The Ship


FlagThe PATRICK HENRY was a 3-masted, square-rigged sailing ship built at New York by Brown & Bell in 1839, and for twenty-five years was one of the fastest of the great AGE of SAIL until 1864 when she was sold to Great Britain during the Civil War.  She was among only four packets of the day---Montezuma, Southampton, St. Andrew, and the prestigious clipper Dreadnought---to make the eastbound passage from New York to Liverpool in 14 days or less.  Only two transatlantic sailing packets showed a better average speed record on the westbound crossing (Liverpool to New York) for a period of twenty-five years or more (33 days) and only one equaled her average performance. 

It has been said that the vessel, under the command of Joseph C. Delano, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, was a remarkably fine sailer and "made more money than any other ship belonging to her owners."

The transatlantic sailing packet of white oak carried wealthy industrialists, the poorest of poor Irish emigrants, and tons of food and
relief supplies to Ireland and England. 

She made more than 45 documented voyages and served more than 10 different captains in her years of service at sea in the Swallowtail Line of Packets owned by
Grinnell, Minturn & Co.  

She registered at New York on 6 November 1839; her measurements:
880 tons/905 tons (old/new) 159 feet x 34 feet 10 inches x 21 ft 10 inches  length x beam x depth of hold); with 2 decks and a draft of 18 feet.1                 

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Packet Columbia II
                                                                                                                                                                 Built 1846, Black Ball Line, 1050 tons            similar to Patrick Henry      

Named after the passionate and fiery lawyer-orator, and governor of Virginia (1776-78; 1784), the PATRICK HENRY mirrored the namesake in her radical nature. "She is the ne plus ultra, or will be, until another ship of her class shall be built," said famed American politician and diarist Philip HONE, who, in October 1839, toured the "splendid new ship" with Henry Grinnell, one of her owners.  For five years, she was the largest packet among New York's eight packet lines. 

The PATRICK HENRY sailed in Blue Swallowtail Line (Fourth Line) of packets (flag shown) between New York and Liverpool from 1839 until 1852, during which period her westward passages averaged 34 days, her shortest passage being 22 days, her longest 46 days.  In 1851, she was owned by: Henry Grinnell (3/16), Moses H. Grinnell and Robert B. Minturn (8/16), Capt. Sheldon G. Hubbard (1/16), Capt. Joseph Rogers (2/16), and Capt. Joseph C. Delano (2/16).  In 1852, she was transferred to Grinnell, Minturn & Co's Red Swallowtail Line of packets between New York and London. During this time, her westbound passages averaged 32 days, her shortest passage being 26 days, her longest 41 days. 

Perhaps one of her more difficult voyages, she set out for New York December 24, 1853 from Liverpool.  On the 18th of January, in latitude 47", longitude 34 degrees, while hove to, the PATRICK HENRY was "struck by a sea which CARRIED AWAY the BOWSPRIT and the knight heads and all the rigging attached."  At the same time, washed overboard was Matthew Barnabb, a seaman, who was LOST.  Two hours later, Louis Barroch, another seaman, was clearing away the bowsprit, fell overboard and DROWNED. Then William Wallace, another crewmember, fell from the fore yard and was injured severely.

"It was blowing a gale at the time," reported Captain John Hurlburt to the New York Times, who brought her to port February 4, after a 40-day passage "And impossible to save them."  According to the maritime tome, Merchant Sail, the ship was not alone that uncommonly rough winter on the Atlantic. The packet-ship Rosicus was 51 days making the crossing; the Mary Annah 88 days, and the Celestial Empire took 60, with the loss of a seaman and ten passengers.  On the following voyage of the PATRICK HENRY, October 1854 (New York Times), Captain Hurlburt carried 403 passengers, breaking the law of one passenger per three ton of weight, and 11 passengers died at sea.

Still, "The PATRICK HENRY was considered by writers of the period to be one of the best and most dependable packets built in the 1830s and one of the most popular and highly esteemed transatlantic sailing lines during the 1840s and 50s was the Swallowtail," according to Merchant Sail .

The vessel's
best homeward crossing of 22 days was better than the crossings of either of the grander packets: the Swallowtail's Cornelius Grinnell (1,117 tons, built 1850) and the Black Ball Line's Great Western (1,443 tons and built in 1851, twelve years after the PATRICK HENRY).  Her longest run in the London-Portsmouth run at 41 days was even better the Grinnell (48 days) or the New World (42 days), one of the largest Swallowtails at 1,404 tons.
In 1851, Captain S.E. Hubbard is listed as her master and in 1855, Captain John Hurlburt. In 1860, Captain William B. Moore became her master. (Queens)  After 25 years of packet service, the PATRICK HENRY was "sold British" in 1864 (Londonderry) due to the Civil War.

Her final voyage may have been from Pensacola, Florida on June 26, 1871 to Liverpool, arriving August 19th. 
According to the American Neptune (Peabody Essex Museum magazine), she was  hulked or broken up in 1884.  That year the ship is listed under Master T.E. Sargent                     Clipper Dreadnaught, built 1853, 1,414 tons. 34 crew.                      and registered at Cork; Owner: Jas. E. Rissa. Last survey Quebec, 6, 76. Signal letters: HDJG.2,3

One of the PATRICK HENRY'S favorite seamen was Peter Ogden, steward of the ship in the 1840s, and who, as a member of the Liverpool lodge of the English Odd Fellows, pursuaded his excluded African American brethen to apply for a charter from his order.4.1  

Another of her famous passengers was cousin to the Prophet of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith.  George A. Smith sailed from New York to Liverpool with Captain Joseph Delano on March 9, 1840 with five brethren, and, contrary to all other reviews of Delano's commandeering, had this to say: 

"After a rough and disagreeable passage of 28 days, landed on the shores of Great Britain," he wrote in his diary. "We had 16 days head wind, and three heavy gales. I was very sea sick; remained at Liverpool a few days."  He later took five wives who bore him 20 children.4.1

Protected by waist high bulkheads painted green on the inside, the PATRICK HENRY and ships of its class had clear decks save for "the stern where, wheel in hand and binnacle containing the compass before him, stands the helmsman. Forward are two hatches for cargo with the ship's boat on top. Around the boat stand our future meals---a milk cow, pigs, ducks, hens and sheep! 
We know that 'Tween decks,' at the bow, is the forecastle. In the center section, if there is no             Packet Montezuma, among the 5 fastest packets across the Atlantic, with Patrick Henry 
fine freight, huddle steerage passengers. It is not a happy sight to look down on them because there,
crowded in a common dormitory for 38 days, each cooks his fast dwindling
supply of food.


If our ship has one bath, it is in the cabin section. The steerage passengers' bath at best may be a bucket of icy seawater, dashed over them on deck. Perhaps the plague breaks out and no Doctor is on board. The ship's Captain does what he can but that is little. Below is the usual hold for bulkier freight. 

Toward the ship's stern is a stairway
leading down to the 'Tween Decks.' A great halt forty feet long spreads out before us.  Here are handsome mahogany tables with sofas on each side, carved pillars, sometimes mahogany, sometimes cream colored ornamented with gold.

Rich crimson or gold and white draperies catch the eye. On either side are staterooms, each about eight feet square, with latticed window a
nd door, the upper half of which also is latticed to admit air. Bird's- eye maple woodwork inlaid with curiously grained woods is polished to satiny finish."4

Montage of sketches depicting life on board an emigrant ship showing immigrants embarking at the London docks, scrubbing the decks, watching a passing ship, dealing with heavy seas, catching an albatross, and queueing at the surgery.
The Illustrated New Zealand Herald , 9 April, 1875.

The safety, sturdiness, dependability, and efficiency of the New York transatlantic sailing packets can be gathered from the tribute of the New York Herald to a retiring packet, a ship that experienced every conceivable kind of weather and seas in by far the most difficult trade route of the globe: "For twenty-nine years she battled with the Atlantic gales, making 116 round passages without losing a seaman, a sail, or a spar.  She brought thirty thousand passengers to this country from Europe, and her cabins have witnessed fifteen hundred births and two hundred marriages."  Enthusiasm aside, it was also said that "it took a man every inch a seaman to reach an American port from Europe with spars and sails intact and keep his ship off the Long Island and New Jersey coasts in midwinter gales of thick snow and sleet."