December 23, 2020

This Week in Herreshoff History: December 24

A wedding, a departure, a Christmas Eve launching during a busy year, and Rhode Island's first female sailmaker

December 22, 1883

N.G.H. and Clara A. DeWolf Herreshoff, September 22, 1884; HMM archive

The Bristol Phoenix announces the impending nuptials of Nathanael G. Herreshoff and Clara A. DeWolf (1853 - 1905). The wedding would take place on Boxing Day, 1883 at St. Michael's Church. Clara was known for her patience and understanding in a marriage to a man who must have worked constantly, and for her kindness and charitable attitude towards HMCo. employees. She was greatly beloved by her six children, and was reportedly a very talented gardener and horticulturalist. Three of Captain Nat's vessels designed between 1878 and 1887 were named CLARA - most notably, the cat-yawl CLARA (HMCo. #402) which is on display at HMM today. Clara died when the youngest of her children, Clarence, was just ten years old. Ten years later, N.G.H. would marry the woman who nursed Clara in her final years, Ann Roebuck (1873 - 1950). Ann lived at Love Rocks with Captain Nat's eldest, Agnes Herreshoff, until Ann's death in 1950.

December 24, 1887

The yacht AUGUSTA (HMCo. #146) sailed for Jacksonville, Florida this week 133 years ago, according to the Phoenix. AUGUSTA had been launched on November 15. She was one of those vessels that found her way back to the Herreshoffs in 1896, and was chartered out by the company until it was again sold in 1914.

AUGUSTA (HMCo. #146), ca. 1906; HMM archive

December 24, 1901

The Buzzards Bay 30 ARABIAN (HMCo. #564) was launched on this day 119 years ago. Fourteen vessels were built to this model beginning with YOUNG MISS (HMCo. #560), launched in November 1901, and ending with GAMECOCK (HMCo. #583). Six of the original fourteen still exist today. It was a productive year: YOUNG MISS's contract was signed in June, 1901 and GAMECOCK was launched in May, 1902. And that wasn't the least of it: almost 50 other HMCo.-built vessels in addition to the BB30s were launched during that particular 12 month span. This included a number of dinghies, but also several substantial builds, like HUMMA (HMCo. #553), a 70' LOA cutter, TRAMP (HMCo. #211), NIAGARA III (HMCo. #210) and DAWN (HMCo. #212), all 71' LOA Scout Class steam yachts, QUICKSTEP (HMCo. #213), a 124' LOA steam yacht, and N.G.H.'s 94' LOA steam yacht ROAMER (HMCo. #215) - just to name a few.

A wonderful shot of YOUNG MISS by Nathaniel Stebbins; image courtesy Historic New England, Stebbins Photographic Collection

December 20, 1984

On this day in 1984, the Bristol Phoenix memorialized Jane Nelle. Jane Nelle was a sailmaker at HMCo. beginning in 1923. She trained under sailmaker Billy Paine, and left with Paine in 1933 when he began his own sailmaking business. Her career spanned an era of great transition in sailmaking, from cotton to nylon and Dacron. Today she is thought to have been the first female sailmaker in Rhode Island. She later worked at Thurston Sails in Warren, RI, for fifteen years. She was recently featured as part of an exhibit about remarkable Rhode Island women at the Roger Williams University Library.

Jane Nelle at work; HMM archive