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.
NY Reform
School Ship

Part 1: 1837 - 1868
The school-ship Newport taken over from NYC Bd. of Ed. by NYS circa 1914.

Rikers School Fete Stirs Hart School Ship Study

June ceremonies for inmates to receive various diplomas, certificates and other academic citations from NYC Department of Education (DOE) schools on Rikers Island also helped mark 2009 as the 50th anniversary of joint educational endeavor begun on that island by the NYC Department of Correction (DOC) and the then NYC Board of Education.

The arrival of that 50th anniversary prompted this website to look into even earlier joint educational endeavors by DOC and DOE's ancestral agencies. Such pedagogic partnerships in a NYC correctional setting trace back at least 140 years -- to early 1869. That's when NYC's Public Charities and Correction Commissioners launched -- evidentially with some help from the NYC Board of Education -- an industrial school on Hart Island that included nautical training aboard a former Havre line packet, the clipper ship Mercury.

The results of research into the history of the Mercury and subsequent NYC school-ships strongly suggest that Hart Island's hands-on nautical training program played a significant role -- which has gone virtually unheralded -- in the origins of SUNY's Maritime College at Fort Schuyler, formerly known as the New York State Merchant Marine Academy. This multi-page web presentation tells that rarely, if ever before, told story.


The above image is from a 1959 photo taken during a visit with Commissioner Anna M. Kross to Rikers classrooms by former DOC Commissioner Austin MacCormick, second left, a leader in promoting inmate education.
Elsewhere on this website can be accessed a telling of how, in order to expedite the establishment of Public School 616 on Rikers Island in 1959, the Department of Correction (DOC) under then Commissioner Anna M. Kross transferred $52,610 from its own educational budget to that of the Board of Education to implement the initial staffing of the school.

Commissioner Kross, who had worked years to bring about establishment of the Bd. of Ed. school on the island, hailed the event with five pages of related text and photos in her 1959 annual report.

Among the photos was the one shown above left. Clicking it will take the reader to that text and those photos from her 1959 annual report. Use your browser's "back" to return to this page.

The 'Prequel' to SUNY Maritime College's History

The campus at Fort Schuyler includes the college's Maritime Industry Museum. The college website includes an extensive section of pages devoted to the museum.

There, as elsewhere on the college website, the 1874 arrival of the USS St. Mary's to serve as a training ship is identified as the start of the New York Nautical School from which the state college -- truly a pioneering institution in the maritime educational field --traces its evolution

Our "prequel" to that historical narrative identifies the 1869 arrival of the Mercury, Correction's Hart Island-based nautical school ship, as the start of New York State and New York City training boys to become mariners. This earlier initiative in New York nautical schooling goes unmentioned in the "history" conveyed by Maritime Industry Museum displays and the college's web pages.

Leading up to that 1869 Hart Island start were even earlier developments prompting interest in New York possibly establishing such a nautical training program.


Above is an image of the cover of a 36-page pamphlet entitled "Remarks on the Scarcity of American Seamen; and the Remedy; the Naval Apprentice System; and Home Squadron, etc., etc. By a Gentleman Connected With the New York Press." It was published in New York in 1845 and "Printed at the Herald Office, 97, Nassau Street."
For example, many New Yorkers were aware that Congress established in 1837 a Navy-run national seamanship apprentice program largely as a result of efforts led in the 1820s and 1830s by Manhattan ship broker and school-ship advocate Thomas Goin.

Some had taken part in those efforts; far more NYers had read in the newspapers about Goin's lobbying campaign.

Eight years later they read, or read about a 36-page pamphlet that, in addition to recalling Goin's role as the program's initiator, also decried the Navy's letting it lapse.

The pamphlet concluded with a "memorial" to Congress, urging that the program be restored and expanded for same purposes for which it had been enacted in 1837: "to overcome the great disparity of foreign seamen, which then, as now exists to an alarming extent in our Naval and Merchantile Marine." [Emphasis appeared in the original.]

The memorial -- signed by leading NY marine insurers, shippers and shipowners -- declared that reinvigorating the program would not only benefit the Navy but "would also be the means eventually of furnishing our merchant ships with men born on our own soil, and under our own flag."

Nativism & Drive for Native American Seamen

In the hands of a writer less skilled, the pamphlet's focus on "foreign-born" vs. "native-born" could have descended into an outight nativist diatribe. Such xenophobic rhetoric would have been in season the year of its publication -- 1845.

After all, NYC then had a mayor elected as the candidate of the nativist, anti-immigrant American Republican party: James Harper.


Above is an image of the list of "memorialists" who lend their names to the "memorial" [petititon] to Congress quoted on Pages 35 and 36 of the 36-page pamphlet entitled "Remarks on the Scarcity of American Seamen; and the Remedy; the Naval Apprentice System; and Home Squadron, etc., etc. By a Gentleman Connected With the New York Press." Click image to access; use "back" button to return.
Yet, despite its reasoned argument and its reasonable tone, the pamphlet nevertheless did lump all foreign-born sailors into a single rigid stereotype, implying none ever made an American port their regular home away from the sea, none ever established family lives on American shore. But a Sept. 6, 1897 NYT story about "New Bedford's Jubilee" noted its cosmopolitan character and attributed part of that to the number of foreign-born crew members of whaling ships, particularly Portuguese, who had chosen to do just that -- make that American city their home.

Disclaiming any intent to "disparage the foreigner" who settles in America, the Herald-imprint pamphlet author (who signed himself only as "A Gentleman Connected with the New York Press") placed "foreign sailors" in an altogether different category:


Above is an image of Philip Hone, perhaps the most notable of the pamphlet memorialists petitioning Congress to restore and expand the Naval Apprenticeship Program as "the means eventually of furnishing our merchant ships with men born on our own soil, and under our own flag."

Having made a fortune auctioning goods newly-arrived in the port, he retired at 40, devoting himself to civic and cultural affairs and recording his activities and observations in a diary, now a valuable historical resource for the period (1828 - 1851).

His elegant home across from City Hall became the scene of innumerable social/civic/politcal gatherings he hosted. Originally a Federalist, he helped form in the latter's wake, the Whig party. He was elected assistant alderman in 1824 and chosen mayor in 1828.

Even a partial list of Hone's services to the city and state is long. It includes:

  • "Gratuitous labours" as a founding trustee and later president of the NY Bank for Savings;
  • a governor of New York Hospital and trustee of Bloomingdale Asylum until he became a state inspector of all public institutions;
  • a founder and later president of the Mercantile Library Association;
  • a founder and first president of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Co. connecting Pa. mines with NY tidewaters;
  • a trustee of Columbia College, N.Y. Life Insurance & Trust Company and the Merchants' Exchange;
  • president of the American Exchange Bank,
  • vice-president of the Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, of the American Seamen's Fund Society, and of the New-York Historical Society;
  • a member of the Vestry of Trinity Church and of the Chamber of Commerce;
  • a manager of the Literary and Philosophical Society and of the Mechanics and Scientific Association;
  • president of the German Society; a founder and a governor of the Union Club; and
  • the Naval Officer of the Port of New York by appointment of President Tyler.

Give his intense involvement in NYC life, the anti-Irish and nativist views expressed in his diary entries were not likely limited to him alone, but shared by (most of? many of? some of?) his associates in the houses of commerce and the halls of government.

Consider his entry for Oct. 26, 1835:

the Native American Association, made up of different parties, and having no other bond of union than the total exclusion of foreigners from office, have had a meeting and nominated an Assembly ticket, of whom I do not know an individual; but I like the ostensible object of this association, and am of the opinion that times may come and cases occur in which its influence may be favourably exercised.

Hone's entry for April 10, 1834, distinguished between "the Irish" and Americans:

Last day of the election. Dreadful riots between the Irish and Americans have again distrubed the public peace.

Hone's April 28, 1842, accused Tammany Hall of trying to distroy

"the beneficial influence of the public schools to propitiate the Irish Catholic and secure their votes at the expense of the rights of native Americans . . ."

For the Native American Association entry quoted, click image. For Hone diary volume, click underlined volume number: Vol. I -- Vol. II Use the browser's "back" button to return.

We want American Sailors!

. . . . Very few persons have any idea of how few native born Americans (seamen) are to be found either on board our merchant vessels, or our men-of-war.

On no occasion are there to be found more than one-third of the crew able seamen, that are Americans born.

. . . . frequently not one-fourth of the number of able seamen on board our best men-of-war, and our best packet ships are American seamen . . . .

Men come and enter the service—declare that they are American citizens and will stand by the flag, when the fact is that they were born abroad.

It is true that they all hail from the United States, but not one-third are born on our soil, or are American citizens. . . .

. . . . there is a vast difference between a foreign mechanic, or merchant, or farmer, or tradesman coming here to settle for life, and a foreign sailor.

The former have all an interest in the land of their adoption—they bring their wives and families with them—they bring their skill, their talent, their enterprise, their learning, their mechanical ingenuity, their experience ; and many bring considerable sums of money with them.

They have, therefore, a deep, a sincere, and an abiding interest in the prosperity of the country.

Not so the foreign sailor—he is a creature of impulse and of most frightfully erratic habits ! He is tied to no particular spot, nor in fact to any particular person:

"In every port a sweetheart finds,"

He has generally—almost universally, no kindred here—no tie—nothing to bind him to our soil—no stake in the country. He is never long in a place, and spends the greater part of his time on the ocean, or in foreign port.

He was not born here—he has no one to love here ! How then can he love our land, or love our flag—sufficiently to shed his blood in its defence?

Again, a most objectionable feature against foreign sailors, particularly against the large number of Englishmen now in our merchant service, is, that they are always claimed by their own government, when needed, and are taken out of our ships sans cérémonie, on plea that "once a British subject, always a British subject !"

When reading that last quoted sentence one needs to understand that the Royal Navy regarded Irish, Scots, and many other peoples as "British subjects." It would and did impress them into service as such, despite any notarized papers they might have had affirming their status as "Americans."

In this respect at least, both the Royal Navy press gangs and American nativists apparently were in agreement: only those born in the U.S. counted as Americans.

Of course, press gangs sometimes disregarded mariners claims to have been born in U.S. Likewise nativists also sometimes would not regard as Americans those born here if their parents happened to have been born elsewhere, particularly disapproved "elsewheres" such as Ireland. As Philip Hone wrote about NYC election day 1834, there were "the Irish and the Americans."

The campaign to promote seamanship training in America had more than ample justification in the emerging nation's need for youths with maritime skills to man its military and merchant ships. Resort to negative "foreign-born" vs. "native-born" rhetoric unfortunately moved consideration of this very worthy goal into murkier waters with deep undercurrents and rippling effects lingering down the decades.

NYers Saw U.S. Training Ships

Many New Yorkers had seen, heard or read about the ships fitted up at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for seamanship school or apprentice training programs:

  • XXX

    Above image of USS Fulton at the Brooklyn Navy Yard is based on a Matthew Brady photo of the steam-powered sidewheel warship in its Civil War era iteration.
    After he took command of the USS Fulton [II] at the yard two months before the commissioning of the steam warship in December 1837, Captain Matthew C. Perry initiated an on-board daily school for its 17 indentured apprentices, teaching them basics in seamanship, war exercises and steam engine operation.

    Biographer William Elliot Griffis, in his Matthew Calbraith Perry: A Typical American Naval Officer noted on Pages 437-438:

    After one year's experience, Perry wrote July 8th, 1839, reporting that the boys already performed all the duties of many men. They gave less trouble and were more to be depended upon. While the utmost vigilance of officers was required to prevent desertions of sailors on account of the near allurements of the great city, the boys with a greater attachment were more to be trusted.

  • On June 29, 1839, the New York Evening Star detailed how the yard figured in the then emerging federal response to the petition and lobbying by Manhattan ship broker and school-ship advocate Thomas Goin and other NY commerce leaders to have the Navy provide more seamanship training for American youths, thereby reducing dependence on hiring foreign nationals to man them.


    The image above is a cropped version of a print of the Navy receiving school ship USS Hudson depicted "returning from a cruise with a fair wind," perhaps after transporting apprentice sailors to other naval vessels to continue their nautical education.

    More information and an uncropped larger image of the New York-built ship can be accessed through the Naval Historical Center website by clicking the above version. Use your browser's "back" button to return here.

    Below is a cropped version of a Naval Historical Center photo of the receiving school ship North Carolina in NY. The uncropped photo appears in Paul Silverstone's 2006 CRC Press book The Sailing Navy, 1775 - 1854. To access that, click the version below. Use your browser's "back" button to return here.


    The frigate Hudson based there was described "as a receiving school ship . . . with some 200 or 300 boys generally aboard . . . where the boys are taken for the naval service and distributed among the different men-of-war . . . ."

    "It is reported that the secretary of the Navy has ordered the North Carolina, now just arrived at New York, to be anchored at Buttermilk Channel as a permanent school ship to receive a supply of 2,000 boys . . . ."

    Buttermilk Channel is the one mile long and one-fourth of a mile wide tidal strait in Upper New York Bay separating Governors Island and Brooklyn.

    Before it was dredged for shipping, it had served at low tide as land bridge Brooklyn dairy farmers used to get their cows to the island for grazing.

    Supposedly some wags, with tongue-in-cheek, were fond of claiming that when the channel waters began to rise, the trip back for the cows sometimes became so rough their milk was churned into buttermilk, thus the channel's name.

    A July 26, 1855, New York Times (NYT) story told of North Carolina, then apparently based at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, carrying out its reception or in-take role under the apprentice training system reinvigorated by Congress and Navy Secretary J. C. Dobbin. The youths received, 14 to 18 years old, were described as "generally the wild ragamuffin vagabonds of our city." Only 84 apprentices were aboard when the ship arrived, 40 having just been transported to other vessels to continue their seamanship training.

    The story noted, "Every United States ship, now and hereafter, leaving the country is to receive one-twelvth part of her crew from the ranks of these apprentices."

  • XXX

    The above image, based on a Wikimedia Commons version of a circa 1843 lithograph, depicts the USS Somers hanging of three mutineers Dec. 1, 1842. Below is a detail from the lithograph showing the three bodies in close proximity. Actually two were hanged near each other but the third was hanged somewhat further away, an arrangement resulting from the ship's layout. The Somers Mutiny by Judith A. Nientimp from the University of Rochester Library Bulletin Autumn 1964 issue, a careful summary of the case on the university website, can be accessed by clicking the image detail below. Use your browser's "back" button to return here.


    On April 16, 1842, the 10-gun, 259 ton, 100-foot brig USS Somers sailed (4/16/1842) from the yard as an experimental school ship.

    As part of a training and recruitment promotion program, the ship's crew included a significant number of teenage volunteer apprentices. The country then still had no naval academy.

    The school-ship's initial cruise that spring went well.

    But its autumn cruise ended in disaster -- a mutiny conspiracy led by a teenaged sailor, a court marshal at sea for him and two others, and the hanging of all three.

    The scandal -- it was and still is the U.S. Navy's only recorded mutiny -- led to founding the U. S. Naval Academy in 1845.

    The chief mutineer was Midshipman Philip Spencer from Canandaigua, N.Y., the incorrigible son of the Secretary of War John Canfield Spencer.

  • The NYT of Sept. 25, 1862 reported that rapid progress was being made at workmen at the yard on the alternations converting the U.S. corvette Savannah into a training ship for young volunteers seeking to become naval officers to fight on the Union side in the Civil War.

  • Almost exactly a year later, the NYT reported (9/24/1863) the departure of the U.S. school ship Macedonia from the Brooklyn yard.

  • Nine months after that, NYT reported (6/3/1864) on "The New School-Ship in Commission" at the yard, the USS steamer Marblehead.

Seamanship School Ships Start in 3 States

Some New Yorkers also had read that

  • in 1828 a nautical training vessel, Clio, was launched by a school sponsored on Nantucket by British Admiral Sir Isaac Coffin to honor his ancestor Tristran Coffin who helped settle the island that in the early 1800s became the whaling capital of the world. Though a private philanthropy by the British peer, the U.S. Navy "lent" a lieutenant, R. A. Pickham, to serve as skipper. Although the ship was dropped from the curriculum after a few years, the Coffin academy continued.

  • in 1857 the city of Baltimore set up a floating school whose students went home each night.

  • in 1859 the port society of Charleston, S. C., used a brig named Lode-bar as a vessel to educate boys to become officers and seamen.

  • in 1860 Massachusetts on June 5th launched a reform school-ship. The move had been under consideration by that state's legislature for at least a half-decade. A NYT editorial of May 1, 1855, had applauded the idea and suggested the notion was one that NYers might do well to contemplate too.

Eventually they did. The Quaker Friends' Intelligencer of March 24, 1860 reported NY state legislators "are considering the propriety of establishing a nautical school for the training of boys in navigation and seamanship."


USS Gunboat Carondelet, above, was commanded for a period during the Civil War by Annapolis graduate John McLeod Murphy who earlier as State Senator had been a leading advocate of NY establishing a school ship to train teenagers to become seamen. Click the image to access the Naval Historical Center page about the gunboat.
Among the leading advocates of New York starting such an educational institution were two State Senators:

  • Democratic State Senator John McLeod Murphy of Manhattan, himself an Annapolis Naval Academy graduate whose pre-Civil War career also included service as a first mate aboard a Navy steamer and chief engineer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the Buchanan administration.

    During the Civil War, Murphy would see action -- including the siege of Yorktown, Va. -- as a colonel of 15th NY Regiment of Engineer Volunteers and even more action -- including the Vicksburg campaign -- after he switched to Navy service, becoming Lieutenant Commander of the USS Carondelet, a 512-ton Cairo class ironclad river gunboat.

  • Republican Senator Benjamin Franklin Manierre of Manhattan, former president of the Importers and Traders Fire Insurance Co. who would become U.S. Provost Marshal of NY and later a NYC Police Commissioner.

State Senator Murphy's bill, according to a NYT report of April 2, 1861, called for establishment in NY harbor of a nautical school "under the control of the Common School Fund." State Senator Manierre's bill, according to a NYT report of March 15, 1861, called for establishment in NY harbor of a nautical school "with the privilege of participating in the Common School Fund."

That fund was basically a NY system of state, county and city public subsidies for educational institutions.

1861 NY Nautical School Authorized, Not Realized

New York State's Nautical School Law of 1861 (Chapter 253) did authorize setting up a ship school to which parents or guardians could send boys for the purpose of educating them "in the learning and duty of seamanship and the science of navigation."

However, the law made the school's establishment contingent on "Whenever the trustees shall receive in valid subscription, the amount of thirty thousand dollars . . . ."


Above is the seal of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York as it appeared on the organization's publications in the 19th Century. The Chamber was founded April 5, 1768; incorporated March 13, 1770, and re-incorporated April 13, 1784, according to a note immediately above the seal on the cover of its 1855 Charter and Bylaws With a History. Click image to access a digital copy of the volume on Google Book Search. Use your browser's "back" button to return here.
It also provided that the trustees -- two to be named by the governor and three by the Chamber of Commerce -- set tuition rates to be charged.

The Chamber's Nov. 7, 1861 minutes recorded that Messrs. Ellwood Walter, Ezra Nye and George D. Morgan were appointed as its "trustees of the Nautical School in New-York harbor, for the purpose of educating boys in seamanship and navigation."

Later George W. Blunt succeeded Nye.

Geo. Morgan was a special agent of the Navy Department.

Blunt headed the Harbor Pilots Board.

Walter was president of the Mercantile Marine Insurance Company and secretary of the Board of Underwriters.

Captain Nye had been a major figure in the Collins line of steamships.


The above sketch of Gov. Edwin Denison Morgan -- governor 1859 to 1862, U.S. Senator 1863 to 1869, first and longest serving chairman of the Republican National Committee -- is from Harper's 1912 Encyclopedia of United States History (vol. 6) courtesy of Florida's Educational Technology Clearinghouse project Clipart ETC. Click image to access. Use browser's "back" button to return here.
Governor Edwin Denison Morgan's appointees as trustees to the New York Harbor Nautical School, that existed only on paper as a legislative authorization, were former Chamber president Abiel A. Low (whose son Seth would serve as NYC mayor after having served as Brooklyn's mayor) and Elisha E. Morgan, Harbor Pliots Commissioner.

Despite the high-powered VIPs named as its trustees, the school envisioned in the 1861 legislation -- an institution funded by subscriptions and tuitions -- failed to materialize.

Whereas Senator Murphy had sought an educational institution financed and controlled by the "Common School Fund," and Senator Manierre had sought its having "the privilege of participating in the Common School Fund," the law that emerged made no mention of the Common School Fund.

Chamber: Train a 'Better Class of Men' for Our Ships

Instead, the statute stipulated private funding and majority control by the Chamber of Commerce. That organization made clear in its 1862 annual report (Page 87) it wanted a better caliber student body aboard than a reformatory's inmate population:

Among the various plans for improving the standing and capacity of sailors, none is deserving of more encouragement than the proposed establishment of a nautical school in this city. Such a school already exists in Boston, but its beneficial influences are much impaired by the fact that it is being converted into a penal establishment for the reformation of young offenders.

It is easily seen that whatever benefit may result to the individuals themselves from such a system, it can hardly be expected that honest boys will be anxious to go to a school where they will be thrown into such a class of associates. It is to be hoped that no similar mistake will be made here, otherwise it can hardly be expected that our nautical school will do much towards the accomplishment of its object, that is, the training of a better class of men for manning our ships . . . .

Even though the 1861 law's actual wording did not allude to state and/or city public funding, perhaps the NY harbor nautical school backers had been given to understand that such would be forthcoming once the specified subscription amount had been raised.

The same April 2, 1861 NYT story reporting Senator Murphy's bill, described in some detail how the Charleston, S. C., Port Society had purchased the brig Lode-bar for use, not as a reform school, but as a Marine School taking only "boys of good character, giving preference to those who are poor." It was funded by the state, city and private sources.

Regardless of whether or not a similar arrangement had been promised, or had been implied or had been simply wished for devoutly, the fact is the NY Chamber did not see it emerge during the Civil War years. Nor has research so far encountered any evidence the nautical school subscription drive was ever undertaken during that national conflagration. After the war, the efforts to establish a NY harbor school were renewed.

NY Echo of Baltimore School Board View

The NY Chamber's 1862 rejection of Massachusetts' model for nautical training echoed the strong protest against that state's reform school ship voiced two years earlier by the Baltimore School Board Commissioners in their 85-page A Brief History of the Establishment of the Floating School of the City of Baltimore. The Marylanders wrote:

It is the intention of Massachusetts to engraft her Floating School upon the State Reform School for juvenile delinquents, a penal institution similar to our House of Refuge.


The image above appears in the Baltimore School Board Commissioners' 1860 A Brief History of the Establishment of the Floating School of the City of Baltimore on an unnumbered page before the 85-page book's title page (image below).

The Floating School was a converted sloop of war, the Ontario, built by Thomas Kemp at Baltimore in 1813. It had been part of Commodore Stephen Decatur’s 10-ship 1815 squadron that battled piracy in the Barbary states.

The Navy facilitated the Baltimore commissioners' acquisition of a ship by surveying the available fleet, selecting the Ontario as meeting the need specifications, decommissioning the ship and "auctioning" it in Baltimore to that city's Board of Trade. That organization then turned over to the school board (a) half interest in ownership and (b) majority control over operations.

Nothing in the book indicated the Baltimore's ship school ever took the students on extended cruises lasting weeks -- or even regular short overnight or weekend cruises -- as a part of their regular training.

To the contrary, the book stressed how excellent was the daily attendance of its students, indicating they did not stay aboard overnight but went to their homes after the school day's classes were done.

The only living accommodations indicated in diagrams of the converted ship were for the "Janitor and Family."

The "Floating School" did not survive the Civil War.

In contrast to the Baltimore public school ship students, boys in the nautical department of the State Reform School at Westborough, Mass., lived aboard ship and went on cruises, albeit short ones limited to waters of Massachusetts bays, harbors and coastal seaports.

The state abandoned the nautical reform school program in 1872 due to high costs and hard economic times.

To access the Google version of the Baltimore book, click either image, above or below. Use your browser's "back" button to return here.


The incorporation of this feature upon the plan of a marine school is entirely subversive of the philanthropic purpose of the founders of our institution, in the removal of degradation from the pursuit of the sailor, and the elevation of his profession and himself to a respectable standing.

It can hardly be possible that Massachusetts, when she properly considers the importance of this subject, will persist in fixing a stain upon the profession which it is the design of Maryland to improve by the education of the parties who are to pursue it.

The argument urged in favor of the measure is, that the marine school will become an important agent in the reformation contemplated by the penal school.

Suppose such should be the case, will not the damage to be sustained by the sailor's profession in the penal feature more than overbalance the benefits the school may produce?

There is a striking contrast between the designs of Maryland and Massachusetts.

Maryland educates the boys of her Floating School in the principles of morality. She instils into their minds and hearts the knowledge and desire to pursue the path of virtue, and she sends them forth with their diplomas of profiency and character without a blemish upon them.

Massachusetts takes from her prison the offenders against the laws of the State and obliges them to work out their penalty in her Marine School; she then transports them to mingle with the sons of Maryland in foreign lands. And who upon the distant shore will ask whether the sailor has been educated in the Floating School of Maryland or the Reform School of Massachusetts?

The contrast is clear. Maryland would remove reproach from the profession of the sailor. Massachusetts would fasten that reproach upon it forever.

Maryland, in the accomplishment of her purpose, associates her efforts with the best system of public instruction pursued in the State.

Massachusetts turns aside from her common schools and identifies her marine with a prison.


The ship deck design images above appear in the Baltimore School Board Commissioners' 1860 A Brief History of the Establishment of the Floating School of the City of Baltimore on an unnumbered page before the 85-page book's title page. Note references to the "janitor and family" on Deck 2.

The Floating School's "rules and regs" included:

A Janitor shall, also, be furnished by the School Board, who shall reside on board the ship, and have charge of her, the rooms, furniture, books, tackle and appliances, and who must be a sailor. . . . . The Nautical Instructor shall be supplied by the Board of Trade. He shall be subordinate to the Principal in all matters not purely nautical. Transits to and from the ship to be under his charge and direction. . . . The Janitor will, also, assist the Nautical Instructor in such duties as the committee may assign to him.

To access the "rules and regs" list in the Google version of the Baltimore book, click any of the three deck design images above. Use your browser's "back" button to return here.

Seen as an

Elsewhere in this same section of their "brief history" book, the Baltimore school board commissioners voiced the hope that other Atlantic seaboard states would follow their lead and would establish similar public school nautical ship programs.

They hoped that such nautical schools in the major Eastern seaports of the country would, by their combined force, help achieve the ultimate goal of "elevating" the seafarer's "profession and himself to a respectable standing."

The Baltimoreans blasted the Massachusetts program as undermining their efforts to attain that goal.

Their criticism of the reform school ship regime went beyond simply pointing up the strengths of their own program and the weaknesses of the Bay State's.

They did not see the reform school ship simply as an inadequate alternate approach but as "subversive," an enemy placing in jeopardy any chances that Maryland's nautical training endeavors could ever achieve their long-term purpose.

In a sense, the promoters of the public school approach to maritime training -- whether in Baltimore or in New York -- wanted to launch their own "reform" school ships. But what they wanted to reform was the maritime profession and its public image.

Real reformatory school ships were seen as torpedoing all that. Thus the enmity that some public school ship proponents seemed to have for reform school ship programs becomes somewhat more understandable, though not necessarily justified.


The above image of Brevet Major-General Edward Leslie Molineux -- whose 1866 advocacy of a NY nautical school stirred great interest in such a proposed undertaking -- is from the History -- genealogical and biographical -- of the Molyneux families by Nellie Zada Rice Molyneux published by C.W. Bardeen in 1904. Click image to access. Use browser's "back" button to return here.

The murder trials, literary triumphs and ultimate mental health tragedy of his wayward son Roland -- and the loving father's efforts to save him -- have been used as ingredients for lurid crime magazine stories and serious non-fiction books.

'Educate a Better Class, Not JDs, for Ships'

A Dec. 5, 1866 letter by then recently retired Brig. Gen. Edward Leslie Molineux to NYC Board of Education president James M. McLean, according to a NYT report the next day, "excited considerable discussion" after it was read at the board's meeting the previous evening. Molineux called for appointment of a board committee "for the purpose of investigating the necessity and feasibility of establishing a nautical school, or school-ship, the same to be under the Board of Education."

A top executive of the country's leading paint company, Molineux himself had been educated at the Mechanics Society School in NY as an immigrant boy from London. His letter noted the Massachusetts reformatory school ship "has been in successful operation for some time and has made a great many excellent sailors out of vicious boys, but it is stated with great truth by our shipowners that . . . we must educate a better class (not juvenile delinquents) to whom they can intrust their vessels . . . ."

Twenty-one days later a NYT editorial opined:

The State of New York now makes a liberal allowance for the support of her schools, and why not a nautical school be established? . . . . Again, a nautical reformatory school might be established in this State with very beneficial results and we find such men as Commander S. B. Luce of the Naval Academy strongly advocating this measure. . . .

The editorial spoke approvingly of Luce, Molineux and others planning to address the Chamber on the topic. Without taking a stand on the issue of the nautical training ship being a reform school or not, the NYT declared it hoped "ere long some decided action be taken on the subject by the citizens of this city and State."

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.