Beaver

The Beaver

The original brig Beaver, like the Dartmouth, was built and owned by the Rotch’s, an affluent Nantucket Quaker family. The Beaver was a whaling vessel built in 1772 by Ichabod Thomas at the Brick Kiln Yard on the banks of the North River near Situate, Massachusetts. Similar to other merchant vessels of the time, the Beaver was about 85 feet long with a beam of nearly 24 feet. The draft of the Beaver could not exceed nine feet because Nantucket Harbor had a sand bar across its mouth, which as a result, set the maximum size for vessels of that port. The patriarch of the Rotch family dynasty was Joseph Rotch who was born in Salisbury, England on May 6, 1704, and later immigrated to the American colonies. Joseph Rotch was a shoemaker by trade and moved from Salem, Massachusetts to Nantucket Island in 1725. It was on Nantucket where Joseph Rotch became a Quaker, put shoemaking aside and became involved in the island’s foremost industry – whaling. Joseph Rotch had a reputation for being a fair and honest businessman; additionally, he was a leader in his church. Joseph Rotch had three sons, all born on Nantucket Island: William (b. 1734), Joseph Jr. (b. 1743), and Francis (b. 1750), and he brought them into his business in 1753. On the eve of the American Revolution, the Rotch family along with Aaron Lopez, a prominent Portuguese Jew involved in the whaling industry from Newport, Rhode Island, had a fleet of fifteen vessels engaged in the whaling industry. The Rotch family controlled and handled every aspect of the whaling industry. They owned their own fleet of ships, hired captains and crews, scheduled voyages, did their own accounting, assessed monetary exchange rates, graded whale oil, and determined when the most profitable times were to ship whale oil and bone to markets. At the time of the Boston Tea Party, the headquarters and offices of the Rotch family were a brick counting house established in 1772 by William Rotch located at the foot of Main Street on Nantucket Island. The original building still stands today and is now known as The Pacific Club, a name given by captains of the Pacific whaling fleet in 1854.

Captain Hezekiah Coffin, a Quaker mariner, commanded the Beaver at the time of the Boston Tea Party, and her homeport was the whaling capital of New England, Nantucket Island. The maiden voyage of the Beaver was from Nantucket to London, England to deliver a shipment of whale oil. Both the Beaver and Dartmouth were docked in London after delivering their shipments of whale oil. Both ships were looking for return cargos, when their captains unwittingly agreed to transport the British East India Company tea to Boston. The Beaver, with her cargo of 112 chests of British East India Company tea, arrived at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston on Wednesday, December 15, 1773 – the day before the Boston Tea Party. The Beaver was the last of the three Tea Party Ships to arrive in Boston because she was delayed as a result of a case of smallpox which broke out onboard and was held in quarantine for two weeks in Boston’s outer harbor.

boston museum ship beaver
Beaver Illustration by Leon Poindexter
After the Boston Tea Party

In February 1774, the Beaver sailed from Nantucket to London, England to deliver a shipment of whale oil. Onboard was British East India Company consignee, Jonathan Clarke. Clarke was summoned to Whitehall by Lord Dartmouth to give testimony regarding the Boston Tea Party – “the late transaction in Boston.” The Beaver’s captain, Hezekiah Coffin, died while in England and the Beaver was sold. There are no records of what happened to the Beaver after the sale.

In 1791, another vessel named the Beaver also from Nantucket and built earlier that year by Ichabod Thomas on the banks of the North River, was the first American whaler to round Cape Horn and sail into Pacific waters. This pioneering whaling voyage around the treacherous Cape Horn and into Pacific waters lasted for seventeen months, and the Beaver was crewed by seventeen men and commanded by Captain Worth.

The Replica

The replica Beaver was originally built as a schooner in 1908 in Marstal on the island of Aero in Denmark. The schooner was used for freighting and fishing. Her voyage to the United States Bicentennial was nearly a disaster when hot exhaust ignited old timbers in the stern. With flames shooting out of the hatches, the fire crept close to the fuel supply. A lengthy bucket brigade finally contained the blaze. Following repairs in Weymouth, England, she finished the voyage to the United States. She first made port in Nantucket and then arrived at her homeport in Boston in 1973.

beaver construction
The Beaver under construction on site.
Major Improvements Being Made

Today, at the nation’s oldest marine railway, Gloucester Marine Railway in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the Beaver is undergoing a major rebuild. The vessel has been given:

  • Completely new frames & bow
  • New hull planks from the water line up
  • New bulwarks, deck, masts and rigging

To better replicate the appearance of the original Beaver, researchers found the ship Columbia, famous in her day for the exploration of the Pacific Northwest, was the same size as the Beaver. The Columbia and the Beaver were built in a neighboring shipyard on the banks of the North River the same year. Since both vessels were built in such close size, proximity and time, we can safely assume the Beaver and Columbia must have looked very much alike. Commanded by Captain John Kendrick, the Columbia explored the mouth of the Columbia River and the Pacific Northwest in 1791. This voyage was the nautical equivalent of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The Columbia was also the first American ship to sail around the world proudly flying the nation’s new flag. Due to her fame, Columbia is well documented. Based on period drawings and sketches of Columbia and her illustrated log books, and other such vessels of her day, the look of the Beaver is being significantly altered during the current reconstruction to more closely resemble her sister ship, Columbia. As a result of the redesign and reconstruction, the Beaver will be more historically accurate than ever before.