- Historic Sites
High Noon Of American Sail
August 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 5
On the fifth of January, 1818, a skeptical crowd peered through a blizzard to where the packet James Monroe lay at anchor in New York Harbor. It had been announced weeks before that the packet would leave on this day, inaugurating a new kind of transatlantic service. Shipowners would usually give definite sailing dates but would delay them any number of times until they had a full cargo. Here, however, was a new line claiming fortnightly service between New York and Liverpool on a rigid schedule, full hold or not. And sure enough, on the stroke of ten the ship was backed out of her berth into the storm, thereby becoming the first ocean liner. When her topsail unfurled, it revealed a large black ball, the symbol and later the popular name of the Black Ball Line. The line started with four small ships of about four hundred tons, but having weathered an early depression, it grew and prospered and maintained regular service for sixty years. The packets were tough enough to withstand the worst that time and the North Atlantic could do to them; long after leaving her original service the Black Bailer Pioneer , built in 1807, worked as a whaler until she finally fell apart in Panama Bay in 1885. The painting on these pages shows the packet Orpheus leaving the East River in the prosperous days of the 1830’s. The spirited scene was painted by John Stobart, an English artist who studied at the Royal Academy. Eight years ago he forsook his native land and arrived in America with a group of clipper-ship paintings that were instantly bought up by eager collectors. Stobart settled in Darien, Connecticut, where he continues to produce his vivid and meticulous visions of the era of the great sailing vessels. As much a historian as an artist, Stobart pores over old daguerreotypes, prints, and shipbuilders’ plans for the detail he needs to ensure the accuracy of his paintings. The care he has taken is evident in this portfolio, which we reproduce through the courtesy of New York’s Kennedy Galleries.