Maritime – An Introduction & Some Definitions

19th-century-american-maritimeThere’s something wildly irresistible about the sea. Its natural beauty, its legends, its call for courage. The maritime world has its own history – often connected to the history of nations – but still uniquely its own.

Gazette665’s new series explores 19th Century American Maritime. It’s a year long study – drawing from my research notes from the past two years. We’ll explore the foundations of American maritime (going back to the Colonial and American Navy beginnings), the whaling industry, lighthouses, and the Civil War era blockade runners which introduced a new era of maritime history with improved technology.

So…today’s blog post will give you a glimpse of what’s to come and cover some practical terminology that will be helpful in the series. I’ll also reveal something ironic about my love of maritime and my life…

Charting A Course

You might be surprised to find that early American maritime history, whaling, lighthouses, and blockade runners all tie together and are more closely related than the general topic heading “19th Century Maritime.”

From the Native Americans to the arriving colonials, America’s history is linked to the oceans, rivers, and lakes. Sailing ships brought the settlers to the new world. Rivers allowed them to explore the expansive land with greater ease. Native Americans taught the new arrivals how to fish and hunt whales.

chesapeakeWith the rise of trade and mercantilism during the Colonial Era, fishing and whaling industries expanded along the New England Coast. The trades prospered, and harvesting the sea became a steady livelihood for many.

Increasing maritime traffic along the coasts prompted the building of signals – first bonfires, later “official” lighthouses. During the early 19th Century, more and more lighthouses were built along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Great Lakes Coasts; eventually – about mid-century – the West Coast got its first lighthouses. Government agencies and employees kept the lights burning in an elaborate and important system.

Though often overlooked, the American Civil War spelled a transformation in American maritime. It significantly increased the power of the U.S. Navy. Southern blockade runners trialed innovative technology developed and built in European shipyards. The conflict also marked an ending for the great American whaling fleet (ever heard of Confederate cruisers?). Further the 1860’s conflict destroyed (and later rebuilt) lighthouses along the Southern coast.

This blog series in 2017 will share about all four aspects in 3 month sections. It won’t be comprehensive, but it will share new information and perspectives! Focusing primarily on the American Maritime industries and developments between 1800 and 1870, it will provide plenty of “seas” for inquisitive minds.

A Few Nautical Terms

Definitions from the Noah Webster Dictionary (1828):

Fore – going first; usually preceding the other part of; as the fore part of a ship (the front of the boat)

Aft – In seamen’s language, a word used to denote the stern or what pertains to the stern of a ship; as, the aft part of the ship; haul aft the main sheet, that is, further toward the stern. Fore and aft is the whole length of the ship. Right aft is in a direct line with the stern. (the back of the boat)

Port – In seamen’s language, the larboard or left side of a ship…

uss_congress_1841Starboard – pertaining to the right had side of a ship…

Leeside – The side of a ship or boat farthest from the point whence the wind blows; opposite of weatherside

The Great Irony

Okay, it will no longer be a secret. I get seasick.

It’s ironic – considering how fascinated I am with maritime history. But just ask my family, it’s best for me to enjoy nautical experiences through the pages of a book or a good movie.

It’s really sad, I know. I thoroughly enjoyed some parts of the short day-trip voyage I got to make, but there were plenty of other experiences on that day I’d rather not recall. Well, chalk it up to writer’s experience. (I can thoroughly sympathize with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower or Lord Nelson!)

So let me hear the sound of the waves on the shore and see the sparkling water. I’ll enjoy the legends and history of the sea and its adventurers from the safety of my beach chair…

Sails to the west!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Do you have a favorite era or aspect of maritime history?

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, living history enthusiast, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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