In the last quarter of the nineteenth century the port of Galveston would have displayed far more masts than funnels. The advent of the commercial steamship at mid-century had paved the way for iron, then steel, hulls but they had by no means replaced sails for ocean-going craft and even harbor and coasting craft were as likely to be brigs, schooners and ketches. The harbor tugs and paddle wheel stink pots may have been belching smoke and cinders like so many self-important locomotives but their deep water older brothers still sported fine spreads of canvas and carried on their trade from time immemorial.
To give an example of what the port may have looked like we have chosen the 10th of September 1891 – the day Margaret Edythe Young’s youngest sister, Laureene Anna Young, was born – and taken the List of Vessels in Port from the Galveston Daily News:
- Vanna (Br.), White, Baltimore……………in stream
- Amethyst (Br.), Kramor, Liverpool, unloading at Kuhn’s wharf……………872
- Enling (Br.), Beasley, Liverpool, loading outside……………1345
- Isleworth, Gurson, Boston, loading at New wharf……………
- St. Clair, Vera Cruz, in quarantine……………
- Rolf (Nor.), Halverson, Hamburg, discharging at Brick wharf……………
- Kathleen (Br.), Bryan, St. Katherine’s, at Labadie’s wharf……………
- James B. Talbot, Paschoe, New York, discharging at Brick wharf……………
Before we go further a few words of explanation and a couple of illustrations may be in order. The first steamship listed was the Vanna which is indicated as being, “in stream”, which may have indicated that she had been loaded too deeply to come alongside a berth for discharge or that she was being topped off prior to sailing with either cargo or coal. Most of this work would have been done in Bolivar Roads which is the anchorage inside the breakwater on the east end of the island where the ferry runs and which was almost as busy as the wharves with vessels making repairs, taking on provisions and waiting for berths in a sheltered anchorage.
The last steamship listed, the St. Clair, was waiting for quarantine, possibly at the quarantine station at the end of Pelican Island, after having arrived from Vera Cruz where there were still yellow fever concerns. Before the well into the twentieth century arriving ships had to clear quarantine which meant that a doctor went on board and examined the crew for signs of infectious diseases and – especially if the ship arrived from a port considered a likely source of diseases [which would have meant most of the tropics] – the ship might be required to anchor for two weeks or more to see if any signs of disease appeared.
Sometimes a little bit of charity covers a multitude of sins and sometimes a very short word covers a very big category. This latter is true with the term bark which may be applied to any sailing vessel with three or more masts: fore and aft rigged on after mast, square-rigged on all others. The ELISSA is a bark as was the R. C. Rickmers but while the ELISSA is typical of the age and class the RICKMERS is pretty well at the extreme in terms of size.
Where the ELISSA measures 205 feet long by 28 feet abeam [wide] with a molded depth of 16 feet the Rickmers was 411 feet long by 54 feet abeam with a molded depth of 31 feet. The ELISSA’S cargo capacity was about 400 tons and the Rickmers 10 times that. Add to the equation an 1160 hp auxiliary steam engine for the Rickmers and you have a hybrid that was part of the transition of sail to steam. That she was still classed a bark may give you some indication of how wide the category can be.
Fortunately the art of ship building has not been totally lost and this example, and she is one of the four ships built in Bilbao (Spain) in 1982, together with the Gloria, the Guyas and the Simon Bolivar. Named from the last Aztec emperor, she is 91 feet long and her home port is Vera Cruz. Unfortunately these ships are generally only used for training and tourists and you have to go out east of Suez to find ships under sail still plying trade routes that are far older than steam.
For those of you who had problems distinguishing Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species [for those of you still trying to pass freshman botany or biology remember Kung Pao Chicken or Fried Ginger Shrimp] among barks wait until we get into schooners. Technically a schooner is any sailing ships with at least 2 masts (foremast and mainmast) with the mainmast being the taller. The great majority of our discussion will revolve around a scow schooner: a wide, flat sailing boat with gaff-rigged sails. At the turn of the century, these workhorses moved the kind of heavy cargo that trucks carry today. They darted around the Bay and sailed up and down the coast from Florida to Mexico delivering hay, lumber, salt and bricks anyplace the railroad did not reach and many places they reached more cheaply than the railroad.
Part of the confusion in dealing with these ships is that sloops, cutters, ketches and even yachts are often referred to as schooners and the quantitative and qualitative differences are best left to the purists of naval architecture. The ANNA YOUNG was wood built and designed to trade on Galveston Bay and was not registered as a sea-going vessel. She was 43 feet long, 13 feet 6 inches abeam and had a deep draft of 3 feet 9 inches. She measured 10.12 gross tons and 9.61 net tons, had a sharp head and a flat stern. Although no plans for the vessel survive the following drawing of the similar craft TILLICUM should give the reader a general idea.
The building and the quality of these schooners went all the way from by guess and by God rough pit carpentry to the highest levels of the ship builder’s craft. This was possibly the first vessel John Young owned, almost certainly the first one he had built and was named for his first daughter, Anna, born on the 23rd of September 1877. While we know of nothing pretentious about the man – he was solid and stern by reputation and probably more respected than loved by his employees – his schooner wanted for nothing. Rather than being knocked together at the old Confederate shipyard at Baytown it was custom-built on the St. John’s river in Florida and is described as having a mulberry and hackmatack frame, white cedar planking and copper fastened from her keel to her rail. The deck was the best Georgia yellow pine, sprung with sheer of plank and blind nailed. The cockpit, which was very roomy, was stave work of Mexican cedar paneled outside with quarter oak. She had hanging hackmatack natural knees under beams and knees also between each frame under deck. Her spars and iron work were from C. &R. Rolfson, yacht builders of New York and her sails were made by S. S. Thorpe & Co. also of New York.
Although she was named for a favorite daughter – and by reputation Anna was a favorite of the entire family – and had been built and fitted out with a pride of ownership too often lacking today she was a working boat built to earn her keep and return substantial dividends over a long life. The picture above shows just how much cargo could be loaded on one of these craft. Going back to our first post about John Young we know that Capt. Young became the first operator to haul the new profitable mud shell into Galveston. Originally he and his crew set out in the sloop ANNA [YOUNG] to sail to the shell reefs along the gulf coast. They would wait for the tide to go out, leaving the reefs bare, and would shovel the shell into wheelbarrows by hand and dump that on board the vessel. On return to Galveston harbor, the vessel would dock at pier 36, where the mud shell industry here centered for years. The shell would then be hauled off by drays drawn by mules. Of course we also know that the brothers Coffey, related to the Young’s by marriage, operated drays and crews that turned the mud shell into roads all over Galveston – but their story has been told elsewhere.
In the first place it is no mean feat of seamanship to continuously ground a vessel, without damaging the hull – which was sheathed from keel to rail in copper for very good reason, and then be able to refloat it – fully loaded – at the next high tide. Long before there was a merchant marine academy on Pelican Island there were some damn fine sailors on Galveston Island. What is really amazing is the sheer amount of labor – under conditions OSHA would never allow – required to load ten tons of mud shell between tides with nothing other than picks, shovels and wheelbarrows, but it was all part of an integrated system.
An immigrant started a business and hired other immigrants – even sponsoring some right off the boats, they provided everything – housing, clothing, food [at a profit], and when one group was ready to move inland to farm or work in other industries another boatload of aspiring souls would be coming over the horizon. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Was far more about the opportunity to work, and enjoy the fruits of that labor than any soapy sentiments.
The old saying that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy was no place truer than Galveston which did double duty as one of the busiest ports in the nation and as a sea-side resort thanks to its marvelous beaches and fishing. From the 18th of August 1885 we have the following account for the Galveston Daily News, “They had a yacht race in Galveston bay yesterday in which all the tony professional wave-skippers, with any kind of record for speed participated. All the thoroughbreds were entered, and a blooded vessel, with a record of course, was expected to win. It seems, however, that a plain, plebeian craft, engaged in the business of transporting watermelons and other garden truck from Bolivar to Galveston took part and sailed off with the honors. This is mighty rough on the aristocrats of the wave. To think that a homely trading sloop, with no more genealogy than a mule and no more beauty than a squash, stepping in and capturing the honors and the boodle – for there was some of the latter involved – is simply terrible. The disappointed ones should remember, however, that these are democratic times and that in this blessed country a business like democratic sloop stands as much chance as an aristocratic yacht, provided it is handled well and has a fair amount of canvas.”
Irrespective of editorial platitudes the next race we find a record of, on the 23rd of June 1895, took place under the auspices of the Galveston Yacht Club and involved only four vessels – the Stranger under Captain Babcock, the Wasp under Captain White, the Irma under Captain Young and the Hornet under Captain Hutchings all members in good standing – and again the Galveston Daily News sets the scene, “The boats set out from the foot of Sixteenth street at 2:30 o’clock. The club flagship, the Helen, carried a big crowd, over forty of whom were ladies. The wharves were lined with people armed with marine glasses and loaded down with enthusiasm. As different boats left the wharf a cheer went up, the ship’s gun was fired, and all began to watch the result. The course was from the foot of sixteenth street to the black buoy off the quarantine station, up Bolivar channel to the beacon off Bolivar point, back over the same course and repeat. The Stranger completed the course in 2 hours 2 minutes and 2 seconds and the Hornet was 1 minute and 43 seconds behind her, the Irma being 1 minute and 40 seconds behind the Hornet with the Wasp 48 seconds behind the Irma. There was but little breeze up to this portion of the race, but about the time the turn was made to cover the course the second time a regular old norther came up…” At the end of the day they finished the second course in the same order they had finished the first but what had really ended was the possibility of a vessel that did not belong to a member of the club participating in a race. Democracy, after all, has its limits.
What is true of races, democratic and otherwise, is true of life and Galveston was not Beldingsville, Vermont and neither Anna Young, nor any of her sisters, were Pollyanna.
We pick up our story with an item from the Galveston Daily News of the 3rd of June, 1898 under the headline, Miss Young Dies:
Will Benson, the colored boy who was burned in the fire at Mr. John Young’s residence, Thirty-fifth and Winnie, Wednesday afternoon, died yesterday morning at 8 o’clock at the Sealy Hospital, just a few hours after the death of Nellie Willis, colored, who was burned in the same fire.
The third victim of the flames was Miss Annie Young, who made a noble but vain effort to save the life of Will Benson, the colored boy. While seriously burned, Miss Young’s injuries would not have proved dangerous had she not inhaled the flames while throwing Benson from the window, her death being caused by inhalation of the flames. She died at 5.30 o’clock yesterday evening.
Mr, John Young, the father of the dead girl, is in New York. He has been notified of his daughter’s tragic death, and a telegram was received from him last night stating that he would arrive in Galveston at 7.15 Saturday morning. The burial will take place Friday or Saturday.
The fire that cost the lives of Miss Young and the colored boy and girl was caused by the explosion of a gas generator. Mr. Young had put the generator in his kitchen and manufactured his own gas. The colored boy and girl were using the pump on the generator when the explosion took place.
Anna Young’s final resting place is is the family plot at Calvary Cemetery just off 61st Street where the tempests and the tourists have passed her by for over a century without disturbing her rest and she sleeps with her brothers and sisters – Loretta, Maurier, Cecelia, Clifford and Ethel all of whom died as infants in the decade between 1890 and 1900.
Then came the night of the 8th of September 1900. By the morning of the 9th of September houses and schooners alike had been reduced to so many sticks with only the strongest building still standing and a few stout hulls that had been tossed about by wind and wave waiting on salvage. The Anna Young left no trace and never spread her sails again. But it takes more than personal tragedy and natural cataclysms to slow down Galveston and Galvestonians. After the storm John Young went into partnership with Charles Suderman and formed Suderman & Young towing, which endures to this day. For many years the tug Anna steamed about the harbor helping everything from barks to battleships come alongside berths or sail to someplace over the horizon.