The Elusive Hampton Boats


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By John Gardner

The Small Boat Journal

November 1979

A boat builder since 1940, the author is presently [1979] associate curator of small craft at Mystic Seaport and technical editor for the "National Fisherman."
[Editor's note: the author died in 1995]

"Even Chapelle went to school on these venerable working craft, erroneously tracing their origins to Maine instead of New Hampshire. Now, after a discovery in the Bay of Fundy, the Hamptons are being studied again." -- John Gardner

From earliest time the inhabitants of New England got much of their living from coastal waters well stocked with fish, but it was not until the late 19th century that any effort was made to record the boats used by New England fishermen, craft among which there was a rich diversity of local types and variations.

Main mention of these boats was made in Henry Hall's Tenth Census report, "The Shipbuilding Industry of the United States," published in 1884 and in the U.S. Fish Commission reports of the 1870s and '80s by Capt. Joseph W. Collins and George Browne Goode. These reports marked a beginning, but other than this, little attention was given for some time to such working craft by historians and the wider boating public.

Martin C. Erismann's study of the Block Island boat, or the Block Island cowhorn as it was sometimes called, and Prof. E.P. Morris's "The Fore-and-Aft Rig In America," published in 1927, were early beginnings in a trend which in recent years has developed into a full-blown movement by maritime historians and others to search out as much as can now be recovered about our heritage of working craft history and design. Because little was written down formally, or previously considered worthy of notice or preservation, there are many gaps in our information to be bridged by conjecture and bound to breed controversy. Yet in spite of all this it is surprising how much patient and persistent research has so far managed to uncover and piece together.

In 1932 and 1933, "Yachting" magazine fired public interest with a watershed series of 15 articles on native American workboats, for the most part fishing boats, and boats predominantly of New England origin. Howard I. Chapelle accounted for 10 of the 15 articles, dealing in turn with New Haven sharpies, Friendship sloops, Maine pinkies, Cape Cod catboats, Gloucester sloop boats, skipjacks, Bahamian sharpshooters, and Bermuda sloops and dinghies. His reputation as an authority on maritime history and American working craft design was thereby established, to be further enhanced by the appearance in 1935 of his "American Sailing Craft."

Consequently, when "Yachting" published "The Hampden Boat" by H.I. Chapelle in July 1938, this article spoke with particular authority and attracted wide attention. It was, however, to elicit a response not anticipated by the author.

Where the name "Hampden" came from, Chapelle declared, he had been unable to ascertain. There was a Hampden in Maine, it was true, but the town was somewhat remote from the sea with no discoverable connection with this, or any other, fishing craft. As for the boat itself, there could be no doubt that the type had originated, that is to say developed, in Maine's Casco Bay to meet special local needs, both natural and economic.

Made up of a number of long, narrow coves or bights opening to the southwest, Casco Bay is beset throughout its extent with a multitude of islands, ledges, rocks and flats. Changing and confused tidal currents run strong in the channels and deep bights. Fishing grounds occupying shallow coves and extending among numerous islands and ledges have more than their share of treacherous shoals and submerged rocks. In the wintertime, fishermen were obliged to venture outside into deep water.

To meet such conditions a shoal-draft centerboard boat serves best, provided the model is at once weatherly, seaworthy and burdensome. In addition it must be cheap to build and maintain, simple to rig and within the ability of one or two men to work and handle with ease. Such, according to Chapelle, were the specifications which eventually produced the square-sterned Hampden boat, the forerunner of which appeared to him to have been "the ordinary yawl boat of the coaster and sailing ship." And, gathering assurance farther along in the article, Chapelle became quite definite about the prototype. "With the passing years, the Hampden boat slowly developed from the yawl boat to a distinctly different model," he declared, "particularly fitted to pick up lobster pots in heavy seas and gales, to meet a steep chop when beating, to carry sail well and to be generally suitable for the natural conditions she had to meet."

If it is assumed that the Hampden boat originated in this way, how then to account for what in Chapelle's words were a "small number of sharp-sterned Hampden boats, known as Crotch Island pinkies, that were built in Yarmouth in the nineties?" These, in Chapelle's view, had derived from or were influenced by whaleboats, so-called, of an earlier period that were not as large as the standard New Bedford whaleboat, but "probably something like the small Jonesport 'peapods'."

We are left with the impression that in Chapelle's opinion the double-ended Crotch Island pinkies and the square-sterned Hampden boats were not only distinctly different from the beginning, but were essentially unrelated types.

Chapelle's article was mainly a discussion of lines taken from four builders' half-models offered as representative examples of square-stern Hampden boats. These lines and Chapelle's analysis of their characteristics made an impressive piece of work, yet questions were not long in arising concerning the name Hampden and Chapelle's theory about the type's origin. In the very first issue of the "American Neptune," dated January 1941, Walter Muir Whitehill, a member of its editorial board of which, incidentally, Chapelle was also a member, questioned the name "Hampden," asking, "Is it possible that the name is derived from Hampton, New Hampshire?"

Rare photo shows a lapstraked, transom-sterned Hampton at work circa 1895.

An answer was not long in coming. In the following issue of the "Neptune," Charles P. Emerson, who was identified as having formerly owned an old Hampton boat himself, stated he could find nothing locally to justify the spelling, "Hampden." Also, fishermen he had talked with in the Portland area agreed that early Hamptons were double ended and clench built, and they referred him to an 80-year old South Harpswell man who recalled the old Hamptons as lapstrake double-enders, the first of which had been imported from Seabrook, N.H., which is only about five miles from the town of Hampton.

In addition, Emerson cited supporting information secured earlier from David Perry Sinnett of Bailey Island which confirmed that the first Hamptons had been imported from Hampton. N.H., and that they were lapstrake double-enders. The first boats built by Sinnett, who is reputed to have turned out over 300 in his lifetime, were likewise lapstrake and double-ended. Later Sinnett went to a square-stern model, and he is credited with having built the first strip-planked Hampton in 1877.

Emerson's comments were not accepted by Chapelle, who replied in both the July 1941 and the July 1942 issues of the "Neptune" with arguments which, it must be said, did little to clarify the issues. He continued to stand by his original contention that the square-sterned boats had been developed from "ordinary yawl boats"— And as for the name, that is still "an open question," Chapelle declared, "perhaps either spelling must be accepted for the present." Actually, it was not a mere question of spelling. It was whether or not the prototype of the Hampton boat had come to Casco Bay from Hampton, N.H.

It might seem that questions of origin and name are relatively petty matters and hardly worth controversy, yet they do have their importance. There is likelihood that the stir they occasioned did focus attention on the type, keeping it in view, and thus may have contributed to the modest revival that the Hampton boat is now undergoing.

In any case, the continuing controversy came to a head with an iron-bound piece of research by Phelps Soule with assistance from M.B. Brewington and Edward O. Brownlee, which was published in the "American Neptune" in April 1943. Not only did it settle the question of the name conclusively, proving that the name Hampton had been known and used more or less continuously since the beginning of the 19th century, but it added substantially to our knowledge of the type with lines from five builders half models taken off and drawn by Brownlee. In addition, there were a sail plan and the interior layout for a typical working Hampton drawn by Brownlee from information supplied by an Old Orchard, Me., boatbuilder, and checked by him.

The five half models were secured from the Crotch Island boatshop of John Pettingill, deceased, formerly a well-known builder of Hampton boats. Two of the models are pinkies with sharp sterns; the rest have square sterns. Only slight and superficial alterations in the lines of these models would be required to transform the square-sterned boats into pinkies, and to give the two pinkies square sterns. In fact, the resemblance of the pinky lines to the lines of the square-sterned boats is so close that this alone is sufficient refutation for me of Chapelle's theory regarding a separate yawl-boat prototype for the square-sterned Hamptons.

Chapelle never completely abandoned this theory, but in later years his position softened considerably. By 1951 when he brought out his "American Small Sailing Craft," he had given up the name Hampden for Hampton. As for his theory of yawl boat origin, he had by this time reformulated it somewhat. "It is probable that the square-sterned boat was not a development out of the New Hampshire boat by way of Casco Bay, but rather that the former developed to the eastward independently and invaded Casco Bay in the 1880s where it first influenced the Crotch Island model, and then gradually replaced it.

By 1960 in his "Catalogue of the National Watercraft Collection," no reference is made to a possible yawl boat ancestry. In discussing Hampton boats therein, Chapelle wrote: "They received their name from the old double-ended boats of the type originated at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire; they do not, however, resemble the old double-enders, being an entirely different form of boat."

In a sense, this is quite true, of course. Certainly late-model, strip-built, power Hamptons with counter stems are very different from the earliest clinker-planked, double-ended Hampton whalers said to have been first built in 1805 by Enoch Chase at Seabrook/Hampton, N.H., whence they were imported into Casco Bay. Nevertheless the two are connected, standing at the two ends of a continuous line of evolutionary development. There is not one Hampton boat, but a continuing progression of Hampton boats, to be identified and considered according to the time periods in which they were built and used.

Elijah Kellog's Hampton Cadet after restoration at Mystic.

By fortunate circumstance one of the early, Maine-built, lapstrake, double-ended Hamptons has survived, and after extensive restoration has been brought back to something close to her original condition. She is the Cadet, built by Ebenezer Durgin at Birch Island, Me., for the Rev. Elijah Kellogg sometime after Kellogg came to the Harpswell church in 1843 and before Durgin's death in 1851. Kellogg, who in his youth had gone to sea for three years prior to his entering Bowdoin College, was an able and fearless sailor who made frequent use of Cadet in his ministry to fishermen and their families living on remote islands in Casco Bay. Legend has it he once sailed Cadet from Portland, Me., to Gloucester, Mass., ahead of a northeast snowstorm.

In 1953, after discovering that Cadet was stored in a tumbledown building on the old Kellogg place in Harpswell, Chapelle alerted the Marine Historical Association to the possibility of securing Cadet and bringing her to Mystic Seaport. After lengthy delays, the transfer was finally effected in 1955, but not before the roof of the barn where Cadet was stored had fallen in, with considerable damage to the boat. The donor, aged widow of Elijah Kellogg's grandson, was of the recollection that the Cadet had not been in the water for more than 40 years, and she recalled that it had always been spoken of as the "pinky." This last is an important point and of particular significance, as will presently become clear.

Although the Cadet came to Mystic in 1955, her spars were not rescued from the wreckage of the old barn until August 1963 when they were pulled free by William T. Alexander, president of the Webb Institute of Naval Architecture, who apparently was summering in his native Harpswell.

"My grandfather lived on the next farm," Alexander wrote, "and was a close friend of Mr. Kellogg. Frank Kellogg, Elijah's son, used the boat for some time, and my father took care of her for him. Consequently, I had a chance to try her out, occasionally, with him ... She carried two heavy, unstayed masts with loose-footed spritsails. The jib was carried on a 'crutch type' bowsprit split at the after end to fit down over the stem(head) and resting against the foremast. The bow sprit was held down by an oak pin through the stem and across the bowsprit, which had a curved after end to seat against the mast."

The dimensions of the spars found and identified by Alexander follow. Foremast: length 14'11"; maximum diameter 4 1/2" with sheave for 1/2" line at the head of the mast. Mainmast: 14'2"; max. dia. 3 7/8", with hole at the top for 1/2" line. Boom for mainsail: 11'2"; 2 1/4" max. dia., with three 1/2" holes bored 3" apart horizontally through the outer end. Cadet's overall length measures 23'4"; her beam, 6'6".

A working reproduction of the Cadet, completed at Bath Marine Museum's Apprenticeshop in 1977, was sailed that year from Bath, Me., to Mystic, Conn., and back for Mystic Seaport's Small Craft Workshop in June.

According to Phelps Soule in the "American Neptune," the changeover from sharp stern to square stern by builders like David Perry Sinnett of Bailey Island took place during the period 1875 to 1880. No one seems to have claimed credit for this, which could indicate that no one then considered the innovation important enough.

Above, Cuspidor was photographed under sail at Bailey Island when she was owned by Dr. F. P. Luckey. Two powered Hamptons are seen below in So. Harpswell, probably during the 1930s.

As already stated, a comparison of the lines of sharp-sterned and square-sterned builders' half models from the shop of John Pettingill on Cliff (formerly Crotch) Island reveals no marked differences in the basic hull shape. The transition from pinky stern to transom stern would have been easily and simply accomplished, with the aim perhaps of securing more room and working space, as well as more bearing aft for sail-carrying ability. As far as am concerned, the Pettingill half models adequately refute any theory of a yawl-boat prototype, or the mysterious appearance into Casco Bay of a square-sterned migrant from the east.

A hint of the "double-wedge" hull shape so favorable for conversion to power later on, as Chapelle has explained, was already present in some of the pinky-sterned boats, as can be seen in the Pettingill half models. With the changeover to the transom stern, the double-wedge characteristic became more pronounced, paving the way for gasoline motors.

A.O. Elden's account of "Power Boating In Casco Bay- in the April 1907 issue of "Yachting- makes the observation that when fishermen first fitted their boats with motors six or seven years previous, they were laughed at. But, since then, Elden continues, power-driven boats proved so successful in lightening labor, cutting working time and in getting fish to market, that at the time of the writing the straight sail-driven Hampton had become a curiosity.

Working sail on fishing boats lasted in Casco Bay until about 1900. During a period of at least 60 years, the sailing rig of the fisherman's Hampton boat changed but little, if at all. This was the same rig as already described for Cadet. There were two heavy, unstayed masts, of which the foremast was the larger and set well toward the bow. Both carried sprit-sails. The foresail was loose-footed, and in some cases, if it overlapped much, it was fitted with a club. The mainsail - somewhat smaller - had a boom, to which frequently the sail was attached only by the tack and clew. A removable bowsprit fitted over the stemhead when it was desirable to carry a jib of moderate size, which was set flying. Fittings were the simplest.

This was the standard rig of the working fishermen, but when these Hamptons were taken over for pleasure boats, as a few of them were, the rig proportions were sometimes altered. This is true for the small square-sterned, strip-built Hampton boat, Cuspidor, now in Mystic Seaport's small craft collection. Cuspidor was built by Sinnett at Bailey Island in 1902 for Dr. Franklin P. Luckey of Paterson, N.J., who used to summer at Bailey Island. Only 17'4- overall with 6' of beam, Cuspidor carries an oversize foremast that is 16'1" long with a maximum diameter of 5"; the length of the sprit that goes with it is 16'7". Her jib with its long bowsprit is also much larger than those carried by the fishermen. Her mainsail - or mizzen, if you wish - is, on the contrary, considerably smaller than normal to correspond with a mast only 11'6" in length. Apparently Cuspidor sailed well, with her oversize rig suited to pleasure sailing in the summer.

New light has been cast on the sailing Hampton boat and particularly on the relationship between the pinky-sterned boats and their square-sterned counterparts (before the modifications which followed the latter type's conversion to power), by a find this past summer in Colchester County, N.S., of three boats unquestionably of Hampton derivation and model. Two of them were built in 1900 for the local shad fishery by Greg and Will Hall in Portapique Village on the north shore of Cobequid Bay at the eastern end of the Bay of Fundy, about 25 miles or so from Truro. One, named the Ocean Queen, and known as "the big pinky," is a pinky-sterned boat 25' overall with 8' of beam and a 22' bottom plank. The other, the Shamrock, is a square-sterned boat 23'10" overall with 7'2" of beam and a 21' bottom plank.

The Shamrock fishing after conversion from sail to power. Note the mast stepped through the cuddy hatch.

In 1900 William F. (Greg) Hall and his son, Will, built seven of these shad boats. The Halls, father and son, were the foremost builders of shad boats in the area, fishing during the 21/2-month shad season in the summer, and building boats the rest of the year. There were a number of other builders who produced these boats, but the Halls built the most and were considered to be the best builders. Furthermore, Will had the reputation of being second to none as a sailor and boat handler, and it was for him that the Ocean Queen was built.

According to local tradition, shad fishing was introduced by fishermen who came up from the States to the Cobequid Bay area, bringing their boats and their nets with them. Just when this was has not been established, but it is likely that it took place sometime in the third quarter of the 19th century. Fishing was done with drift nets. The shad ran in great numbers then, catches were large and the bulk of the fish were split, salted, packed in barrels and shipped to Boston and other markets in the States.

After a time, the shad fishery was taken over by local fishermen using the same methods and boats of the same model as those previously brought up from the States. It is estimated that in the early 1900s there were as many as 20 boats fishing shad in this area of Cobequid Bay alone. In time, the shad fishery declined for one reason and another, until today it has nearly died out. This past summer there was only one boat fishing part time.

Eventually motors were installed, as was easily done in these boats, but this change occurred later than the changeover to power in Casco Bay. To make room for Shamrock's single-cylinder, make-and-break Bridgewater engine, the after thwart (through which the mainmast was stepped) was removed, and a narrow but adequate engine box was built in its place. Forward, a low cuddy was added, as the photo below shows, blocking off the forward mast position but retaining what was originally an alternate third mast position against the forward edge of the forward rowing thwart. Thus, if desired, a sail could still be set on a mast stepped through the cuddy hatch. The centerboard was retained.

This photo, looking forward from the Shamrock's stern, shows her cuddy cabin and engine box. Note the "clasp" for the mast showing through the open hatch and the "crutch" for stowing her stepped mast along the port rail.

The original rig was identical with the standard rig of the Casco Bay Hamptons, an arrangement that had persisted at least from the time of Kellogg's Cadet until sail gave way to engine power. This is clearly shown in the old photograph reproduced below, which has been dated as early as 1895, and possibly 1893.

Two Hamptons photographed around the turn of the century at Turbatis Creek in Kennebunkport,Me. Lance Lee of the Bath Marine Museum says that the boat at left is the only Hampton he has seen that was sloop rigged.

The fully-rigged boat with sails set, shown on the right in the photo below, is the MYOB belonging to Greg Hall, her builder, who is shown with his wife, seated in the boat.

The single spritsail boat has Will Hall in the stern and Lorne Cooke, Harold's father, amidshiips. The larger boat at right carries owner/builder William G. (Greg) Hall and his wife. Note lapstrake topsides and carvel-planked bottoms. Photo courtesy of Harold Cooke.

A surprising amount of detail is revealed in this photo. The slightly longer foremast, which is a full 4" in diameter, is secured by an iron clasp against the heavy beam supporting the after end of the short foredeck. In view is the starboard end of the forward rowing thwart, attached to the forward edge of which is another iron clasp for another mast position, formerly used when the mainmast was brought forward and used alone in bad weather. As already mentioned, this mast position was retained in the Shamrock when the cuddy was built on. Though the starboard end of the middle rowing thwart is barely visible, the thole pins which go with it can be seen in the port rail.

The mainmast steps through the after (third) thwart. The foresail is loose-footed, and the main is attached to its boom only at the tack and the clew. The two-part sheet of the foresail is visible belayed to a removable pin through the starboard rail. There are no washboards on these Bay of Fundy shad boats. In this connection we are told that washboards were not put on Casco Bay Hampton boats until after 1878, when David Doughty of Great Island, who is credited with introducing them, quit fishing to build boats.

There are no halyards except on the jib, which is set flying, with its halyard rove throuh a hole in the head of the foremast. The two spritsails do not hoist but are permanently secured to the mastheads with the free ends of their bolt ropes left sufficiently long for this purpose. When the boats were drifting, the sails were tightly furled to the masts with their sprits, and the unstayed masts were then lifted out of their steps and stowed horizontally alone the rail. Not shown in this photo and possibly something which came later, is a U-shaped iron or crutch rising above the port rail and used for holding the masts with their furled sails in a compact bundle.

The removable plank bowsprit is almost exactly like the one previously described for the Cadet. It is slotted to fit over the upper end of the stemhead, through which a pin goes to hold it down in place. The after end of this flat bowsprit is made in a crutch shape to fit snugly against the round of the foremast.

It remains to be seen, after lines have been drawn for these boats, how closely their hull shape resembles that of the sailing Hamptons of Casco Bay, especially the pinky-stern boats. My prediction is that the resemblance will be close. And as for these Bay of Fundy Hamptons, if we may call them that, there appears to be very little difference in the underwater hull lines of the pinky-sterns and the square-sterns. But while these Bay of Fundy boats are remarkably close in shape and rig to the old sailing Hamptons of Casco Bay, there are some differences between the two in construction.

The Bay of Fundy boats are built with plank keels of spruce, birch, or sometimes maple 3" thick and 10" or thereabouts wide amidships, tapering toward the ends and perfectly straight for their entire length, which is nearly the length of the boat. Underwater and up beyond the turn of the bilge, the boats are planked carvel with pine as thick as 3/4" or even up to 7/8". The upper topsides are finished out clinker 1/2" thick. The Shamrock has four upper strakes of clinker plank, which I believe was more or less typical, but the Ocean Queen has only one clinker plank at her sheer.

One of the older fishermen recalls having been told by his father that the early boats were clinker throughout. The men who made the planking changes are gone, and their reasons for doing so are lost, but we may conjecture. Because of Fundy's 40'-50' tides, these shad boats grounded out on the flats twice each day, and frequently hit bottom when the tide was com- ing and going. They needed a strong bottom and one with enough flat that they would sit upright in the mud. The heavy, carvel bottom planking was needed here but it was not needed on the topsides, where the thinner clinker strakes were much lighter and quite strong enough. Inside, the bottom was well reinforced with strong, natural-crook floor timbers. Also, the smooth carvel bottom was less noisy than clinker laps would have been, and thus less likely to frighten the shad when drifting. There may have been other considerations, but my guess is these were the principal ones.

Discovering these Fundy shad boats, heretofore completely overlooked, unnoticed and close to the point of extinction, was a lucky find. There is much to be gained from them, as I am sure we shall learn when their lines are drawn, and we have studied them more closely.

Only shad boat still fishing summer 1979 in the Cobequid Bay area is this smaller, later model owned by Russell Cooke. Note her pinky stern and rudder post in this photo by John Gardner.
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