Tobacco Coast: A Maritime History of Chesapeake Bay in the Colonial Era

By Arthur Pierce Middleton; George Carrington Mason | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER SEVEN
Ships and Shipbuilding

IF a mariner with a spyglass stood on a bluff overlooking Lynnhaven Bay or Hampton Roads early in the nine teenth century, he would have had little difficulty identifying the rig of incoming vessels. Ships, barks, snows, brigs, brigantines, schooners, and sloops by that time were well-defined rigs. But this had not always been so. A century earlier a mariner would have been hard put to it to classify the rig of vessels seen at a distance. The conventional rigs of more recent times, the product of upwards of a hundred and fifty years of gradual evolution, were still in a state of flux at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

In the year 1700 the square sail was dominant on large vessels. During the next hundred years two divergent tendencies occurred simultaneously. Fore-and-aft mainsails and spankers tended to replace square sails in the interest of maneuverability, particularly on smaller vessels, such as brigs and snows, and gaff sails supplanted the lateen mizzens. Larger vessels, increasing in size, tended to multiply the number of square sails by adding more "top hamper." Thus, while all kinds of vessels discarded square spritsails and sprit-top-sails in favor of fore-and-aft-headsails-- staysails, jibs, and flying jibs--larger vessels superimposed square topgallants on topsails, royals on topgallants, and in light breezes added studding-sails.

Moreover, experimentation was in vogue. A square sail was occasionally added here, a fore-and-aft sail there, and the results observed on a voyage. Not infrequently a vessel was converted from one rig to another.1 Sometimes one rig was improved upon by the addition of one or more features later identified with another rig. The square-topsail schooner Baltick of Salem, ca. 1765, with all the features of a brigantine including a fore course and

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