Above: NYC Public Charities & Correction's school-ship, Mercury, based at Hart Island circa 1869-76

St. Mary's, NYC Bd. of Ed.'s own school-ship circa 1874 - 1907.
Saluting NY Reform School Ship as SUNY Maritime College Ancestor?

Part 3: 1869 - 1871
The school-ship Newport taken over from NYC Bd. of Ed. by NYS circa 1914.

Reformatory Morphed into Industrial School w/Ship

The Hart Island reformatory soon "morphed" -- with the state Legislature's authorization and mandate for city funding -- into an industrial school with a training ship annex.

Among the legislative acts of the 92nd Session of the New York State Legislature (1869), the Albany lawmakers enacted

  • Chapter 238, adopted April 17, authorizing the Public Charities and Correction Commissioners to maintain an industrial school on Hart Island and
  • Chapter 876, adopted May 12, mandating city monies to assist, among other NYC projects and programs, setting up that "Industrial school on Hart's Island" and its "Nautical school ship." These two are among four separate PC&C Chapter 876 items appearing on the same Page 2127 interspersed among four unrelated non-PC&C Chapter 876 items.
The images immediately below show the relevant texts of Chapter 876. The italicized text immediately below is the relevant portion of Chapter 238:

The Commissioners of Public Charities and Correction of the city of New York are hereby authorized to maintain on Hart's island, now the property of the city and county of New York,


Above is an image of the opening paragraph of Chapter 876 of the Laws of the State of New York 1869. Enacted May 12, 1869, Chapter 876 mandated a long list of items for which NYC's county board of supervisors was to provide funding. In those days the City and County of New York were basically the same geographically but vastly complex in local governance layers, which confusion was only compounded still more by the state's frequent interventions and mandates.

Chapter 876's preamble and list of items to be funded by the county board began on Page 2119 and concluded on Page 2134. Two related items -- $20,000 for the Hart Island industrial school authorized by Chapter 238 and $40,000 for a nautical school ship under the Charities and Correction Commissioners' direction -- appeared on Page 2127, a couple of unrelated items separating them.

In the composite image below are the texts of the two related Hart Island items. They are placed closer together for space considerations and to avoid the confusion that the totally unrelated items might engender.

The text in both images can be found in Vol. 2, Laws of the State of New York 1869 "Printed by Francis Childs and John Swaine, Printers to the state." To access, click an image to access its page in that volume. Use your browser's "back" button to return here.


an industrial school; and in connection therewith are authorized to employ and use the labor of any person from any of the public institutions committed to their charge, and the said commissioners are hereby authorized to commit to and place in said industrial school any of the children who may be committed to their care, pursuant to any provisions of law heretofore or hereafter made.

Hart's island shall be deemed to be and shall be under the control of the said Commissioners of Public Charities and Correction, and may be used by said Commissioners for any and all purposes deemed by them to be expedient and proper, and all laws applicable to the powers and jurisdiction and control of the said Commissioners of Public Charities aud Correction which are applicable to the other premises, buildings, and institutions under their charge, shall be deemed to apply to said Hart's island and all buildings and erections which may for any purpose or purposes be placed and maintained by said commissioners upon said Hart's island.

As for the House of Refuge managers's request, the Legislature in 1869 granted them authorization to establish a nautical training ship adjunct but apparently didn't appropriate or mandate funds to help make that happened. At least, research so far has not found such a 1869 appropriation or funding mandate for that specific purpose, nor any indication such program was ever established on Randall's Island.


The above image of educator William Wood, a member of the citizens group that lauded the start of the Hart Island industrial school and nautical training ship, is derived from an illustration in 1878 Harper's New Monthly Magazine Page 677. There the author of an article on the Normal College of New York City referred to Wood -- then Board of Education president -- as founder of the college to train young women for teaching careers. It became Hunter College. Click image to access magazine article via Google Books. Use your browser's back button to return here.
The closest that the House of Refuge came to it was apparently a mock-up ship's deck and rigging on land. The Randall's Island facility's young sailor trainees used the dummy ship to, literally, "learn the ropes."

A bill introduced by State Senator William M. (Boss) Tweed at the 1869 session called for a nautical school being established under the NYC Board of Education. It was referred to the municipal affairs committee.

Citizens Group Lauds Hart Isle School Ship Start

Praising the Public Charities and Correction (PC&C) Commissioners for their setting up the Hart Island industrial school and its nautical training ship was a special commmittee delegated by the Citizens Association of New York to report on "The Condition of Our Public Charities."

Among the 16 members of the committee were:

  • William Wood, a banker who would later become a Docks Commissioner, Board of Education president, and a founder and president of what became Hunter College;


    The above image of Cooper Union founder Peter Cooper, member of citizens group that lauded the start of the Hart Island industrial school and nautical training ship, is derived from a photo on Page 120 in Stories of Great Inventors: Fulton, Whitney, Morse, Cooper, Edison" by via Google Books. Use your browser's back button to return here.

  • Peter Cooper, self-taught inventor and successful businessman, one of NYC's greatest philanthropists and founder of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.

    His inventions and investments included the first functioning steam engine in the U.S., first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable, and Jell-o.

    Cooper was uncle-in-law of Daniel F. Tiemann, an almshouse governor who became mayor. Tiemann, a Cooper Union founding trustee, had married the niece whom Peter raised virtually as another daughter after she was often at an early age;

  • George Cabot Ward, a banker, officer of the American Geographical and Statistical Society, and NYC civic leader who later became a governing senator of Puerto Rico and who before entering buiness traveled around the world in a sailing ship (his father having been a shipbuilder);


    A member of the citizens group that lauded the start of the Hart Island industrial school and nautical training ship, Octavius Brooks Frothingham (image above) was a radical Unitarian clergyman. He later became a widely-read author of biographies, including a rather controversial one about abolitionist Garrit Smith. Click image to access. Use browser's "back" button to return here.

  • Edward Cromwell, an Oliver Cromwell direct descendant who had been active in
    • (a) organizing defense of blacks from attacks by the draft rioters of 1863 and
    • (b) preventing Native American Indians' tribal lands being deeded away;

  • Rev. Octavius Brooks Frothingham, then pastor of the Third Unitarian Congregationalist Church and later a widely-read biographer whose book on Gerrit Smith was withdrawn by the publisher after the author refused the family's demand he drop sentences indicating the abolitionist knew John Brown's general strategy in the South even though he didn't know details of the Harper's Ferry raid; and

  • Dr. Stephen Smith, pioneering sanitarian, founder and first commissioner of the Board of Health, and later founder and first president of the American Public Health Association.

Issued just after PC&C had acquired the Mercury, the committee's report in the New York Times (NYT) of Aug. 4, 1869 led off with laudatory remarks concerning initation of the program:


Dr. Stephen Smith (image above) -- a member of the citizens group lauding the start of the Hart Island industrial school and nautical training ship -- was the city's heath commissioner, named by Gov. Reuben Eaton Fenton. Click image to access via Google Books the doctor's pioneering report on NYC public health conditions. Use browser's "back" button to return here.

The Commissioners are entitled to commendation for the creditable beginning they have made in the inauguration of the industrial school on Hart's Island, into which are gathered those boys known as "incorrigible."

Here they are thoroughly instructed in the essentials of a good common school education under competent teachers.

The design is to educate this class of boys specially in the science of navigation, and by the authority of the late act of the legislature establishing a nautical school, to give them also practical instruction in this direction.

The industrial school gives great promise of success, and your Committee trusts that it will develop into some positive system whereby the 20,000 or 30,000 children in our City growing up with only the education of the street, may be rescued from idleness and immorality and reared to honest pursuits.

Mercury Lads Among Guests at Tweeds' in Ct.

On Aug. 31, 1869, two months after acquisition of the Mercury, a NYT correspondent "G. F. W." had occasion to observe her from aboard the PC&C steamer Minnahanonck taking the agency's Randalls and Hart Island children on an excursion trip to the Greenwich, Ct., estate of State Senator Wm. M. Tweed.


The red "X" marks the approximate vicinity where "Boss" Tweed's Americus Club acquired about 25 shorefronted acres on the tip of the peninsula separating Indian Harbor and Smith Cove at Greenwich, Conn. Tweed's own 80-acre estate was further inland near what is now East Putnam Avenue. Often guests would arrive by boat at the Americus dock and be transported by horse-drawn vehicles to his estate. For more, click image to access "'Boss' Tweed sparked New York movement to Greenwich coast" on the Greenwich Time website. Use your browser's back button to return here.
In the next day story about the excursion, G. F. W. reported seeing the school ship "now in progress of completion for the use of the newly-organized naval school on Hart Island . . . .

"The necessary changes in her rig from a merchantile to naval vessel are evidently in rapid progress."

The reporter noted that during the steamer's brief pause at Hart Island's warf about 35 "naval pupils in neat and attractive uniforms" cheered its arrival and marched aboard for the excursion.

December 31, 1869, is the official date on the school ship captain's first account of the Hart Island nautical training program.

The statement was submitted for inclusion in the PC&C's 1869 annual report published in early 1870. Captain Thomas P. Stetson had been its skipper when the vessel was in private service as a Havre line packet -- one of the swiftest, it having once completed the NY-to-Harve run in 13 days.

NY's 1st School Ship's 1st Captain's 1st Report

Stetson wrote:

In an undertaking of this kind . . . difficulties were met and had to be overcome; not the least of which was the purchase of a ship suitable for all the requirements of so large a number as was intended to be placed on board. This obstacle was, however, surmounted and the want admirably supplied by the purchase of the ship Mercury, which was effected on the 1st of July, 1869.


Above is an image of Jacob Aaron Westervelt whose ship building company constructed in 1851 at its 17th Street East River yards the NY-Havre line packet Mercury that was acquired in 1869 by the PC&C Commissioners for use as the Hart Island nautical school ship.

It was one of some 240+ vessels his company built during his 50+ years in the business.

Westervelt, who had served as an assistant alderman in 1840, was elected mayor by a coalition of reform Democrats and Whigs (pre-Republicans).

His single term, 1853-4, was notable for its non-paritan character in appointments and other decision-making.

But it was not without controversies, one of which was which arosed when he insisted members of the police force wear uniforms.

He declined to seek re-election in 1854 as mayor but in 1857 he served in the State Assembly as a member representing Rockland County.

From 1870 until his death in 1879, Westervelt served as NYC Dock Commissioner pioneering and overseeing major improvements.

For more information, click image. Use browser's "back" button to return here.

The ship was placed in dry dock, her bottom examined, and on the 3d of July she was removed to Hart's Island, where such alterations in her internal arrangements were made as would meet the requirements of the case, and provide quarters for some three hundred boys, together with her complement of officers and seamen.

These changes, though entailing considerable more expense than was at first intended, were nevertheless found necessary. . . . .

On the first of September, the ship being reported ready for the reception of the boys, fifty were sent on board from Hart's Island and the ship duly "put in commission," and the boys at once entered upon their duties.

On the 10th of September, the ship was ordered to sea, and remained cruising for five days off the land, returning to her anchorage at Hart's Island, on the 15th of September.

Again on the 7th of October the ship went to sea, remaining outside three days, and on the 28th of October started on another cruise, which occupied four days.

During these short cruises the boys manifested much interest in all the various maneuvers, which they entered into with all the enthusiasm of youth.

Additions from time to time have been made to our crew, the whole number of admissions being 242. There have been thirty-nine boys discharged for various reasons and eighteen desertions have occurred, leaving a total of 185 boys now on board.

In addition to the boys and the ship's complement of officers, there are also twenty-two petty officers and seamen on board, all of whom are on salary.

The presence of these men is necessary in order to form the police for the ship and to provide a corps of practical instructors in seamanship, as well as to perform the more arduous duties that continually arise on ship board.

In addition to the boys transferred to the ship by the Commissioners, we have a number that have voluntarily entered the Institution, and our register also contains the names of a number of lads whose parents or guardians pay an annual stipend for their support and education.

It is believed that the ship could be made self- supporting by the general admission of this class of boys, though it is a question whether the object of the Commissioners would be attained by this method, as lads in indigent circumstances would necessarily be excluded.

On the approach of cold weather the heating apparatus was found to be insufficient to keep the berth deck, school room and cabin, at a proper temperature, and it was therefore found necessary to replace the boiler with a larger one, and to substitute radiators instead of the steam pipes, with which the decks were supplied.

All this was done under the superintendence of Wm. H. Knapp, Esq., Supervising Engineer, and the changes made are entirely satisfactory. The old boiler and its dependencies were sent to Blackwell's Island and there put in use, the value of the articles transferred being credited to the ship.


The Navy ship Albany that rammed the Mercury as the school ship lay at anchor off the Battery Nov. 3, 1869 was a sail and steam-driven screw propeller one-funnel sloop-of-war originally named the USS Contoocook built in 1864.

She was one of four of that design built. Another was the Trenton shown above.

On May 15, 1869, the USS Contoocook became the Albany.

For more about this class of vessel, visit a related page on GlobalSecurity.Org can be accessed by clicking the image derived from one on that page. Use your browser's "back" button to return here.

On the 3d of November, 1869, the ship then laying off the Battery, was run into by the U. S. steamer
Albany, and during the collision considerable damage was sustained, which has, however, since been repaired at the expense of the U. S. naval authorities. . . . the ship was towed to her moorings off Hart's Island on the 19th of December, where it is intended she should remain during the winter season, it not being deemed prudent to expose the boys—many of them of tender years—to the hardships and severities of the winter gales on our coast, more especially as the time could be profitably employed in school duties, together with the usual routine of gun drill and working masts, yards and sails.

It has been found that the system prevailing on our ships-of-war is the only one by which large bodies of men can be governed, organized and disciplined while afloat.


The above somewhat modified image of an article's opening paragraph in the Oct. 4, 1873 Appletons' Journal is useful because it describes some of the alterations made to the vessel to convert the commerical packet into a school ship.

The "saloon" under which the school-room and library were situated would have been, in maritime terminology, a main cabin for some designated common use of those aboard such as a mess for officers, not a bar for serving and consuming alcoholic drinks.

To see the full unmodified article, click image. Use your browser's "back" button to return here.

Recognizing this fact, the Commissioners have wisely adopted this system, which is rigidly enforced on the School Ship, and I may safely say with the very best results. [Pages 363 - 366 detailed, hour-by-hour, the daily regime] . . . .

Nothing has been left undone that would enhance the comfort of the boys or assist them in their studies. Every encouragement is held out to them, and liberty on shore and other privileges granted to the deserving, while advancement to the grade of petty officer awaits the ambitious pupil. Positions, though they entail an additional responsibility, bring with them certain privileges and distinctions which make them objects of desire to the aspiring lad.

The food furnished the boys is of a good quality and the supply is ample, and provided in accordance with the suggestions of a medical officer of acknowledged ability. The dress is similar to that worn by the seamen of the United States Navy, which is a neat, serviceable and economical uniform, and one in which the boys take much pride. . . .

In looking over what has been accomplished during the infancy of this Institution, I feel justified in entertaining great hopes for the future. . . .

I cannot refrain from especially mentioning Mr. Wm. H. Summer, my Executive Officer, to whose untiring zeal and energy I attribute much of the present success of the ship under my command."

3 Months After Ship Grounding, Skipper Resigns


Charles H. Mallory, his ships, his shipbuilding yards, and his family were major forces in Mystic, Ct. and New York during the 19th Century. For more information, click image. Use browser's "back" button to return here.
Evidentally the Commissioners likewise had high regard for Exec Officer Summers.

They offered him the captaincy after they accepted Stetson's resignation tendered three months after the ship under the Captain's command ran aground 10 miles south of Cape Henry, Va., April 16, 1870.

The Mercury wasn't freed and towed back to NYC until May 12 and at a cost of $9,500.

The amount didn't include the cost of renting its temporary replacement, the C. H. Mallory ship Haze: $50 per day for at least a month.

That was done so the boys' nautical education could continue uninterrupted.

The above noted developments related to the cruise that began April 7 were bad enough.

But the voyage also ocassioned the school ship's first fatality.

The dispassionate narrative of the ship's log enty for the date, incorporated in the PC&C 1870 minutes, tells the sad tale without sentiment:

April 14.—At sea cruising. This day commences with light airs from the northwest and clear fine weather, sea quite moderate. . . . at 10:30, while securing the battery, a boy (No. 141) Frederick Stahl, fell overboard;


The above image is extracted from the 1869 Manual of the corporation of the city of New York list of PC&C Commissioners' appointees to staff the Hart Island industrial school and training ship. Click to access. Use browser's "back" to return here.
hove the Ship to, lowered the life boat, in charge of an officer, in two minutes from the time the alarm was given, and pulled in the direction the boy was last seen, but did not succeed in saving him ; the life-buoy was thrown to him but he made no apparent effort to swim; boat returned to the Ship, and was hoisted up; put the Ship on the other tack and stood back, lowered the boat again and picked up the life buoy, and directed the boat to make another search for the boy, which was done, but proved unsuccessful; hoisted the cutter and filled away. From meridian to 4, fine clear weather, all sail set, sailing by the wind. . . .

Cruise-related entries in the minutes kept for the Commissioners' 1870 meetings and correspondence provide a basis -- albeit admittedly slender -- for surmising that the board may have signaled to Stetson that his resignation would not be resisted if offered.

One senses that, not so much the ship's running aground, but the month's delay in getting her back in NY for repairs, undermined the commissioners' confidence in him as regards his leadership skills on dry land. They may have been disappointed in his seeming not to push getting the ship returned sooner. The company involved in getting the ship returned had intimated it could have done so sooner except for Stetson's directions.

The captain's cautiousness understandably was ship-focused. But perhaps, in the process, he had not demonstrated sufficiently to the commissioners' satisfaction a full appreciation of the damage each day's delay was doing -- in terms of the public's perception -- to their pioneering school program during its debut year as NYS/NYC government's experiment in nautical training and reformatory practice. To use a modern phrase, maybe he didn't convey a grasp of "the bigger picture."

With the ship in dry dock for repair, the Commissioners on May 16th launched an investigation by its members -- including Brennan who had been aboard -- into "the cause of the wreck."


The above image of the text of the marine surveyor Samuel Harding's June 1, 1870 report is extracted from the 1870 Minutes of the Commissioners of Public Charities and Corrections. Click to access. Use browser's "back" to return here.
On June 6, Exec Officer Summers informed the Commissioners that Captain Stetson had gone on a 60-day leave of absence.

Ten days later, with the ship's repairs complete and its seaworthiness certified by marine surveyor Samuel Harding, the Mercury set sail on its first post-wreck cruise, again with Commissioner Brennan aboard.

Not Stetson but Summers was at the helm. His title was Acting Commander.

The 10-day cruise to Block Island and back went well.

Less than a month later, while still on leave, Stetson tendered his resignation which was quickly accepted.

The Commissioners turned to Summers who had really run the program hands-on from Day One. But he declined promotion to Captain.

Why Summers said "no thanks" was not explained in the minutes. Perhaps simply he was content with his role as the ever-reliable manager and occasional back-up skipper.

Or perhaps, having served with Stetson aboard the Mercury when it had been a Havre packet ship, the Exec Officer felt -- out of loyalty to his captain -- he could not take the job.

The latter explanation would be consistent with his name soon disappearing from reports on school ship activity.

Farragut Officer Named As Mercury Captain

Thus, the Commissioners had to look elsewhere for Stetson's successor but they did not have to look beyond New York.

Pierre Giraud, a native NYer educated just up the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, had distinguished himself in the Civil War as Union naval volunteer lieutenant.


The above image of the USS Ossipee is from Naval Historical Center's website as is the image below depicting the Union capture of the Confederate iron-clad Tennessee, ending the Battle of Mobile Bay Aug. 5, 1864. Pierre Giraud, who in 1870 became the Mercury captain, had been aboard the Ossipee when it rammed the Tennessee during the battle. He was deputized to accept the surrender sword. Click either to access its respective page.. Use browser's "back" to return here.


At the war's end, Giraud was awarded the then relatively rare U.S. rank of Lieutenant Commander on the U.S. steamer store ship Onward that voyaged to Japan.

During the war, he had served under Adm. David G. Farragut at the fierce Battle of Mobile Bay August 5, 1864.

Giraud was aboard the U.S.S. Ossipee when it rammed the ironclad C.S.S. Tennessee.

In that engagement the famous battle cry attributed to Farragut, "Damn the torpedoess; full speed ahead," was said to have emerged.

"Torpedo" was the term back then for a floating mine.

The triumph there was significant because Mobile Bay had been the Confederacy's last major port open on the Gulf of Mexico.

Adm. Farragut deputized Lt. Giraud to board the ship of the defeated Admiral Franklin Buchanan and receive from the latter his sword and the Confederate fleet's flag in surrender.

Six years later, in late September 1870, having taken command of the school ship only a few days earlier, Giraud was once again serving with Farraugut -- this time leading the Mercury sailor boys and band as one contingent in NYC's massive funeral for the Naval hero.

Bd. of Ed. Paid Reform School Ship Teachers


The above image is extracted from Page 283 of the 1869 Annual report of the Comptroller of NYC showing $40,000 "amount appropriated as per ordinance May 19, 1869" for a "Nautical School-Ship" and paid to "James Bowen, President for use of the Commissioners of Public Charities and Correction." Click to access. Use browser's "back" to return here.
On May 10, 1870, even as efforts went forward to bring the beached school ship back to NYC for repairs that would return it to service in the Hart Island nautical training program, the Commissioners asked the then recently reorganized NYC Board of Education to share the costs of operating that and two other PC&C schools.

According to the 1870 minutes, Joshua Phillips, then PC&C board secretary, wrote Bd. of Ed. president Richard L. Larremore:

Sir,—The Commissioners of Public Charities and Correction respectfully represent to the Honorable Board of Education, that they have established the following Schools for children committed to their care :

  • School Ship Mercury...................... 250 pupils.
  • Industrial School, Hart's Island.........100 "
  • Idiot School, Randall's Island...........100 "
and they respectfully request that an appropriation may be made from the School Fund for tbeir support, of such sum as may be deemed equitable by your Honorable Board.

The expenses of tuition for the year 1870, exclusive of books, stationery and fuel, will be as follows :

  • Idiot School—
    Salary of
    2 Assistants.... 1,624
    1 Assistant........ 512
    .................. —$3,448
  • Industrial School—
    Salary of Principal........$1,200
  • School Ship—
    Salary of Principal........$1,410
    1 Assistant..................... 1,216
[Total projected] ...................... $7,280

It is the desire of the Commissioners that the Schools mentioned shall be governed by the general rules of the Board of Education, and be visited periodically by the [Board of Education's] Superintendent of Public Instruction.


The above image of Board of Education president Richard Ludlow Larremore (1/8/1868 - 7/1/1870) is from The New York Public School: Being a History of Free Education in the City of New York by Archie Emerson Palmer, published by Macmillan company in 1905. An attorney, he was elected to the Court of Common Pleas and later headed it as chief justice. Click to access via Google Book Search. Use browser's "back" to return here.
On June 1, 1870, the Board of Education acceded to the PC&C Commissioners' request it help fund their schools on Randall's and Hart Islands. The New York Times' next day story reported that, by a vote of 8-to-1, the education board appropriated $7,280 to pay salaries at the three PC&C schools. Why education board member Bernard Smyth, who later became board president, voted "nay" the story didn't say.

The term "idiot," banned from current politically correct nomenclature for referencing those persons with severely arrested mental development, was an acceptable term in use professionally by doctors, social scientists, educators, government officials and reformers well into the 20th Century.

The PC&C Commissioners launched the Idiot School in October 1866 as part of the Idiot Asylum on Randall's Island. It was, for its time, a pioneering endeavor to teach recognition of colors, shapes and some words to persons previously considered unteachable. Their mastering those modest skills lessened somewhat their crushing isolation by opening for them a world of possible communication, however limited that might be.

In January 1871, the Commissioners filed their annual report for the preceding year, and, with reference to the nautical school ship, noted:

. . . There have been received on board 826 boys to the 1st of January, and discharged 565, of whom many have shipped as sailors in the United States Navy and on ships in the merchant service on long voyages.

The Mercury returned on the 20th inst., from a practice cruise of four months, with 258 boys. The commanding officer reports that nearly the whole number have acquired the skill to rank as ordinary seamen. A large number of boys are now at the Industrial School at Hart's Island, waiting the discharge of the present crew to be received on board.

There have been received at the Industrial School on Hart's Island, since the 1st of January, 972 boys between the ages of ten and seventeen years, and there are now there engaged in pursuing their studies or employed in light labor 124 boys.

Capt. Pierre Giraud's Report on Mercury's 1870

In that same report [Pages 298 through 302], Stetson's replacement as school ship captain, Pierre Giraud wrote a submission dated Jan. 1, 1871, while "at sea Lat. 37 degrees 21' N, long. 36 degrees 15' W."

Participation in the Farragut funeral went unmentioned in Giraud's dispatch at sea for the annual report:

From PC&C Minutes of 1869


The above images of some of the nautical school ship related entries in 1869 Minutes of the Commissioners of Public Charities and Corrections including the June 19th resolution to purchase the Mercury. Click any of the images to access the minutes via Google Book Search. Use browser's "back" to return here.
Having been appointed Captain by your Honorable Board, September 22,1870, I assumed command and entered upon my duties September 26, relieving the executive officer (acting captain) W. H. Summers, to whom great credit is due for the efficient manner in which he has organized the ship.

On inspecting the ship, I found rules and regulations for the government of the same similar to those adopted by the navy, strictly observed and enforced by the officers.

The good conduct, order, and discipline of the boys, and the cleanliness in which I found the ship, promises well for the future of the many boys who are under instruction in the various branches of seamanship, gunnery, military drill, and English studies.

During the past year 584 boys have been admitted on board, as will be seen by the annexed tables of discharges, transfers, etc. . . .

On the 7th of April the ship left her anchorage at Hart's Island, on a practice cruise, and on the 16th unfortunately went on shore twelve miles south of Cape Henry, Virginia, remaining in that position until May 4, when she was floated off, towed to Norfolk, and from there to New York. The boys, 226 in number, were removed from the ship, shortly after the accident, to Hart's Island.

Owing to the damages sustained from the above accident, it was found necessary to have the ship docked, recaulked, coppered, and thoroughly overhauled, and the repairs and alterations made under the supervision of Wm. H. Knapp, Esq., supervising engineer of the department, have been carried out in the most thorough and substantial manner, and met many requirements found wanting heretofore.

A new forecastle deck has been laid, the old cumbersome windlass replaced by a patent capstan, greatly needed, and the ship is now in excellent condition.

The ship Haze was chartered for the use of the boys during the time occupied in the necessary repairs; they were transferred back to the Mercury June 2.

Several short practice cruises have been made during the past year at sea and in Long Island Sound, which have been attended by the best results.

The advantage to the boys of cruising can hardly be estimated; their associations with shore influences of a pernicious character are severed, the monotony of confinement is relieved by new and strange sights, their duties become a necessity, and not as they feel while at anchor.

A daily parade, and working alongside of the few able and willing seamen on board, placed in the best positions on deck and aloft to teach the boys their duty, they naturally partake of their spirit . . . .

Owing to the depressed condition of our commerce at the present time, great difficulty has been experienced in securing any great number of boys positions; no opportunity, however, has been lost of placing them in situations, and a number have been placed on vessels of our navy, while many have found places on our merchant vessels.


The above image of the log account of the first cruise ("trial trip") of NY's first nautical school ship, Mercury, Sept. 10 - 14, 1869 on Long Island Sound is extracted from the 1869 Minutes of the Commissioners of Public Charities and Corrections. Click to access via Google Book Search. Use browser's "back" to return here.
The interest manifested by those engaged in commercial pursuits in the success of the institution, establishes the importance of the work, and with the revival of commerce there will be no difficulty in finding employment for all. . . .

Singing is quite a feature of this department.

A number of the boys possess fine voices, and in the evening, when the duties of the day are over, many of the boys join in a happy chorus around the organ in the school-room.

The religious training of the boys, both Protestant and Catholic, has been carefully looked after, every facility being tendered the pastors of both denominations . . . .

The ship has been visited during the past year by many distinguished persons, including Governor John T. Hoffman, Governor English of Connecticut, accompanied by the members of the Connecticut Legislature, the Grand Jury of New York, Senator Tweed, and many naval officers, all of whom seemed deeply interested and well pleased with the working and progress of the institution.


The visit by State Senator William M. Tweed (above) on the Mercury, briefly noted in Captain Giraud's report, is suggestive, but not conclusive proof of his support for the PC&C Commissioners' nautical school ship. He had introduced a bill for a Bd. of Ed. nautical school that never get out of committee. Interestingly, he and two PC&C Commissioners (Bell and Nicholson) and the brother of a third Commissioner (Brennan) were Sachems (top leaders) of Tammany Hall. Tweed, who was especially influential in Albany on NYC matters, was the most influential member of the supervisors board in 1869. Thus, Tweed turns out to have been at both ends of the funding mandate for the PC&C nautical school ship. Again, suggestive, not conclusive.
In order to avoid the severity of the winter, it was decided by your Honorable Board to send the ship to a milder climate, thus giving the boys a better opportunity to improve in seamanship and navigation.

Having been equipped and provisioned for a four mouths' cruise, we left our anchorage at Hart's Island, and in obedience to orders proceeded to sea, December 20, through Long Island Sound, bound to the Canary Islands, having on board a full complement of officers, twelve men, and two hundred and fifty-nine boys.

For eight days after leaving port experienced very severe weather, but sustained no damage whatever.

Many of the boys suffered from sea-sickness the first days out.

The weather is now fine, the boys performing their duty in a satisfactory manner, and are happy and contented.

The sanitary condition of the ship has been good throughout the year, and the following extract from the report of the surgeon will show the condition of the ship and all on board at the present time.

"With the exception of the usual straggling cases of malarial fever, bronchitis, etc., the condition of the boys is remarkably healthy.

This I attribute to the excellent management and scrupulous cleanliness that prevail throughout the ship.

The boys are required to wash every morning on the spar-deck, to wash their clothing regularly once a week, and are strictly enjoined to observe cleanliness in every respect.


The visit by John Thompson Hoffman (above) aboard the Mercury, briefly noted in Captain Giraud's 1870 report, would appear to have been actual interest by the then governor/former mayor in NYS and NYC's first nautical school ship. As governor(1/1/1869 -- 12/31/72), he had signed into law the 1869 Chapters 238 and 876 related to the Hart Island industrial school and, among other things, its seamanship training vessel. Hoffman had been elected with Tweed, Bell, Nicholson and Matthew T. Brennan as Tammany Hall Sachems (top leaders) in 1866.
Their food is wholesome, nutritious, and well cooked; their clothing is good and adequate; the bedding is sufficient and good, being washed as often as is necessary; the berth deck is well ventilated through the hatches, and by opening the ports in pleasant weather.

In fact everything is done to promote health, and nothing allowed that is calculated to generate disease. . . .

Before closing my report I would respectfully call the attention of your Honorable Board to the conditions of admission which govern in this institution; they are so defective in many respects I feel it my duty to do so, and that it is only necessary to point them out to be remedied.

The work before us is eminently one of education and reform, and this end can only be accomplished by long and persevering efforts on the part of those charged with the important work.

The desire to elevate the boys and secure them self-supporting employment when fitted for it is not wanting on the part of those entrusted with this charge, but they are compelled to see their pupils day after day discharged from the institution ere they have had time to learn the "parts of the ship," much less make any progress in discipline or seamanship.

The majority of the boys come to us for no stated period, and consequently only concentrate their thoughts from day to day on the probable time of their discharge. Under this constant chafing, their thoughts are far from duty or study, and the ship becomes a prison to them.

I am convinced, from close observation, that if the boys sent here were made to feel that their stay was to be at least one year, or until they had made certain progress in seamanship and navigation (a standard to be established) which could be determined by examination, they would not waste their time in useless applications for discharge, but knowing their privileges and advancement depended so much on the progress they made in their duties and studies, apply themselves to the acquirement of the necessary qualifications, and the means of gaining a livelihood by their own exertions. . . .

NY's 1st Nautical School Ship's 'Finest Hour'

On September 12, 1871, the PC&C Commissioners submitted a special report -- not to the State Legislature, as was its practice with annual reports -- but to the NYC Mayor, who at that time was A. Oakey Hall. The subject: the winter of 1870-71 cruise of the Mercury.

The cover letter to the report explained the special significance of the cruise beyond the usual training and reformatory purposes attending its practice cruises:


Above is an image of the cover of a report by the PC&C Commissioners and by Henry Draper, M.D., Professor of Analytical Chemistry and Physiology in the University of New York, on the chemical and physical facts collected from the deep sea researches made during the voyage of the nautical school ship Mercury in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean sea, 1870-71. Click to access report via Google Books Search. Use browser's "back" button to return here.
The exploration of the ocean has become an object of deep interest to governments as well as to men of science.

The United States Coast Survey, under the wise direction of Professor [Alexander Dallas] Bache, and now of Professor [Benjamin] Pierce, has for many years been diligently engaged in adding to the limited information possessed of deep-sea soundings, temperatures, and currents, and more recently the British Government, under the supervision of Dr. [William Benjamin] Carpenter, has solved several problems of scientific importance, added largely to the stock of general knowledge, and made discoveries which will be of practical benefit to commerce and navigation.

With the hope that the cruise of the Mercury might be made to contribute something of value to science, Captain Giraud was directed to obtain a series of soundings on the line of or near the Equator, from the coast of Africa to the mouth of the Amazon, to observe the set of the surface currents, and the temperature of the water at various depths.

The PC&C Commissioners' cover letter quoted in full board president Isaac Bell's letter of instructions to Captain Giraud concerning the cruise. The last sentence in those instructions is worth noting because it sums up succinctly the combination of aims behind the particular cruise:

While the chief object of the cruise of the Mercury will be to perfect the boys under your command in seamanship, the Commissioners indulge the hope that, by the careful observation of yourself and officers, the interests of commerce may be promoted, and the cause of science advanced.


Mercury research cruise deep sea thermometer & sampler.
The school ship sailed from Hart's Island on the Dec. 20, 1870, and arrived at Sierra Leone on Feb. 14th after stop-overs at Madeira and the Canary Islands. She left there Feb. 21. The next day Captain Giraud commenced the deep-sea soundings which continued in more or less a straight line 2,800 miles or so to Barbadoes.


Professor Henry W. Draper was a well-regarded medical doctor at PC&C's Bellevue Hospital who also was recognized for his wide-ranging scientific research interests that included the stars and the seas.
The soundings ranged from 500 fathoms to 3,100 fathoms, or 3.5 miles. Various specimens were brought up from the ocean bottom. Water temperature readings were seen as confirming a theory that a cold current from the Poles underlies the surface-waters of the tropical seas.

The tables and charts of the daily measurements taken under Giraud's supervision carrying out the United States Coast Survey instructions were included in the report. Those readings, plus the sea water and ocean bed specimens, were turned over to New York University Professor Henry Draper for examination. The latter's conclusions and commentary also became part of the special report. Professor Draper concluded the Mercury cruise helped confirm that there exists over the bottom of the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea a stratum of cold water, and that the lower waters of the Atlantic generally move towards the Equator, and the surface-waters towards the Poles.

Hart School Ship Gen. Bowen's Idea?

A July 17, 1871 report, filed by NYT correspondent C. L. B. aboard the Mercury during a cruise to Cape Cod waters, described the school ship as the place where "the New York 'bummer' and newsboy [is] transformed into a sailor . . . ."

C. L. B., whose NYT articles (1850s-1870s) revealed a keen and knowledgeable interest in social reform issues, opined that:

As a reformatory, I consider a group of families engaged in field-work, the Meltrai Colony or the Hamburg Rauhe Hans better than the school-ship; but as compared with a congregate asylum, like most of our reformatories, this seems to me to have its advantages

. . . . . just such an experiment as this - 'the school-ship' . . . certainly reflects great credit on the Commissioners of Charities, and especially on Gen. Bowen, whose idea it is, both in its plan and execution.


The above sketch of the Institute of Rescue at Horn near Hamburg aka Rauhe Hans or Rough House is from an article in the 1857 American Journal of Education.

Rough House was founded by Dr. John Henry Wichern who, though trained in theology, elected not to seek ordination but instead continued Christian social service work he had begun as a student -- visiting poor families and operating a free Sunday school. From this he evolved an plan for a substitute family setting in which to reform and educate previously unruly children; not a massive impersonal institution, but "houses" of a dozen or so children under the supervision of one or more adults.

While NYT contributor C.L.B. preferred such a reformatory approach, he favored the school ship experiment "as compared with a congregate asylum, like most of our reformatories." Click image to access via Google Books Search. Use "back" button to return here.

This singling out Bowen for credit in initiating the Hart Island reformatory ship program raises the interesting question about the source of that information regardless of whether it was accurate. The article by C. L. B. doesn't mention Bowen as being aboard. Nor was anyone else listed on board who would have been in position in 1868-69 to know who initiated what among the Commissioners.

The very next sentence in the C. L. B. piece, after crediting Bowen as the school ship program initator, concerns Captain Giraud and his distinguished Civil War service, particularly at Mobile Bay. One wonders whether Gen. Bowen as Army Provost of the entire Gulf region became acquainted with Lt. Giraud, one of the naval heroes of that Gulf region camapaign, long before they were drawn together by "Mercury" matters.

Of course, C. L. B. may merely have been reflecting a general consensus about who initiated the move among the PC&C Commissioners. Four months earlier a NYT editorialist also credited Bowen as the prime mover. In a March 14th editorial entitled "A Marine Reformatory," the newspaper declared:

To meet the increasing pressure of destitute children thrust upon their hands, the board founded industrial schools on Hart's Island; but these not proving sufficient, the former President and most active member of the board (now put in a subordinate position by Tammany's influence), Gen. Bowen, suggested a reformatory branch, an experiment which has since proved remarkedably successful . . . [with] adventurous boys . . . better fitted for the active and perilous life on the sea than for any occupation on the shore. . . .

To those doubters who had contended that 250 boys off the streets couldn't be organized into a crew for anything but short sailings on Long Island Sound, the editorial said that view was disproved by the Sierra Leone voyage and report then recently published about the scientific work done during the trip.

Arguably Mercury's "finest hour," its Sierra Leone voyage proved to be not only a scientific success, but also a publicity coup. Perhaps the P.R. aspect figured from the beginning as a factor in the PC&C undertaking the dramatic deep sea project, the Commissioners being desirous of showing their ship in a more favorable light after its disastrous debut year.

Tweed's Man Frear Tips PC&C Board Balance

On Nov.10, 1871, Isaac Bell resigned from the Board of Education, saying his duties as a PC&C Commissioner were absorbing so much of his time that he couldn't give the education board post all the attention it deserved.


Often depicted next to "Boss" Tweed in Thomas Nast's anti-Tammany cartoons, Peter B. Sweeney (above) was said to have had Alexander Frear as a political protege. Image from Thirty years of New York politics up-to-date by Matthew Patrick Breen (1899). Click to access, etc.


After the Tweed-Frear city charter enabled him to do so, Mayor A. Oakey Hall appointed Tammany pol Alexander Frear to the PC&C board, ending the even balance of Republican and Democrat commissioners. Image from Thirty years of New York politics up-to-date by Matthew Patrick Breen (1899). Click to access, etc.
Seven days later the NYT ran as "letter-to-the-editor" an anti-Tammany Hall diatribe from a reader signing himself in print only as "Subscriber" and calling on Bell also to resign as a Commissioner of Emmigration and as a Commissioner of Public Charities and Correction. "Subscriber" also urged retirement of James B. Nicholson and Alexander Frear as PC&C Commissioners.

The anti-Tammany letter writer evidentially saw no distinction between, on one hand, Tammany leaders like Bell and Nicholson, and, on the other hand, the likes of Frear, the recognized agent of Boss Tweed.

The Poughkeepsie-born Frear was a career politician, having been elected councilman, alderman, and then a member of the state Assembly where he functioned as floor spokesman for Tweed. In that role, he shepherded to adoption in May 1870 a new NYC charter that, among other changes, expanded the number of PC&C Commissioners from four (2 Democrats, 2 Republicans) to five.

Frear himself became the fifth PC&C Commissioner, thus ending the even political balance that had prevailed previously, at least on paper. He also became a member of the Board of Emmigration.

8 Parts of Saluting NY Reform School Ship as SUNY Maritime College Ancestor?
Part 8 can be read as either an Introduction or a Summation.
Click underlined phrases below to access.
Part 8: Argument for Saluting NY Reform School Ship as SUNY Maritime College Ancestor
Part 1:
1837 -
Part 2:
1867 -
Part 3:
1869 -
Part 4:
1872 -
Part 5a:
1874 -
Part 5b:
Part 6:
Part 7:
1913 &
Table of Contents: Lists each part's subsection titles, each entry linked to its respective subsection.

Off-site links:
School Ships of the Maritime Academies on Bnet.
St. Mary's pre-school ship history on Naval Historical Center's website.
Newport's pre-school ship history on Naval Historical Center's website.
History of Fort Schuyler on website of Maritime Industry Museum at Fort Schuyler.
Training Ships list, dates, images, details on website of Maritime Industry Museum.

To: NYCHS home page.
To NYC DOC history menu page.