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Historical Materials: Vessels (Specific / Named)

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"Boston" (Packet Ship)

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The 428 ton packet ship "Boston" was built at Medford in 1828, by Thacher Magoun for the Boston & Liverpool Line, whose individual shareholders have not been found. The Boston agent was George G. Jones; the Liverpool agent was Latham & Gair. Sailings were scheduled thus: from Boston the 1st of each month; from Liverpool the 20th of each month. 

This packet line was originally organized to provide direct sailings between Boston and Liverpool. This plan was hampered by lack of high-value cargos for the eastward passage, an advantage held by New York packets which shipped high value farm produce received from the Midwest via the Erie Canal. An attempt was made by Boston merchants to have the government fund the building of a railroad (horse-drawn) to deliver similar goods from Albany to Boston. The effort failed, leaving Boston packets with insufficient high-value cargos to ship directly to Liverpool, forcing them to sail first to Charleston for a cargo of cotton which was then shipped to Liverpool. This detour eliminated passengers for the east-bound voyage, again hurting the line’s profitability.

Henry C. Mackay was “Boston’s” master, and may have been a share-holder. Given the size of the business (6 ships), he could hardly be ship master and a major owner, managing company business at sea. In 1830 he sailed from Boston to Charleston, where he took on a cargo of cotton for Liverpool. A few days out from Charleston, the ship was struck by lightning and burned on May 26, 1830. In 1830, the Boston & Liverpool Line ceased operating.

– Erik Ronnberg


Carl C. Cutler, Queens of the Western Ocean (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute, 1961), pp. 196, 197, 371.

Hall Gleason, Old Ships and Ship-Building Days of Medford. (West Medford, MA: J.C. Miller, Jr., 1936).

Related tables: Knight, Elias Davis »  //  Mackay, Capt. Harvey Coffin and Mrs. Sarah Somes »  //  Ship (Full-Rigged) »

E. D. Knight to Joseph Stevens, Jr., Boston, 8.15.1869
Letter regarding the burning of the packet ship "Boston"
Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass.

"Dear Sir, Agreeable to your request that I would write something to attach to the picture in your possession of the Burning of the Packet Ship Boston in 1830, your object I suppose more fully to establish the fact that it is really one of the early productions of our fellow townsman and afterward most distinguished artist Fitz H. Lane.

The picture was drawn the same year by Mr. Lane from a sketch I made soon after the disaster aided by one of the passengers S.S. Osgood Esq. afterward a distinguished portrait painter. Mr. Lane had made not reputation of course at this time as an artist. And probably had received no instruction. It afforded me great pleasure to present this picture to you who was so devoted to him, knowing full well tho nothing very great of itself would be highly appreciative [...] as the early work of that [...] particular friend."

Journal of the Packet Ship "Boston"
Handwritten journal
Cape Ann Museum Library & Archive

"Charleston towards Liverpool. 26th day of May, 1830. Commences with fresh breezes and squally weather at 1 P.M. . . .At 11 P.M. very thundering and sharp lightening. The second flash struck the ship, burnt the main hatch and knocked down the steward, Isaac Hopkins, a sailor. . . We single reefed the main topsail and were about to land the mainsail when we found the ship to be on fire. We immediately cleared the main hatch and after hatch to get at the fire and commenced heaving the cotton overboard out holes in the deck, and plied water in every direction but all in vain. . . .The flames raged with such violence and consumed the vessel so quick that nothing could be saved from the wreck. We got about 40 gallons of water, and provisions sufficient on a short allowance to keep the passengers and crew alive for three weeks. . . .About three hours time had changed one of the best ships that ever swam the ocean to a complete volcano."

Loss of the Packet Ship Boston
William Rutter
Brown University Library
Harris Broadside Collection

Link to broadside in Brown online collection.

Portrait of Elias Davis Knight
Charles Osgood
Oil on canvas
Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass., Bequest of E. Hyde Cox (1998.36.01)
Water bucket from ship "Boston"
Wood, brass, paint
9 1/2 h. x 11 3/4 diam. inches
Cape Ann Museum. Bequest of Marion Mansfield Patterson Livingston. (2012.27)

Salvaged from the burning wreck of the packet ship Boston which was lost at sea in 1830. This disaster was the subject of Lane’s earliest known watercolor painting.

Citation: "Vessels (Specific / Named)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum.§ion=%22Boston%22+%28Packet+Ship%29 (accessed July 24, 2024).
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