The Hampton Boat

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by Phelps Soule

American Neptune, April 1943

The discussion concerning the origin and spelling of the Hampton boat interested me greatly, for I remember well these smart, weatherly craft as used by the Casco Bay lobstermen and clammers in the nineties.

Through the good offices of Dr. Orville F. Rogers, a summer resident of the Bay, I obtained from Mr. Ward Bickford, of Old Orchard, Maine, five builder's half-models, representing the two main developments of the sailing Hampton boat. These came from the shop of John Pettingill, a well-known boat builder who lived and worked on Crotch (now Cliff) Island, Maine. Of these models, the two sharp-sterns, sometimes called Crotch Island pinkies, are of the first true Hampton design, and tend to refute the belief that the type developed from a square-sterned craft resembling a ship's longboat. The other three models are of the square-sterned variety, the second development before motors took the place of sail and oar.

The lines of all five half-models are presented herewith. The sail and arrangement plans have been drawn from scale sketches furnished by Mr. Bickford, himself a builder formerly of Crotch Island, and familiar with Hampton boats all his life. He has checked the final drawings, so we may be sure that the details are correct. It is impossible to identify the models with specific boats since John Pettingill, who used them, has been dead for many years. No comment on the lines seems necessary except to say that in Mr. Bickford's opinion these boats are typical, with no extremes of any sort in their designs.

It his been suggested that the name 'Hampton boat' is somewhat later in its usage than the period when Captain Collins assembled the models now in the United States National Museum, but this is disproved by ample evidence. The earliest use known is well before Collins's time, and is to be found in Audubon's Delineations of American Scenery. In the course of a trip to Labrador in 1833, the great ornithologist saw the boats in use on Maine and Massachusetts vessels. He wrote of them:

A vessel of one hundred tons or so is provided with a crew of twelve men, who are equally expert as sailors and fishers, and for every couple of these hardy tars a Hampton Boat is provided ... at three in the morning the crew are prepared for their days labour and ready to betake themselves to their boats, each of which has two oars and lugsails.[1]

That carries the name back almost a full half-century before Collins. Furthermore it does not seem to have been lost. Thirty-odd years later Elijah Kellogg, pastor of a church at Harpswell, Maine, knew the name and the origin of the boat, for in one of his books he wrote:

A fisherman wants a boat, too, that is smart, stiff to bear a hard blow, buoyant, will mind her helm, and work quick to clear an ugly sea, and sail well on a wind ... There are boats now built at Hampton or Seabrook that would beat into Boston Bay, with a man in them that knew how to handle them in a gale of wind, when a ship couldn't do it.[2]

These two quotations carry the name from a half-century before right down to Collins's time, but the boat is older even than Audubon's Labrador trip. While apparently it cannot be traced further with written records, the origin of the boat is so closely associated with the name that one can be sure it has always been attached to the type. The association should also be sufficient to fix the correct spelling, 'Hampton.'[3]

In the first decade of this century Mr. Warren Watson became interested in the Hampton boat and gathered all the data then available about the type.[4] He learned that the early settlers in Maine had to a large degree used whaleboats, or, as the smaller ones were called, reach boats, in the fisheries. These were not particularly good sailers. Then as the fishermen began to go farther out to sea, more powerful boats were wanted. The demand was supplied by a shipbuilder at Seabrook, New Hampshire, named Enoch Chase. In 1805 he is said to have built a clinker-planked boat, twenty-two feet long with a moderately sharp bow and a pinkie stern. She was given a large foresail and a smaller mainsail as a working rig, with a jib set on a detachable bowsprit to be used in going to and from the fishing grounds. She had a full-length wooden keel about a foot deep, and carried iron or sand ballast. The boat found favor, and for years the type was built by Chase and later by Locke Brothers, both of the Hampton-Seabrook district in New Hampshire.

Of course Maine builders soon began to copy the design, but no changes were made in it. The first real improvement was made by David Doughty of Great Island, Maine, who in 1868 installed the first center board in a Hampton. He also is credited with the first use of washboards. About 1875 to 1880 the square-stern design was introduced. In his article on the Hampton boat, Mr H. I. Chapelle gives the lines of what is said to be the first of this design, but neither the builder's name nor the date is given.[5] The name of this designer is unknown, but the period seems to be fairly definite. There is no doubt, however, that this is purely an improvement on the older design and not a completely new type. A comparison of the lines of both the sharp- and square-sterned types shows this conclusively.

At the same time that this change was made, strip planking was introduced by David Sinnett of Bailey's Island, Maine.[6]

Two other developments in design eventually were added: the counter stern, and the changes caused by the use of the gasoline engine, both of which are cited by Mr. Chapelle.[7] The first use of the engine seems to have been between 1900 and 1905.[8]

What is believed to be the last sailing Hampton boat in Casco Bay was picked up adrift in 1917 by Robert Rose of Rose's Point, who estimated that she was then between twenty and thirty years old. Nobody claimed the boat, so Rose hauled her to his barn, where she stayed for ten years. In 1927 he sold her to a Mr. Tonks, a summer resident of Chebeague island. He sailed her for a couple of years and in turn sold her to Mr. William Swann. A few years later she went adrift in a storm and broke up. The snapshots [Plate 18] show her to be a good example of the Hampton boat. Other photographs of the type are to be found in Yachting, Volume I, page 224, Motor Boat,. Volume VI, page 7, and the 1893 edition List of Merchant Vessels of the United States. The photograph of the Hampton boat lying at a pier on Long Island, Maine [Plate 18], is from a guide book to Portland published about 1906.

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[1] John James Audubon, Delineations of American Scenery and Character (New York), 1926. pp. 230-233.

[2] Elijah Kellogg, The Young Shipbuilders of Elm Island (Boston, 1870), p. 259.

[3] Investigations by Mr. Charles P. Emerson (See The American Neptune, I [1941], 173) entirely independent of my own have brought the same conclusion.

[4] Motor Boat, Jan. 25, 1909, VI, 7 ff.: Warren Watson, The Hampton Boat of Casco Bay.

[5] Yachting, July 1938, 40 ff: H. I. Chapelle, The Hampden Boats.

[6] The American Neptune, I (1941), 173; Yachting, I 224; Motor Boat, VI, 7.

[7] Yachting, July 1936, 40 ff.

[8] Yachting, I, 224; Motor Boat, VI, 7.

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