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Shipbuilders A.K.A. Shipwrights

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  • Charles Frederick Herreshoff, Jr. (1809 - 1888)
    Charles Frederick Herreshoff, III., son of Charles Frederick, II., and Sarah (Brown) Herreshoff, was born July 26, 1809, in Providence, and there passed his childhood and early youth. The elementary po...
  • John Brown Herreshoff (1841 - 1915)
    In 1878 John Brown Herreshoff, a blind boatbuilder from Bristol, Rhode Island, who had been in business since 1863, went into partnership with his younger brother, Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, a nava...
  • Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, Sr. (1848 - 1938)
    Nathanael Greene Herreshoff I (March 18, 1848 – June 2, 1938), was an American naval architect-mechanical engineer. "Captain Nat," as he was known, revolutionized yacht design, and produced a ...
  • Oliver Gildersleeve (1844 - 1912)
    "The eldest son of Henry and Emily F. Gildersleeve is a worthy representative of his honored sire and grandsire a man of robust constitution and great force of character, combined with excellent busine...
  • Sylvester Gildersleeve (1795 - 1886)
    Sylvester, the subject of this sketch, was born February 25th 1795, in the little old two story red frame house situated on Indian Hill, at the northerly end of Chatham (now the portion of Portland cal...

Shipbuilding is the construction of ships and floating vessels. It normally takes place in a specialized facility known as a shipyard. Shipbuilders, also called shipwrights, follow a specialized occupation that traces its roots to before recorded history.

Shipbuilding is one of the oldest industries in the United States with roots in the earliest colonial settlements. Shipbuilding quickly became a successful and profitable industry in Massachusetts, with its miles of coastline featuring protected harbors and bays, and extensive supplies of raw materials. The early wooden vessels built for commercial fishing and foreign trade also gave rise to a variety of ancillary trades and industries in the area, including sail making, chandleries, rope walks and marine railways. Shipyards in Essex and Suffolk counties are credited with the invention of the traditional American dory and built those that comprised the renowned Gloucester fishing fleet, helped free the colonies from British rule, strengthened the merchant and naval fleets that made the United States a world power and played pivotal roles in World War I and World War II. Many vessels included in this itinerary were either constructed in Massachusetts or are representative of the types of vessels built and repaired in Massachusetts shipyards.

In the beginning, people built their own boats for fishing and transportation. By the late 18th century, experienced shipbuilders began building a new vessel each winter, fishing it during the summer, and selling the vessel during the fall. Captains traveled from other ports to the town of Essex and contracted for a new vessel because the Essex shipbuilders possessed unsurpassed skill and craftsmanship. Much of the skills required of shipwrights or shipbuilders were obtained through on-the-job-training, and many of the earliest shipyards and boat shops operated as family businesses passed down from generation to generation.

"Lowell's Boat Shop" in Amesbury, Massachusetts; originally constructed in 1793 by Simeon Lowell, is the oldest, continually operating boat shop in the United States. Simeon Lowell is generally credited as the designer and builder of the American dory.

Merchant Shipbuilders


Many families were involved in building ships. You may well be related to a merchant ship building family that built ships not only for commercial buyers but warships that saw action in the great sea battles. Even the merchant ships, built for the commercial purchaser, such as the Honorable East India Company, were built part merchant ship, part warship when the sea was not just dangerous due to nature, but also Britain's enemies would engage in battle when a British merchant ship was spotted.

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