A Point in Sailing History; Baltimore Museum Hails Clipper Ships

Article excerpt

Byline: Michelle Rothman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Thomas Boyle arrived in Baltimore in 1794 as a 19-year-old captain working for a West Indian trader and coffee merchant. Ten years later, he took the Baltimore clipper Chasseur to sea, fighting the British in the War of 1812 and capturing 25 vessels during two voyages.

The captain's story and others like it are illustrated at the Fells Point Maritime Museum, which opened in June and celebrates the history of Fells Point from about 1780 through 1830.

Baltimore became known for its speedy clippers in the 1840s, when newspapers popularized the term for the ships. By this time, few of the great clippers were Baltimore-built, but their design, which includes sharply raked masts and deeply V'd hulls, was based on the light, sharp Baltimore schooners.

Communities such as Fells Point were home to shipbuilders and merchants supported by the maritime industry. Upon the Chasseur's 1815 return, the 19th-century newspaper Niles' Register dubbed it the "Pride of Baltimore," praising the famous Baltimore clipper for its beauty and grace. Although there are no real images or models of the ship, built in 1813 by Thomas Kemp, the museum features a speculative model.

The museum, a $1.5 million joint venture between the Maryland Historical Society and the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point, features 172 images and 195 objects, some of which were originally housed at the historical society's Mount Vernon campus.

Tours of the 2,600-square-foot exhibit are self-guided and take about 45 minutes to an hour. The staff is developing an audio tour, says Robin McDonnell, museum spokeswoman.

The museum is divided into four themes, including "Fells Point's Fast Trades," which shows the use of the clippers for legal trading of flour and coffee and illegal trading of opium and slaves. "The People of Fells Point" introduces visitors to Ann Bond Fell and husband Edward Fell, who developed Fells Point from a piece of land known then as "Fells Prospect" inherited from Edward's merchant father.

After Edward died, Ann, a savvy businesswoman, sold the plots of land in 99-year leases. Buyers needed little cash for the leases, but many were required to erect buildings within two years of purchase. By 1773 the community, home to merchants and shipbuilders, was annexed by Baltimore, where the majority of its ship owners lived.

"Fell's Point's Fast Ships" and "Fell's Point's Influences," highlights the Baltimore clippers' design and technology and their impact on the shipbuilding industry.

"I think they do a really good job of bringing in different aspects that have always been important to the area," says Meghan McGinnes, museum manager. "There's so much history, you can't possibly tell it all. But the stories that were brought in really do a nice job."

Miss McGinnes says she thinks the Thames Street building, which dates back to the mid-19th century, will add to visitors' overall experience. …