July 23, 2020

This Week in Herreshoff History: July 23

An early launching, an attack of rheumatism, repairs for SPALPEEN, the anniversary of J.B.H.’s death and wartime hysteria

Photo of John Brown Herreshoff's obituary from the Bristol Phoenix, July 20 1915.

July 23, 1868

On this day 152 years ago the 37′ LOA centerboard sloop NIMBUS was launched in Bristol. N.G.H. is credited with the design for the vessel; as we know from Jim Giblin’s guest posts on N.G.H.’s MIT years, this would have been during N.G.H.’s last year of study in Cambridge. According to the Phoenix, by 1869 when the vessel returned to Bristol for maintenance, J.B. Herreshoff had a crew of about 30 men under employment building boats. This was still nine years before N.G. joined him in incorporating HMCo. in 1878.


The yacht NIMBUS captured under sail by Nathaniel Stebbins in 1889; image courtesy of the Historic New England Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection

July 23 and 26, 1901

Four separate Herreshoff mentions on the Bristol Phoenix front page on this day 119 years ago! Captain Nat reportedly confined to his home by an attack of rheumatism, the auxiliary steam ketch SPALPEEN (HMCo. #481) is hauled at Walker’s Cove for repairs, the 21 foot knockabout LITTLE ROBIN (HMCo. #559) is launched, and J.B.H. buys yet another property in town. The SPALPEEN repairs were the result of a tragic accident; the vessel had been hit by the steamer BENEFACTOR off of Sea Girt, New Jersey on July 13. No one was hurt in the initial collision, but SPALPEEN’s owner Robert M. Riddle, guests and crew were taken aboard BENEFACTOR while SPALPEEN was examined. When it was determined the auxiliary steam ketch was not taking on water, owner, guests and crew transferred back to the vessel from the ferry. Tragically, Riddle’s nephew, Francis Fisher, slipped into the water while re-boarding SPALPEEN and was drowned. The captain of BENEFACTOR was later charged with manslaughter for failing to help the drowning man, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on July 23, 1901.

In the Wizard of Bristol, L. Francis Herreshoff described the subsequent repairs, resulting in an “interesting structural effect… for the ‘Spalpeen’ was literally bent sideways, or her center line had become curved. After she was hauled out in the shop and some of her deck removed and the fastenings in other parts of the deck loosened, she sprang back into perfect alignment. The collision had actually bent the whole panel of the deck sideways which must have required a great force as ‘Spalpeen’ was a flush decked yacht. The rest of her hull was intact except, of course, where the steamer had made contact.”


SPALPEEN (HMCo. #481) (arguably one the best Herreshoff boat names ever anointed) at anchor in Bar Harbor, August 1900; image courtesy of the Historic New England Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection

July 20 and 23, 1915

The Bristol Phoenix publishes John Brown Herreshoff’s obituary. The account of his funeral published three days later is notable for its description of those in attendance, including sailmaker Asa Hathaway and other heads of HMCo. departments. The crew of RESOLUTE (HMCo. #725) and HMCo. employees reportedly lined the route to Juniper Hill Cemetery where J.B.H. was interred.


Historic photograph of J.B. Herreshoff and his second wife Eugenia Tams Tucker (1857-1940) on an outing soon after their wedding April 27, 1892. The photo is one of a group donated by members of her family in 2010; HMM historic photo archive

July 20 and 24, 1917

Fall River Daily Evening News, July 23, 1917

This week marks the 103rd anniversary of two cases of suspected wartime espionage at HMCo. What at first sounds like an entertaining anecdote of intrigue gives way to a more serious interpretation when one considers the circumstances surrounding these arrests. The first encounter between a night watchman and an accused spy has been previously discussed by Curator Emeritus John Palmieri. Read more in his 1918 pandemic post from May 2020 or in his night watchman post from May 2015. A Bristol Phoenix report on the second encounter can be found here. In the first case, the Phoenix reported Krausse would likely be transferred to the Gallops Island internment camp in Boston Harbor. In the second case, the young man in question stated that he was a US citizen by birth, but his German surname was enough to merit an arrest. There is no further reporting in the Phoenix archives that indicates either of these two HMCo. related cases was linked to any wrongdoing. The “card” referred to in the July 24 article likely refers to President Wilson’s wartime alien enemy index and registration program that required civilians of German descent in the U.S. to register and be fingerprinted. They were then issued an identity number and card which they were to carry at all times. In the Phoenix article from July 20, Krausse stated he had been arrested multiple times on suspicion of espionage, but had been released on every previous occasion.


HMCo. sponsored war bond campaign ad published in the Bristol Phoenix in October of 1918.

The war clearly had nerves running high, and xenophobia (sometimes giving rise to deadly hate crimes) against German-born U.S. residents and German-Americans is well documented. At the time, German Americans were the largest non-English speaking minority in the U.S. More than 2,000 German Americans and foreign nationals were detained in U.S. internment camps between 1917 and 1920. This in part paved the way for the huge numbers civilians who would be detained and have their property seized by the U.S. government during WWII under the Enemy Alien Control Program, including an estimated 110,000 – 120,000 Japanese Americans, 11,500 people of German descent, and the harassment and detention of Italian Americans and Italian nationals living in the U.S.

HMCo. publicly declared their allegiance during WWI through ads (see left) published in the Bristol Phoenix in support of the U.S. war bond campaign. The contrast of the characterization of “The Hun” and the Herreshoff company name is somewhat jarring. It is a statement worth pondering in a time when anything vaguely German sounding could make one a target for harassment in the U.S.