The Old Snow Shipyard
The Extreme Clipper Ship
Built in Rockland Maine, Red Jacket fights her way through the ice
fields of Antarctica.
She held the record Atlantic crossing---New
to Liverpool in 13 days, one hour, twenty five
That was Rocket Science in 1854.
what is the history of the Red Jacket?
Who was her first skipper?
Why was she named after a coat?
Why was she known
as the "swiftest clipper of her time"
The clipper ship Red Jacket, named after a
Native American Chief of the Seneca Tribe, was unquestionably the
sharpest, fastest and best looking of the Maine fleet of sail
vessels. Chief Otetiani, also called Sagoyewatha, which in native
language means “He keeps them awake,” earned his name for the red
coat that he wore, a sign of his allegiance to the British during
the American Revolution. He later made peace with the newly formed
United States and in 1792 he was presented a medal by General George
Washington. Chief Red Jacket died in 1830 on a reservation in
Buffalo, New York at the age of 72. However, the sleek vessel that
later bore his name was not built on the ways in his native state of
New York, she was constructed in the State of Maine.
Red Jacket’s keel was laid in the shipyard of
“Deacon” George Thomas, in the North-end of Rockland, Maine near
the site of the present day Atlantic Challenge. She was designed
by Samuel H. Pook, a naval architect, and was built for the firm
of Seacomb & Taylor in Boston. According to “The Clipper Ship
Era” by Arthur H. Clark, published c. 1910, she was 260 feet in
length, had a 44 foot beam, a draft of 26 feet and weighed in at
Red Jacket's first master, Captain Osa Eldridge,
was from a family of seafaring brothers on Cape Cod. Her initial
crew, 60 in number, was made up mostly of land-lubbers, and bar
room riffraff. Fortunately she had a staff of
fine officers. Her maiden voyage departed from Sandy Hook, NY on
January 11, 1854. After a stormy trans-Atlantic crossing they
passed Rock Light off Liverpool, England in a record time of 13
days, 1 hour and 25 minutes. Due to the rough weather, she only
averaged 182 nautical miles a day for the first week, but for
the final six days she averaged 353 miles in each 24 hour
period. Capt. Eldridge then, refusing the aid of a tug, sailed her up the Mersey River to a
Liverpool dock, threw her yards aback and, with precision that
brought a roar from the awaiting crowd, lay the vessel alongside
the pier head. It was a feat of no small magnitude.
The Red Jacket created a sensation as the public came down to
the docks in droves to inspect the vessel’s sleek lines and
incredible figurehead and the transom, which also featured an
elaborate carving of her namesake.
Capt. Elbridge remained with the Collins Lines and turned over
Red Jacket’s helm to Capt. Samuel Reid. Eldridge then sailed as
Master of the Pacific in the Far East trade until the vessel he
was commanding was lost at sea with all hands in 1855.
Red Jacket’s next voyage under Capt. Reid, was from Liverpool
to Melbourne, Australia in a respectable 69 days. She made the
return trip in 73 days in spite of time lost negotiating the
ice fields of Cape Horn.
After this voyage she was sold to Pilkington & Wilson, agents
for the White Star Line, for a reported thirty thousand English
pounds. She continued the Melbourne run carrying passengers and
general cargo outbound and gold dust and passengers on the
return. When the Australian passenger trade began to slow she
was used to carry general cargo in various trades including a
run between Quebec and Liverpool carrying timber in the 1870s.
Red Jacket was last sold in 1883 to Blandy
Brothers, a Portuguese shipping company in the Madeira Islands. She
was unceremoniously stripped of her masts and rigging and spent her
last days as a coal hulk. In a storm on December 15, 1885 she parted
her moorings and was wrecked ashore. A few parts of the Red Jacket
were saved, but there isn’t any known record of the salvage
of her striking figurehead or the ornate and garish array of stern carvings.
The Red Jacket, pride of Rockland’s shipwrights, a true “Greyhound
of the Sea,” had a short 32 years of sailing. She was surely a
victim of the bottom-line, as more cost effective ships were
being put into service. Still, the skilled boat builders of the
Rockland area deserve much credit for producing such a seaworthy and
able craft. Her record for the fastest trans-Atlantic crossing by a
commercial sailing vessel remains unbroken to this day–more than 150
years after it was established.
Mr. Clark listed her tonnage as 2006 tons, while multiple sources
list it as 2305 tons.
** The common abbreviation for forecastle; a section near the bow where
crew were housed.
Red Jacket under a cloud of canvas
Length Overall: 260 feet
Beam: 44 feet
Draft: 26 feet
Tonnage: 2305 tons
Designer: Samuel H. Pook, N.A.
Builder: “Deacon” George Thomas
Date of Launch: November 2, 1853
Place of Launch: Rockland, Maine
Date of Loss: December 15, 1885
Place of Loss: Madeira Islands
The Sail, Power and Steam Museum
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75 Mechanic Street, Rockland,
Captain Jim Sharp