SAILMAKING IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY SOUTHERN NEW ENGLAND.
(Under the direction of Professor Timothy J. Runyan) Department of History, October 2001.
This thesis examines the issue of sailcloth supply in New England and discusses the "typical" sailmaker. American colonists sought to reduce their dependence on England and Europe by producing domestic sailcloth with varying levels of success. They succeeded in making cotton canvas of sufficient quality and quantity to meet the demands, just as the age of sail was coming to a close.
During the 1800s, the evolution of sailing ship design climaxed with the launch of extreme clipper ships in the 1850s. By the end of the Civil War, steam-powered vessels threatened commercial sail's economic viability and rendered sailing warships obsolete. With this transition came a reduced need for sailmakers, and their numbers dropped correspondingly.
The sailmaking industry has been somewhat neglected by studies in New England maritime history. Research on sailcloth production included a study of secondary sources regarding American manufacturing history and primary sources including the American State Papers and business records from southern New England sail lofts to determine how and who produced sailcloth. American cloth manufacturers and the United States government sought to improve the quality of domestic cloth to encourage use by mariners. This included the switch from flax linen to cotton canvas; it was not a smooth transition.
New England sailmakers have been studied sporadically, but as individuals, not as a group. This thesis examines and identifies individuals making up the profession through federal and state census records, city directories, and business records.