GenMassachusetts-L ArchivesArchiver > GenMassachusetts > 2007-10 > 1192912392
Subject: Re: [GENMASSACHUSETTS] 1624--"Little James"
Date: Sat, 20 Oct 2007 16:33:12 EDT
In a message dated 10/20/2007 2:17:01 PM Mountain Daylight Time,
"Little James" floundered or capsized 1624 around Pemaquid.
In 1623, the Plymouth Colony received the newly-built forty-four-ton pinnace
James, which caused nothing but trouble. Often referred to as the Little
James, the "little" was more a description of her size than part of her name.
Shortly after the pinnace’s arrival in the New World, she was sent around Cape
Cod to trade with the Narragansetts. This venture produced little profit,
for the Dutch had been there earlier with better goods. On her return to
Plymouth, the crew of the James were forced to cut away her mainmast to avoid being
cast away on "Brown’s Iland," now Brown’s Bank, just outside the northern
end of Plymouth Beach.
A new mast was made and fitted during the winter and early in March, 1624,
the James was sent to Maine to fish at a fishing station established at "a
place near Damarin’s cove." This may have been at Newagen, where a fishing
station had been established in 1623, or even Pemaquid. Here the pinnace was
driven ashore in a bad storm; rocks made holes large enough that "a horse and
carte might have gone in." The James later sank in deep water. Raised and
repaired, the Pilgrims decided that the James had cost them too much so they sent
her back to England.
Sent out again in 1627, by the Plymouth colony’s merchant backers in London,
the James was loaded with fish – "as full as she could swime" – and also
with eight hundredweight of beaver skins that Winslow was under bond to send
to England. The pinnace crossed the Atlantic eastbound in fine weather towed
by the ship White Angel. When in the English Channel near Plymouth, the tow
line was cast off and the James was immediately captured by a Turkish pirate,
and all was lost.
Although trips between Plymouth and Maine in open shallops were common, the
Pilgrims became increasingly aware of the hazards involved, particularly in
winter. Because of competition, they found that they needed a craft capable of
carrying more corn. In spite of their unfortunate experiences with the
James, by 1626 the Pilgrims were planning on means to obtain a pinnace of some
sort; to them this meant a decked vessel. The solution was to take one of the
shallops, lengthen her by five or six feet, build up her sides, and fit a
deck, "and so made her a conveniente and wholesome vessell, very fitt and
comfortable for their use."
The colony still had no trained shipwright, but a house carpenter who had
worked with the shipwright in 1624, took on the task of converting the shallop.
He was successful, for the new pinnace served the colony for seven years.
This same carpenter may have been the builder, in 1627, of a craft at Manomet
at the head of Buzzards Bay that has variously been called a pinnace and a
bark. After 1628, the Pilgrims were no longer dependent on their own resources
for boats and vessels, for they could be purchased from shipbuilders located
within Boston harbor, probably at Medford on the Mystic River. There is
definite record of one substantial vessel built within the Bay Colony over two
years before John Winthrop’s Blessing of the Bay which was launched 4 July 1631.
The pinnace is perhaps the most confusing of all the early
seventeenth-century types of vessels. Pinnace was more of a use than a type name, for almost
any vessel could have been a pinnace or tender to a larger one. Generally
speaking, pinnaces were lightly-built, single-decked, square-sterned vessels
suitable for exploring, trading, and light naval duties. On equal lengths
pinnaces tended to be narrower than other types. Although primarily sailing
vessels, many pinnaces carried sweeps for moving in calms or around harbors. The
rigs of pinnaces ranged from the simple single-masted fore-and-aft one of
staysail and sprit mainsail to the mizzenmast, and a square sprit-sail under the
bowsprit. To confuse matters further, however, open square-sterned pulling
boats were called pinnaces at least as early as 1626.
In Bradford’s history, the main source of information concerning the
maritime activities of the Pilgrims, a third type of small vessel was mentioned
with increasing frequency after 1627. This was the bark, barke, or barque, which
can be defined somewhat more precisely than the pinnace. According to a
French-English dictionary of 1611, a bark was a little ship or a great boat.
It is obvious from the various references by Bradford and in John Winthrop’s
History of New England that barks were substantial decked vessels, although
relatively small. A Suffolk County court case in 1672 involved a craft
described as a decked shallop or bark which gives a hint of form and rig-round
stern and two masts with square sails. This version can be traced back at least
to the early fifteenth-century barchas sent out by Prince Henry the Navigator
of Portugal to explore the western coast of Africa. Some barks, however, had
square sterns, and many examples of both versions could be found all along
the western coast of Europe. Complying with the definition of "small ship"
there were barks of both hull forms that carried simplified three-master ship
rigs. The Dutch actually had a type -- the boat-ship -- that met both
The vessel that we know as the Sparrow-Hawk needs no introduction; neither
is it necessary to describe what is known of her coming ashore on Cape Cod in
1626, her abandonment, discovery in 1863, and subsequent history, for all
this is given in Mr. H. H. Holly’s booklet published by the Pilgrim Society in
1969. Certain of the facts associated with the craft appear to be instant
folklore, but the presence in Pilgrim Hall of a collection of ship timbers of
English oak and elm is evidence of a vessel that crossed the Atlantic and was
wrecked on Cape Cod.
>From the physical evidence of the timbers and the opinions of the
shipwrights who reassembled the remains in Boston – Peter E. Dolliver and Sylvester B.
Sleeper – the vessel was small. Her keel length was and is 28 feet 10
inches, her breadth was thought to have been nine and a half feet.
Some of the nineteenth century statements are puzzling. Considering that
even in 1863 the timbers existed only to a height of four feet, one can wonder
how Dolliver and Sleeper could have been sure that she had a sheer -–the
fore-and-aft curve of the deck – of "two and one-half feet, with a lively rise at
both ends." Their knowledge of ancient rigs was such that they stated, "The
rig common to a vessel of her size at the time she was built consisted of a
single mast with a lateen yard and a triangular sail." There is no evidence
that English vessels of the early seventeenth century ever carried such a
The wreck remains were also studied by one of Boston’s famous naval
architects, Dennison J. Lawlor. He produced a lines plan which showed the form of
the vessel and a rigged model that had two masts. The forward or main mast had
a single square sail and the after or mizzen mast carried a lateen sail.
Other models having a similar rig have been constructed. Assuming that the
timbers of the vessel have been assembled correctly – and holes for fastenings
indicate that this must be so – all of these rigged models ignored the position
of the mast step in the keelson, the mainmast being too far forward.
When Dan Sanders offered to construct a model to represent the Sparrow-Hawk
as a companion to the R.C. Anderson model of the Mayflower in Pilgrim Hall,
there immediately rose the questions of her dimensions, shape, and rig in
light of research since 1865, when Dolliver & Sleeper and C.J. Lawlor submitted
their reports. Dimensions of the small English vessels of the early
seventeenth century are scarce; the nearest to those of the Sparrow-Hawk currently
available are those of one built at Rye in 1609. Her keel length was 33 feet,
breadth at midship beam 16 ½ feet and depth 11 feet. Based on her proportions,
the depth of the Sparrow-Hawk would have been but eight feet.
It was decided to use the Lawlor lines plan but to reduce the depth to about
eight feet, and instead of his sheer line "with a lively rise at both ends,"
the more common arcs of circles were employed. Paintings of small
square-sterned vessels of the period nearly always show an overhang aft instead of the
flat transom with an outboard rudder of the Lawlor model. An overhanging
stern and the results of the other changes can be seen on the new model.
The most obvious difference between the model built by Mr. Sanders and
earlier conceptions of the Sparrow-Hawk is the rig, which does take account of
the location of the mast step. In effect, this location limits the rig to two
possibilities although some lively arguments could develop on this point –
simple three-masted ship rig or the two-masted square rig carried by early
Bradford started his account of the 1626 wreck – "There was a ship…" but
whether he used the term "ship" in the general or the particular sense we will
never know. Writing some months after his short visit to the wreck site he
had no need to be precise about type and likely used "ship" in the general
sense of a decked vessel larger than a boat. Actually, some naval long boats of
1626 would have been longer than the Sparrow-Hawk, almost as wide, but only
about half as deep.
Although marine artists of almost any period tend to concentrate on
depicting imposing naval and merchant ships, small vessels of the seventeenth
century were not neglected. The majority of pictorial evidence favored the
two-masted square rig for the new Sparrow-Hawk. In light of the earlier definitions,
what should the ship be called? It is decked and square-sterned, so obviously
cannot be a shallop. She perhaps could serve as a pinnace, but is probably a
bit too chunky in shape. Therefore, in conclusion, we have the bark
Edited by Laurence R. Pizer, Jeanne M. Mills
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