind. Freighters were primarily cargo, with corresponding interior (though some passenger accommodations included). Steerage was never comfortable, and often unlivable. See Crothers' separate book devoted to schooners (perhaps more directly relevant to naval ships); here are discussed only packets and freighters.

Hierarchy of rigging types, in principle independent of number of decks, with a key consideration the size of crew and skill necessary for more complex rigging. Considerations would be very different in a navy than a commercial fleet [351-54]:
● fore and aft schooner: coastal trade and small in tonnage; many variations, and as the name implies not square-rigged on any mast; a typical example steps two masts.
● topsail schooner: for coastal trade, two-masted with foremast square rigged (three yards), main mast fore-and-aft rigged
● brig: two square-rigged masts, usually no loftier than royals
● barkentine: three masts, foremast square rigged with main & mizzen fore-and-aft rigged.
● bark: three masts, two square-rigged with mizzen fore-and-aft rigged.
● ship (fully-rigged): three square-rigged masts with bowsprit; commercial vessels commonly sailed without royals (presumably the typical man-of-war included royals and even skysails).

Cross-referencing specific terms from the Index with the Glossary usually clears up any confusion (e.g. scantlings). In many cases, Crothers is good at concisely defining a term at first usage. ( )
1 vote elenchus | Jan 5, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
If you pay attention to the subtitle of this book you will be in good shape: it's a detailed and comprehensive review of the characteristics and construction of American-built packets and freighters of the 1850s. It's accompanied by numerous tables, charts and drawings showing in spectacular and even miniscule detail how these ships were assembled, and from what materials.

This is not a book for an armchair historian or a summer sailor. It's a detailed and fascinating reference, documenting particular classes of ships during a particular decade of our history. It's an ultimately fascinating account of how centuries of experience were brought to bear in creating ever larger, faster and more efficient ships. ( )
1 vote tim.taylor | Dec 27, 2013 |
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