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inv. 564
Coasting Schooner off Boon Island
Schooner Hauling Hay in Rough Seas
c. 1850
Oil on canvas
[dimensions unknown]
On view at the Cape Ann Museum


Lying six miles off the Maine coast, five miles north of the Maine-New Hampshire border, Boon Island is a large exposed rock in the middle of a busy shipping lane. For vessels in the coasting trades, it has been a menace to navigation; also for naval vessels entering and leaving Portsmouth, as well as fishing craft, cargo carriers, and passenger vessels operating between Canadian and major U.S. ports. This was also true in the Colonial Period, and the earliest (1689) chart depicting New England with any accuracy clearly shows Boon Island and its surrounding ledges in their proper location relative to the mainland. (1)

In Lane’s painting, we are looking eastward as a morning sun begins to break through a passing storm. Wallowing in heavy seas, with fore- and main sails reefed and jib and fore topsail furled, a coasting schooner is bound south, probably to Boston. Her deck and hold are loaded with bales of hay, the former covered with a tarpaulin to keep the cargo dry (a standard practice when transporting hay any distance). The types of hay shipped from Maine were farm hay and several types of marsh hay, each with its specific qualities and uses. Cape Ann and surrounding Essex County (Massachusetts) were blessed with enough hay for their own needs, but Boston and its thousands of horses needed all the hay Maine was willing to provide. This situation endured until electric and motor vehicles replaced horse-drawn wagons and streetcars. ( 2)

The coasting schooner depicted is more precisely a “topsail schooner” by rig – setting a square topsail on the fore topmast. On a long voyage when a vessel is sailing with the wind coming from astern, the square topsail is very helpful to reduce rolling in heavy swells. In this instance, the wind is coming off the port (left) side, and in such force that the reefed lower sails are sufficient to keep the schooner’s motion steady.

Despite frequent losses of vessels and lives, Boon Island’s first lighthouse was not built until 1799 and lit the following year. Poorly constructed of wood, it was destroyed in a gale in 1804. Replaced by a stone structure that same year, it was decided in 1811 that a second rebuilding was necessary, and this replacement lasted until 1831. The third replacement was removed in 1852 and the present stone structure was built to a height of 133 feet, using carefully-fitted granite blocks of massive proportions. While the 1852 tower remains, the auxiliary buildings around it have all been demolished by storms and rebuilt numerous times. (3)

Erik Ronnberg


1. Alex Krieger and David Cobb, Mapping Boston (Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press, 1979), p. 98, Plate 13: John Thornton, “Part of New England” in The English Pilot (1689).

2. W. H. Bunting, A Day’s Work, Part 1 (Gardiner , ME: Tilbury House, Publishers, 1997), pp. 128, 130, 132.

3. Kenneth E. Kochel, America’s Atlantic Coast Lighthouses (Clearwater, FL: Betken Publications, 1994), pp. 370, 371.

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New England Locales:   Maine »   //   N.H.: Boon Island Light »   //   New Hampshire »

Historical Materials
Below is historical information related to the Lane work above. To see complete information on a subject on the Historical Materials page, click on the subject name (in bold and underlined).

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Schooners in Lane’s time were, with few exceptions, two-masted vessels carrying a fore-and-aft rig having one or two jibs, a fore staysail, gaff-rigged fore- and main sails, and often fore- and main topsails. One variant was the topsail schooner, which set a square topsail on the fore topmast. The hulls of both types were basically similar, their rigs having been chosen for sailing close to the wind. This was an advantage in the coastal trade, where entering confined ports required sailing into the wind and frequent tacking. The square topsail proved useful on longer coastwise voyages, the topsail providing a steadier motion in offshore swells, reducing wear and tear on canvas from the slatting of the fore-and-aft sails. (1)

Schooners of the types portrayed by Lane varied in size from 70 to 100 feet on deck. Their weight was never determined, and the term “tonnage” was a figure derived from a formula which assigned an approximation of hull volume for purposes of imposing duties (port taxes) on cargoes and other official levies. (2)

Crews of smaller schooners numbered three or four men. Larger schooners might carry four to six if a lengthy voyage was planned. The relative simplicity of the rig made sail handling much easier than on a square-rigged vessel. Schooner captains often owned shares in their vessels, but most schooners were majority-owned by land-based firms or by individuals who had the time and business connections to manage the tasks of acquiring and distributing the goods to be carried. (3)

Many schooners were informally “classified” by the nature of their work or the cargoes they carried, the terminology coined by their owners, agents, and crews—even sometimes by casual bystanders. In Lane’s lifetime, the following terms were commonly used for the schooner types he portrayed:

Coasting schooners: This is the most general term, applied to any merchant schooner carrying cargo from one coastal port to another along the United States coast (see Bar Island and Mt. Desert Mountains from Somes Settlement, 1850 (inv. 401), right foreground). (4)

Packet schooners: Like packet sloops, these vessels carried passengers and various higher-value goods to and from specific ports on regular schedules. They were generally better-maintained and finished than schooners carrying bulk cargoes (see The Old Fort and Ten Pound Island, Gloucester, 1850s (inv. 30), center; and Gloucester Inner Harbor, 1850 (inv. 240), stern view). (5)

Lumber schooners: Built for the most common specialized trade of Lane’s time, they were fitted with bow ports for loading lumber in their holds (see View of Southwest Harbor, Maine: Entrance to Somes Sound, 1852 (inv. 260)) and carried large deck loads as well (Stage Rocks and the Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor, 1857 (inv. 8), right). Lumber schooners intended for long coastal trips were often rigged with square topsails on their fore masts (see Becalmed Off Halfway Rock, 1860 (inv. 344), left; Maverick House, 1835 (not published); and Lumber Schooner in a Gale, 1863 (inv. 552)). (6)

Schooners in other specialized trades. Some coasting schooners built for carrying varied cargoes would be used for, or converted to, special trades. This was true in the stone trade where stone schooners (like stone sloops) would be adapted for carrying stone from quarries to a coastal destination. A Lane depiction of a stone schooner is yet to be found. Marsh hay was a priority cargo for gundalows operating around salt marshes, and it is likely that some coasting schooners made a specialty of transporting this necessity for horses to urban ports which relied heavily on horses for transportation needs. Lane depicted at least two examples of hay schooners (see Gloucester Harbor, 1850s (inv. 391), left; and Coasting Schooner off Boon Island, c.1850 (inv. 564)), their decks neatly piled high with bales of hay, well secured with rope and tarpaulins.

– Erik Ronnberg


1. Howard I. Chapelle, The History of American Sailing Ships (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1935), 258. While three-masted schooners were in use in Lane’s time, none have appeared in his surviving work; and Charles S. Morgan, “New England Coasting Schooners”, The American Neptune 23, no. 1 (DATE): 5–9, from an article which deals mostly with later and larger schooner types.

2. John Lyman, “Register Tonnage and its Measurement”, The American Neptune V, nos. 3–4 (DATE). American tonnage laws in force in Lane’s lifetime are discussed in no. 3, pp. 226–27 and no. 4, p. 322.

3. Ship Registers of the District of Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1789–1875 (Salem, MA: The Essex Institute, 1944). Vessels whose shipping or fishing voyages included visits to foreign ports were required to register with the Federal Customs agent at their home port. While the vessel’s trade or work was unrecorded, their owners and master were listed, in addition to registry dimensions and place where built. Records kept by the National Archives can be consulted for information on specific voyages and ports visited.

4. Howard I. Chapelle, The National Watercraft Collection (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1960), 40, 42–43.

5. Ibid., 42–43, 73.

6. Ibid., 74–76.

photo (historical)
Coasting schooner "Polly"
Lumber schooner in Gloucester Harbor

Also filed under: Lumber Industry »

Topsail Schooner
In R. H. Dana, The Seaman's Friend, 13th ed. (Thomas Groom & Co. Publisher, 1873)

A topsail schooner has no tops at her foremast, and is fore-and-aft rigged at her mainmast. She differs from an hermaphrodite brig in that she is not properly square-rigged at her foremast, having no top, and carrying a fore-and-aft foresail instead of a square foresail and a spencer.

1892 Gloucester Harbor Diorama (detail of marine railway)
Lawrence Jensen, Erik. A.R. Ronnberg, Jr.
Detail views: marine railway and hauling cradle for vessel
Wood rails, metal rollers, chain; wood cradle. Scale: ½" = 1' (1:24)
Original diorama components made, 1892; replacements made, 1993.
Cape Ann Museum, from Gloucester Chamber of Commerce, 1925 (2014.071)

A schooner is shown hauled out on a cradle which travels over racks of rollers on a wood and metal track.

photo (historical)
Lobsterman and dory at Lane's Cove
Photographer unknown
c. 1900
Glass plate negative
Collection of Erik Ronnberg

Also filed under: Lobstering »

view ]
Maine Register for 1855 (Lumber)
George Adams, publisher
"The Maine Register for the Year 1855, embracing State and County Officers, and an abstract of the law and resolves; together with a complete business directory of the state, and a variety of useful information."

Details about Maine's lumber trade in 1855, see pp. 250–52

Also filed under: Castine »   //  Lumber Industry »

View of the Old Fort and Harbor 1837
Fitz Henry Lane, attr.
In John J. Babson, History of the Town Gloucester (Gloucester, MA: Procter Brothers, 1860)
Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, Mass.

See p. 474.

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Flags, Lighthouses, & Navigation Aids: York, Maine – Boon Island Light

The Boon Island Light is situated on the small granite Boon Island, a few miles off the southern Maine coastline near York. An unlit wooden beacon was erected on Boon Island in 1799, followed by a stone beacon in 1805, and the island's first 32-foot-tall lighthouse was built in 1811. During the 1700s, shipwrecks on Boon Island were a regular occurence. On December 11, 1710 the "Nottingham Galley" wrecked on the island during a storm. The surviving sailors lived on the desolate island for weeks, eventually turning to cannibalism. Over a century later, storms still battered Boon Island. The Boon Island Light was destroyed by a massive storm in 1831, but was quickly rebuilt. The current 133-foot-tall granite lighthouse was erected decades later, between 1852-1854 and, in 1855, a second-order Fresnel lens was installed to increase the visibility of the light. Lane painted the Boon Island Light at least once and, given the island's remote location, it's likely that he didn't visit the island often.

This information has been shared with the Lane project by Jeremy D'Entremont. More information can be found at his website, and The Lighthouse Handbook New England.

photo (historical)
Boon Island Light
From The Illustrated Coast Pilot with sailing directions. The Coast of New England from New York to Eastport, Maine including Bays and Harbors, published by N. L. Stebbins.
photo (historical)
Boon Island Light
From New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide.
Photography courtesy of :
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From the days of the earliest English settlements on Cape Ann through Fitz Henry Lane’s lifetime, subsistence farmers harvested hay during the summer and autumn months and stored it away to feed livestock during the winter. They also sold it to others in the community for cash or bartered it for other goods and services. Two types of hay were harvested: English hay, meaning hay that was cultivated, and salt marsh hay which was cut from tidal areas where it grew naturally. Many farmers dealt in both. Hay was transported either in wagons drawn by horses or oxen, or by gundalows, flat bottom work boats which could easily maneuver in shallow marsh areas. One example of a family who engaged in haying was the Ellerys who lived at Gloucester’s old Town Green. An account book which Benjamin Ellery (1744–1825) kept is preserved in the archives of the Cape Ann Museum. It reveals that Ellery dealt in both cultivated and natural hay as well as other commodities. He also owned a gundilow, oxen and wagons, all of which he used for his own purposes and made available to others on a barter basis. The practice of haying died out on Cape Ann as automobiles and trucks came into use during the first quarter of the twentieth century and livestock disappeared from the area.

– Martha Oaks (April, 2015)

Babson and Ellery Houses, Gloucester
Fitz Henry Lane
Oil on canvas
22 x 36 in.
Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass., Gift of Roger W. Babson, 1937 (779.02)

Detail showing a flat-bottomed gundalow loaded with marsh hay and being propelled by men with long sweeps.

Also filed under: Babson House »   //  Gundalow / Scow »


Provenance (Information known to date; research ongoing.)

Exhibition History

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Published References

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Related historical materials

Vessel Types
Flags, Lighthouses, & Navigation Aids
Maritime & Other Industries & Facilities
Citation: "Coasting Schooner off Boon Island, c. 1850 (inv. 564)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. (accessed May 24, 2024).
Record last updated September 29, 2021. Please note that the information on this and all pages is periodically reviewed and subject to change.
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