, Salem, MA


July 16, 2013

McAllister: From the high seas to the Oval Office

Given the fact that the economies of most of the coastal communities on the North Shore were long based on the fishing and maritime trade industries, it is no surprise that there exists so much written material about local vessels and their voyages.

Over the centuries, thousands of craft of varying designs and sizes served as seasonal “homes” to local mariners. One of the most successful ships of its time was Joseph Peabody’s George, a Salem vessel of most unusual origin. The 328-ton ship was designed by Christopher Turner and built during the War of 1812 by a group of unemployed carpenters. The men planned to outfit the George as a privateer, but the war ended, so they sold her to Peabody to recoup their investment.

By 1815, the George was on her way to India on the first of what would be 21 voyages — almost all of them to Calcutta — in a 22-year span. During that time, she carried cargo that generated $600,000 in duties for the United States Treasury, and one can only guess at the fortune she earned for her owner and officers.

The George was known in its time as the “Salem School Ship,” because so many seamen who served on her went on to become masters or supercargoes on other vessels. She also was the fastest Salem ship of her time. George Granville Putnam claims she probably holds the record for the fastest trip ever for a ship of sail between Cape of Good Hope and an American port in the North Atlantic.

A sometimes member of the George’s crew was a large black and white cat, also named George, who was known to climb up the masts and onto the yards to “supervise” the sailors at work. George Granville Putnam, in “Salem Vessels and Their Voyages,” claims that while at sea, the precocious feline would “go over the ship into the channel (most likely using the netting) ... and catch a flying fish for a repast, after which he would sprawl himself on deck and go sound asleep.” Sadly, he was lost at sea on his fourth voyage.

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