New England Shipping

After the Civil War, many changes came about in New England Shipping. One of the biggest changes was the growing importance of the steamship. In many cases, steamships were replacing sailing ships in industries which had never used anything but the sailing ships. Dreams of many young New Englanders to work on sailing ships as their ancestors had were put on the back burner because of the steamship. As the steamships grew more efficient and better suited to different tasks, this became more and more frequent. However, the sailing ships retained much of their usefulness for a long period of time.


Perhaps no other industry came to be associated with the steamship as much as the transportation of passengers along the New England coastline, and into New York. The steamships were ideal for this industry because they ran under their own power. Gone were the days of waiting for the right wind to come up so you could depart. It made for much more accurate scheduling and travel timeframes for the passengers. There were also many advances in the safety of steamships because of the risk involved with carrying human passengers. Technological advances like the double hall were first introduced on these ships to make them more seaworthy in case of an accident. There were also smaller steamers which made trips further upriver into towns like Bangor, or Augusta, which couldn’t necessarily be reached with the larger steamships.

Steamers also found use in the inshore fishing industry. Trips for this industry were much shorter, and therefore more suitable to the steamships, at least in the earlier days of this transition from sail to steam. They were also able to use their steam power for some of the mechanisms on the ship that were used for the inshore fishing. The steamers were not able to handle the often nasty weather found in the outer banks where the offshore fishing took place.

Sailing Ships

Sailing ships were able to continue in use for a long time, mainly in the coastal trade. One important factor in this was that foreign vessels had been banned, and the U.S. registered ships were able to fill in this vital need. One of their most important cargoes was coal, which was needed in large amounts due to the growing demand for electricity. Sailing ships would haul coal from the Chesapeake Bay area to New England. Because coal was not a high profit cargo, this incidentally led to the demand for larger schooners, sometimes with 4, 5, or 6 masts. Many of these were made in Maine and came to be known as “Down-Easters.” The more entrepreneurial of the sailing ship captains would also try to find a cargo to take on their return trip south. This was more often than not in the form of ice from the Kennebec River in Maine. Although the sailing ships were important to this industry for a long time, eventually steamers would take over, mainly because they could make 30-35 trips in a year, as opposed to sailing ships, which could only make about a dozen.

Sailing ships were also used for a long time in the offshore fishing industry. They were better suited for the rougher waters often found in the fishing banks off the coast of Maine and New Brunswick. They were also quicker for transporting ice-packed fish in time to meet the demands of the market. Many of these fishing boats were made all over New England. They had some interesting names like pinkies, sharpies, sloops, etc.

As you can see, sailing ships and steamships both had their advantages and disadvantages for certain types of trade and industry. Sailing ships were around for a long time, and held their own in many specific tasks. But perhaps it was inevitable that technology would prevail, and as steamships became more powerful, with more room, and more efficiency, they would take over many of the tasks that had previously been performed by sailing ships.