Maritime Log #44 Record-breaking Dreadnought was Built in Newburyport

By Dyke Hendrickson, Outreach Historian for the Custom House Maritime Museum

One of the most interesting historic monuments in Newburyport is found along Merrimac Street, near the base of Ashland Street.

There sits a sturdy rock with an iron plaque affixed to it that lauds the life of the Dreadnought, a clipper ship built in Newburyport in the 1850s by William Currier and James Townsend.

This photo depicts the Dreadnought, and the emblem indicates it was part of the Red Cross Line.

It was one of the most famous ships built here and held the world record for shortest crossing of the Atlantic, nine days and 17 hours in 1859.

Perhaps because its captains sought great speed, it was wrecked off the coast of South America in 1869. Much of the crew reached lifeboats and were saved by a passing Norwegian vessel. The ship was a loss.

Historians say the Dreadnought made 31 roundtrips between New York and Liverpool during the years 1853 to 1864. The average time for the 20 eastward passages was 19 days. For the westward passage, the average was 26 days.

Donald McKay was the designer of the Dreadnought. He was an industry leader, perhaps the Bill Gates of his day. He moved to East Boston for better economic opportunities.

This ship was constructed under the supervision of Captain Samuel Samuels, who had command of it for about 10 years.

It was launched in the era of packet ships, vessels that carried cargo and passengers on a strict schedule. It was used in the North Atlantic trade run between New York and Liverpool.

Prior to that, a vessel would wait at the dock until it was full before sailing.

The story goes that Capt. Samuels would put on so much sail that his was the fastest vessel on the Atlantic.

If you would like me to speak to your organization, I can be reached at dhendrickson@thechmm.org.