The Hampton Boat

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American small sailing craft, their design, development and construction

By Howard Irving Chapelle

Norton, 1951, Pp. 137-140

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One of the once numerous types of small boat in New England was the Hampton Boat. Under this type name there were really two distinct types of boats of very doubtful relationship, each type having two variations or subtypes. The older of the two distinct types was the New Hampshire Hampton boat; the Maine type may be accepted as a more recent and perhaps an independent design. This has led to confusion in the attempts to trace the development of the type, and its history has become clouded by conflicting claims and other evidence. The various accounts of the rise of the Hampton boat may be summarized as follows: The type was invented by Enoch Chase in 1805, in the Seabrook-Hampton townships of New Hampshire, near Newburyport, Massachusetts.

The model had a long, sharp bow and a "pinky" stern; the boat two-masted and ketch-rigged, with a shifting bowsprit and jib light-weather work. The first boat was very successful, and it was copied at first locally and then by Maine builders in Casco Bay, who, according to one historian, were at the time acquainted only with whaleboats and their small counterpart, the Reach boat. Other historians have recorded that David Doughty, a Maine builder at Great Island, introduced the centerboard in 1868, that D. Perry Senna, a builder at Bailey's Island, introduced the square stern as an improvement over the "pinky" stern, and that he was the first to use strip planking, in 1877. Another claim is the first square-sterned boat was built in 1860 by P. A. Durgan at Harpswell. Thus, the boat is traced from an early "invention" through a gradual local development from sharp stern to square and with a centerboard added, the inference being that each was a complete innovation in Maine.

The various descriptions of the original New Hampshire boats in the fishery reports are from the 1880's. Two examples of the boats, which survived until 1936-38, do not show the long, sharp bow mentioned. In fact, this part of the Enoch Chase story may be a mere invention of a historian, just as the reasons for the spread of the type into Maine are pure inventions by the same authority. In the first place, customhouse records and other sources show that the Maine builders and boatmen had other small craft besides whaleboats in 1805. In the second place, the Reach boat did not come into use in Maine until about 1870, when it began to be built at North Haven, Maine. This was the double-ender which is obviously referred to as a counterpart of the whaleboat -- which it was not. So far, about all that can be accepted is that a double-ended boat called the "Hampton boat," "Hampton whaler," and other names, as will be seen, came into use early in the nineteenth century in the Hampton Beach district. The name "whaler" does not necessarily prove the boat was a descendant of a whaleboat, though it is possible in this case.

The spread of the type eastward was due not to the ignorance of Maine builders and fishermen of types other than whaleboats but to the fact that the New Hampshire boat was found very useful in the cod-fishery around Newfoundland and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. For many years, from at least as early as 1833 to as late as 1888, the New Hampshire boats were taken to these waters by Maine and Massachusetts schooners, each carrying from two to four boats on deck and one in the stern davits. The boats were used in cod fishing, and, when the schooners were loaded, the boats were often disposed of by sale to Newfoundland, Labrador, and New Brunswick fishermen for use as shore boats. Hence the New Hampshire boat became known as the "Newfoundland boat" and the "Labrador boat" and was really a stock boat. The demand for the double-ender led builders in New England, from New Bedford to Casco Bay in Maine, to build to the same general model, and so the boat was also known by the 1880's as the "New England boat."

The addition of the centerboard to the Maine-built boats in 1868 is probably a local tradition of doubtful value -- the centerboard was in use in the small Muscongus Bay sloops, practically next door so to speak, as early as 1857. By the date of the alleged introduction of the centerboard, the building of the double-ender in Casco Bay had become very active at Crotch Island, now Cliff Island. Hence the Maine double-enders were often called "Crotch Island pinkies," though they did not have pink-sterns. It should be noted, perhaps, that in Maine the name "pinky" has often been applied to any sharp-sterned sailing boat, even though the pink-stern was not used. This modification or variant of the New Hampshire boat is recorded in numerous half-models and by a few hulks that existed until about 1940.

The introduction of the square stern into the Maine boats is considered a step in evolution by Sennet. The claim is not supported by a date, unlike the case of the introduction of the centerboard. But from the manner in which the claim has been made it appears that the square-sterned boats are considered as innovations on Casco Bay shortly after 1868. This can hardly be, however, as Cundy's Harbor on Casco Bay was by then a noted building place of the square-sterned yawl-boat. The Durgan claim was supported by a half-model alleged to have been used to build the square-sterned boat of 1860, and it obviously was very similar to a yawl-boat in model.

The most prominent feature of the square-sterned, Maine-built Hampton boats has been the extremely long, sharp, and wedge-shaped bow. It seems that this feature was employed in the original story of the invention of the New Hampshire boat, because the author of the claim knew the Hampton boat of his time (1906). All available evidence shows that the New Hampshire Hampton boat did not have such a bow; at least, it did not have this bow in its last years, when the Maine boats can be shown to have had the characteristic forebody. Where did this bow come from? It might be claimed that it was developed in the boats built at Crotch Island, since models of these now existing show both the New Hampshire bow, slightly modified, and also the bow of the square-sterned boats. The difficulty here is that it is yet to be proved that the wedge-shaped bow in the Crotch Island boats appeared before the square-sterned boats had it.

It has been natural to assume that once the square-sterned boats appeared, the building and development of the sharp-sterned boats on Casco Bay ceased, but this is a mere assumption that is not realistic. In fact, the double-ender continued to be built as late as 1890 long after the square-sterned boats appear in the records; it said by one builder's family that he built both the sharp- and square-sterned boats as late as 1896. It is also apparent, from the Durgan half-model, that the claim in his behalf does not explain the wedge bow.

In 1883, Forest & Stream published a letter from a yachting summer visitor at Matinicus Island, at the western mouth of Penobscot Bay, in which a very full description of the boat then in use there is given. The correspondent not only speaks of the sharp long bow but states that the boats were all alike and very numerous and that there were none like them elsewhere. His description of the boats and their rig is verified by a later reference by Goode, 1887, in which the Matinicus Island boats are described. Both descriptions agree with the rigged model of a Matinicus Island boat acquired by the Watercraft Collection in 1883; the model departs from the two descriptions only in having a short, heavy counter. Since it can hardly be thought that these boats sprang into existence and became numerous in a very short period, it must be supposed the boats had been developed at least a decade earlier. It would, then, be wholly unlikely to have originated either at Harpswell Bailey's Island. It should be noted that Goode and his co-workers were very careful to mention any distinctive types of fishing boat used in American waters, yet do not speak of the Casco Bay boat as a distinctive type. However, a detailed description is given of a New Hampshire boat.

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 it invaded Casco Bay in the 1880's, where it first influenced the Crotch Island model and then gradually replaced it in general popularity. However, in the process, the name "Hampton boat" was retained, since this name was already applied to boats being built in Casco Bay. Hence, it may well be that two distinct types finally had a single type-name. In any case, the involved evidence regarding the boats illustrates the difficulties facing the historian of many of the small boat types.

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