Building the Boston Tea Party Ships

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Sheila M. Green
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The Building of the Tea Party Ships

Beaver, Eleanor and Dartmouth

There were three colonial-built vessels that brought the infamous tea cargos to Boston late in 1773: the Beaver, the Eleanor and the Dartmouth.

To fully tell the story of the Boston Tea Party, a flotilla of all three ships is necessary. With only the Beaver at the site of the museum for so many years, many people have the impression that there was only one ship that was off-loaded during the Boston Tea Party.  The new Boston Tea Party ShipsSM & Museum will illuminate the importance and the significance of this historic event with replicas of all three ships involved.

Two of the vessels that will be presented were re-created out of traditionally built wooden fishing vessels. The third will be newly built, from the keel to the top of the main mast. The construction of all three uses the same traditional methods and materials used in colonial days – oak plank on timber frames. It is intended that these historic replicas seem as authentic as possible. When visitors step aboard, they will be transported back in time, in part due to the authenticity of every detail.

On that infamous night of December 16, 1773, 340 chests of British tea, weighing over 92,000 pounds, were dumped overboard.  The cargo was worth more than $1,700,000 dollars in today’s money. The event was witnessed by thousands and the implication and impact of this action were enormous.

John Adams wrote in his diary,  “This is the most magnificent Movement of all.  There is a Dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity in this last Effort of the Patriots that I greatly admire. This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid, & inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences and so lasting, that I cannot but consider it as an Epocha in History.”

The Beaver

The Beaver was built as a schooner 103 years ago on the island of Aero, in Denmark.  The ship was used for freighting and fishing. Her voyage to celebrate the nation’s 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 and, following the repairs in England, she finished the voyage.

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 new frames, hull planks from the water line up, a new bow and she will receive new bulwarks, deck, masts and rigging.

To better replicate the appearance of the original Beaver researchers found that the ship, Columbia, famous in her day for the exploration of the Pacific Northwest, was the same size as the Beaver and was built in a neighboring shipyard the same year. Because of her fame, Columbia was well documented. Based on the period paintings of Columbia and her illustrated log books, the look of the Beaver is being significantly altered during the current reconstruction to more closely resemble her sister ship, Columbia.

The Eleanor

The original Eleanor was one of several vessels owned by a leading Boston merchant, John Rowe, whose holdings included stores, warehouses and Rowe’s Wharf, a current Boston landmark.

No original plans exist of the Eleanor.  However, it is known from her tonnage figure, as recorded in shipping papers, that she was full rigged and a “constant trader”. The design of the Eleanor replica is based on colonial merchant vessels of the period that fit her description, particularly the London, a ship that carried part of the same shipment of tea to Charleston, South Carolina. The London was later sold to the Royal Navy. Carefully measured line drawings were recorded and preserved which were very helpful in creating a set of plans for the Eleanor.

Creating this replica involved almost a complete transformation of the retired fishing vessel Vincie N. built in 1936. The old dragger had a basic old style sailing hull design that was greatly rebuilt and modified to resemble the colonial ship London. The old planking and framework were dismantled foot- by-foot and replaced with the new design. She has reshaped new sides, a new bow, bulwarks, a deck and stern with gallery windows. In the next year, she will be finished above and below deck, and will be fully rigged.

The Dartmouth

The original Dartmouth was a whaling ship, built and owned by a Nantucket Quaker family. It was docked in London at the same time as the Beaver and the Eleanor after delivering its load of whale oil.  The three ships were looking for return cargos, when their captains unwittingly agreed to transport the East India Company’s tea to Boston.

For the Dartmouth, the third addition to the fleet, the lines, sail and rigging plans will be based on several other merchant ships and whalers of her day.

Unlike the other two replica ships, the Dartmouth will feature 100% new construction. She will be built from the keel up, using the same kind of timbers and building techniques employed in the late 1700s. As a tribute to the

103-year old Beaver, these same time-tested and proven materials and building methods will produce a fine new vessel that will represent the Boston Tea Party well into the next century.