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 4: 1872 - 1873
The school-ship Newport taken over from NYC Bd. of Ed. by NYS circa 1914.

Contemporaneous Description of Ship School

A contemporaneous source of detailed information about PC&C's nautical training program was Rev. J. F. Richmond's New York and Its Institutions: 1607 -- 1872, the latter being the year of its publication and the fourth year of the school-ship's operation. Borrowing liberally from various PC&C's annual reports, the Rev. Richmond wrote on pages 572 - 577:

For years past a class of vicious boys have been thrown on the hands of the Commissioners of Charities and Corrections, for whom it has been difficult to suitably provide. Hence, after the purchase of Hart Island, which occurred in May, 1868, they were placed there in the capacity of an Industrial School.

On this Island the Potter's Field has been located . . . . The southern portion, during the spring and early summer of 1870, was also set apart for the treatment of persons suffering with relapsing fever.


Above is an image is of the title page of the Rev. John Francis Richmond's New York and Its Institutions: 1607 -- 1872. The author's five years engaged in "city missionary" work brought him into contact with the institutions about which he wrote. Click to access. Use browser's "back" to return here.
The Island contained at the time of its purchase more than sixty buildings of wood, constructed by the United States Government for the use of the soldiers . . . . The buildings formerly occupied by the officers are now the residences of the warden, matron, teachers, surgeon, clerks, etc. Others have been changed to school-rooms, dormitories, play-rooms, dining-rooms, and two houses for baking and cooking.

A large ice-house has been erected, capable of containing a hundred tons of that invaluable antidote to midsummer heats.

The school began late in the year 1868, and on the 31st of December, 1869, the warden reported the reception of 504 boys. . . . seventy-five per cent of them could neither read nor write; fifteen per cent, able to read only; leaving but ten per cent, in tolerable possession of the rudiments of an education.

They are kept in school five hours per day, devoting the remainder to play or light labor.

A vigorous system of discipline has been introduced, but no very serious corporal punishment is inflicted. During the last year, 972 boys were received into the school. . . .


Above is an image of the title page of the 1835 posthumously-published Memoir of the Rev. John Stanford, D.D., completed and edited by Charles George Sommer. It contained on Page 277
  • the conclusion of Rev. Stanford's 1812 communication to the mayor and other city fathers in which he proposed establishment of a House of Refuge-type reformatory and
  • a separate reference to other messages in which " Mr. Stanford again invited their attention to this interesting subject, and added several important suggestions on the desirableness of establishing, in the same institution, a Marine School, for the education of such boys as might prefer a seafaring life. In the same report he directed the attention of the Common Council to the establishment then occupied as the United Slates Arsenal, in the 12th ward, which he had examined with a particular view to its adaptation as a House of Refuge, and which was accordingly purchased, and is now occupied for that purpose .. . . ."
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Many boys in each generation are wild and adventurous in their natures, fond of excitements and dangers, and who will not sober down to the quietudes of ordinary industry. . . .

As early as 1812, Rev. Dr. [John] Stanford, chaplain of the penal institutions of New York, recommended the separation of the youthful criminals from those more advanced, and urged the importance of training this adventurous class in a nautical ship for service on the sea.

But reforms "hasten slowly," and though a citizen of Manhattan [Rev. Stanford] was the first to originate and recommend the plan of a training ship, the authorities of New York lingered until the experiment had been successfully tried in England and in Massachusetts.

Under authority conferred by the Legislature, the Commissioners, in July, 1869, purchased the sail-ship Mercury, formerly belonging to the Havre line of packets, a fine vessel of 1,200 tons burden, which they have fitted for this service. The vessel is calculated to accommodate 250 or 300 boys, besides the usual complement of officers and drilled sailors.

The boys . . . . are all clothed in bright sailor's uniform, and governed on the apprenticeship system of the United States Navy. From the Industrial School, they are transferred to the school-ship, where a year or two of good drilling is expected, to fit the more advanced for useful service in the Merchant Marine, or in the United States Navy.

The vessel has already made several trips to sea, remaining outside the bar on one cruise four months. . . . .


The above image is from the "First House of Refuge" (ex-arsenal in vicinity of Madison Square) illustration in Bradford Kinney Pierce's A half century with juvenile delinquents, published by Appleton's & Co. in 1869, the same year that the NYS Legislature mandated city funding for the Hart Island reform school ship. The book on Page 71 makes a comment that may be a reference to that:

[Rev. Stanford] suggested also, at this time, in connection with the House of Reform upon the land, what might be called a naval department.

He was a half century in advance of his times; but when a reform school-ship rides the waves of New-York harbor, the wisdom, piety, and patriotism of old Doctor John Stanford will be fully justified. . . .

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Every boy when received on board is cleansed, and a complete outfit given him of clothing, suitable for the weather and season of the year; he is given a number and a station on the watch, quarter, and fire-bells; he is detailed to a certain mess, and placed in a certain boat, while he is, when admitted to the school-room, placed in such classes as his abilities will admit of.

In all the maneuvers and exercises he must be at his station; his number at the gun must be filled, his station aloft must be supplied, and his absence from any of these duties is at once detected; no idle hands are permitted, no one is without a duty; from the time that the lad receives his number, which is immediately on his admission into the ship, he is entirely under control and subject to orders.

The ship's company is divided into two watches, called Port and Starboard, and these are sub-divided into first and second parts, forming quarter watches, which facilitates at times the duty of the ship. There are other sub-divisions . . . .


The above image is of the cover of the 1873 volume of from the Methodist Quarterly. In the July issue, Rev. J. F. Richmond of Sing Sing mentions the Mercury but as one piece in a much larger mosaic providing an overview of several institutions in this country and in other countries addressing issues of juvenile delinquency and what today are called at-risk children. His 20-page article was entitled "The Dangerous Classes and Their Treatment."

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Precautions are taken against fire, by having stations for fire-quarters and duties assigned every officer, seaman, and boy on board, with frequent drilling at quelling this dangerous element.

Divine service is held on Sunday in the school-room at 10 a.m., and again in the evening at 6.30 p.m., the . . . . religious tenets of all respected, and religious instruction imparted by both Protestant and Catholic clergymen, who are granted access to the ship for this purpose at all times. . . .

Boys from a few wealthy families have been admitted whose parents pay $10 per month for their subsistence and instruction. It is probable that an independent ship could be made to pay as well as an academy.

The boys take great pleasure in going aloft to spread or furl the sails. We saw from a distance a hundred or less of them engaged in this exercise. The spars, tackling, and flapping sails, united to the rapid movement of the boys, presented the appearance of a handful of black ants caught and struggling for dear life amid the meshes of a great cob-web.

Much interest is being manifested in all parts of the country in the great undertaking, as is frequently shown by the numerous letters received from this and adjacent States, together with the visits received from many distinguished citizens, all of whom are unanimous in their approbation of this philanthropic enterprise. . . . . One has well said:

"The Commissioners deserve the thanks of the community for . . . opening to [these neglected, vagrant and degraded boys] a path of honorable usefulness . . . to the honor of God and the benefit of their fellow men. . . . "

Positive Commentary on Mercury in 1872


The above was extracted from an illustration "School Between Deck. School Ship Mercury" in Chapter IX of the Rev. J. F. Richmond's New York and Its Institutions: 1607 -- 1872. Click to access. Use browser's "back" to return here.
The upbeat tone of Rev. J. F. Richmond's New York and Its Institutions: 1607 -- 1872. chapter about the Hart Island school and ship in 1872 was consistent with other Mercury-related positive commentary in print that year.

On May 15, the NY Harbor Pilot Commissioners and members of the Shipmasters and Pilots Association visited the school ship on invitation of the PC&C Commissioners.

The next day NYT story reported "both they [the 250 young sailors] and their Captain and instructors were highly praised by the veteran sailors and ship-masters present."

The newspaper's correspondent "M" at Las Palmas on Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands reported the Dec. 12, 1872 arrival there of the school ship and remarked "the boys . . . would scarcely be recognized as the gamins [street urchins] who left New York."

But There Were Also Portents of Change

Nevertheless, the year saw portents of changes coming.

That May 15 visit of the veteran pilots and shipmasters came only three days after the Mercury's arrival in NY port. The NYT's next day report listed a new executive officer. Gone the very excellent and always reliable Wm. H. Summers, and in his place was F. F. Gregory, who would in time succeed Capt. Giraud.

At right is a sketch appearing alongside a Consolidated Encyclopedic Library article's references to the literary activity of Judge George C. Barrett. A NYT Aug. 13, 1899 feature article about him noted his writing avocation too, but also detailed his anti-Tweed campaigning, including as president of Young Men's Municipal Reform Association.

Barrett had worked his way through school as a newspaper and magazine writer. After becoming a lawyer and judge, he wrote plays.

Click to access "Men With More Than One Calling." Use browser's "back" to return here.


On August 1, State Supreme Court Justice George C. Barrett discharged from the Mercury, then at anchor off Hart Island, the lad Henry Greyhead because his commitment papers on their face showed that "after conviction the prisoner was committed to the school-ship for examination."

But in following year the portents really began to gather about the school ship like dark clouds signaling stormy weather ahead.

The April 5, 1873 NYT headline proclaimed:

Return of the School Ship
-- Incidents of the Cruise
-- Burial at Sea.

Among the incidents recounted were the death Feb 23 of a boy who fell from a rigging to the deck below, and the presumed death April 1 of a whale who collided with the ship.

The boy was Michael Latch, who lost his footing on the main top sailyard. He was among those taking in the sails, a move made necessary by the violence with which a breeze suddenly turned into a strong wind. The ship surgeon was in immediate attendance and the boy was taken below. But the force with which the youth struck the deck appeared to have killed him instantly.

Next day, at 10 a.m. and latitude 8 degrees 45' north and longitude 47 degrees 25' west, a formal burial-at-sea service took place. It was complete with an American flag draping of the body bourne by 12 seamen, the lowering of the ship's colors to half mast, the tolling of the ship's bell, a reading of the Catholic funeral rites, the firing of the ship's gun, and consignment of the remains "to the deep."

Ship Survives Whale of a Wack, Finback Doesn't


At left is a photo image of a finback whale, member of a suborder of baleen whales. The fin whale, as it is also called, is the second largest whale and the second largest living animal after the Blue Whale, growing to nearly 88 feet long. It is an endangered species.
The finback whale which collided with the foremost part of the Mercury's prow in Hatteras region waters was estimated to measure about 50 foot in length.

The impact inflicted extensive damage to the exterior wood and cooper moldings of the vessel and what was believed to have been a mortal wound to the whale.

The belief that the collision had been lethal for the whale was based on the amount of blood in the water and its writhings before it sank from view.

Chamber Gets Its Way on School Ship

Members of the Chamber of Commerce, which on Jan. 27, 1873 had petitioned the NYS Legislature to establish a nautical school in New York, adopted at their May 1st meeting a resolution hailing


A reform Democrat, retired General John Adams Dix (above) had been chosen by Republicans as their candidate for governor in 1872, seeking to add to GOP regulars' votes those of Democrats disgusted with the Tweed Ring corruption scandal. The strategy worked. Dix won with 445,801 votes, about 53,751 more than the Democrat/Tammany nominee. For more on the Tweed Ring, double click the image for Chamber of Commerce-subscribed book New York in Bondage by John Drake Townsend. Use the browser's "back" button to return.
. . . [the] act [that] has just been passed by the Legislature of this state to authorize the Board of Education for the City and County of New York to establish a nautical school in this City . . . .

which law, Section 4, authorizes 'the Chamber of Commerce to provide for and appoint a committee of its members serves as the Council of the Nautical School, whose duty it shall be, as far as it may be, to advise and cooperate with the Board of Education in the establishment and management of such school, and

from time to time, visit and examine the same, and communicate in respect thereof with the Board of Education and to make reports to the Chamber of Commerce which may transit to the Superintendent of Public Instruction such reports . . . .'

The Chamber pledged it "will cheerfully lend its aid in promoting the best interests of said Nautical School" and promptly named John D. Jones, John K. Myers and Henry A. Barling serve as the Council.

Ex-Nativist Husted Hailed on School Ship Bill

The Commerce organization also formally thanked Westchester Republican Assemblyman James W. Husted "and the other legislators whose zealous and patriotic efforts have greatly contributed to the appreciation and passage of the act."


James W. Husted, above, six times Assembly Speaker when Republicans had majority control of that house of the state Legislature, began his political career running on the Know Nothing party ticket.

Started as a secret society whose members replied "I know nothing" when asked about the Order, it styled itself the American Party, preached nativism and adopted positions and rhetoric viewed as anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic and anti-Irish.

Although the party succeeded in electing governors, members of Congress and local officials in the mid-1850s, it lost ground as the slavery issue drove some members to join the newly-emerging Republican Party. For more Husted bio, click image. Use browser's "back" button to return.


A memorial (image above) dedicated to James W. Husted is located in Depew Park, Peekshill. The bronze bust sits on top of a pillar of granite inscribed with the dates of his birth and death, years of military, political and community service.
The bill received final passage in Albany April 22.

Husted began his political career as a candidate of the anti-immigrant, anti-Irish and anti-Catholic Know Nothings aka American Party but later switched to the emerging anti-slavery Republican Party.

He had been Peekskill's Superintendent of Schools and later Westchester's Schools Commissioner. He was appointed Harbormaster of New York in 1862 and later Deputy Collector of the Port.

An attorney, he was first elected to the Assembly in 1869 and became a member of its commerce and navigation committee.

In 1873, he became chairman of the Assembly committee on education.

The following year his Republican colleagues would elect him Speaker. Husted was Speaker six times.

The Husted-promoted bill, empowering the NYC Board of Education to establish a nautical school, in close cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce, received final passage in Albany on April 22 and was signed into law April 24 by Republican Gov. John Adams Dix.

On May 1, the same day that Chamber met and discussed implementing the new law, the Board of Education also met and discussed the subject.

It too appointed a committee to consider how best to proceed in responding to the law's various provision, including the one that the board request the federal government make available a vessel for use as training ship.

The NYT May 2 story listed the education board members constituting the nautical school committee as Commissioners David Wetmore, J. Crosby Brown, Eugene Kelly, A. J. Mathewson, and Jacob Vermilye.

Not All Aboard for School Board Ship School

While members of the Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Education appeared ready to go forward with their more-or-less joint nautical school program set forth in the new statute, some guardians and dispensers of tax monies were not quite so ready and willing to fund it.

With the presiding gavel wielded by the anti-Tweed Democrat William Frederick Havemeyer, who been elected mayor on the Republican ticket, the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 18 took up the projected tax "amounts to be raised for the Government of the City and County of New York for the year 1873-74," to quote the NYT's account the next day.


William F. Havemeyer served as NYC mayor three separated non consecutive terms: 1845-1846, 1848-1849, and again 1873-1874. He suddenly died -- apparently of apoplexy -- in office in his actual City Hall office on November 3Oth, 1874.

Also elected on the Republican ticket, President of the Board of Aldermen Samuel B. H. Vance (who participated in the discussion described in the main text at the right) served as Mayor for the one month unexpired portion of Havemeyer's term as mayor.

Supervisor Vance moved that the report of the supervisors' tax committee that embodied the projected budget be adopted.

Supervisor/Alderman Robert McCafferty, a member of Tammany's rival Apollo Hall, asked that "the appropriation of $50,000 to establish a nautical school in this City be stricken out."

Supervisor Menheimer asked if the item mentioned had anything to do with the school ship Mercury.

McCafferty answered that the item had nothing to do with the Mercury and that he considered "the present debt of the City too large . . . to add $50,000 to it needlessly."

Recorder John K. Hackett offered his legal opinion that the statute for establishing the nautical school was "'mandatory" and that the supervisors had not option in the matter.

The clerk of the supervisors board read aloud the statute authorizing the Board of Education to make a requisition to the supervisors for $50,000 to set up the nautical school. The clerk also displayed the education board's requisition to the supervisors for the $50,000.

McCafferty continued to oppose the appropriation, and declared, "It's high time for [the members of this] Board to use their own judgment in matters affecting the interests of the taxpayers."

The motion to strike from the projected budget the $50,000 nautical school establishment item was put to a vote but narrowly lost, 7 to 6.

On Sept. 30, according to the NYT next day story, McCafferty continued his objection to the $50,000 funding of the Board of Education/Chamber of Commerce nautical school. He did so by connecting a protest to his signing -- a duty as Supervisor -- the warrant enabling the city tax collector to begin collecting the taxes. He sent Mayor Havemeyer the following note:

Not wishing to embarrass the workings of the City Government, I sign the warrant for the collection of the taxes of 1873, but with the distinct understanding I protest against the expenditure of any money for . . . the establishment of a Nautical School . . . .

The Nov. 7, 1873 story about the previous day's monthly meeting of the Chamber of Commerce include reference to the organization's Committee No. 5 (nautical affairs) reporting that "the school-ship Mercury is to be given up as a nautical school after next July because the Board of Apportionment refuses to make any further appropriations for it." The Chamber adopted a resolution to have the committee -- headed by long-time Commissioner of Pilots George W. Blunt -- monitor the situation further and report back to the membership.

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.
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