Three Mast Bark Elliot Ritchie Ex-Harriet Lane

Three Mast Bark Elliot Ritchie Ex-Harriet Lane1

"Blackening skies and a tumbling barometer,  foretold What was ahead for the American bark, Elliott Ritchie. With Captain Perkins in command she had loaded lumber in her holds and on her deck at Brunswick, Georgia, and sailed around the first of May, 1884, for Buenos Aires, only to be caught almost immediately in a series of gales. As the days went by more bad weather ensued with little or no prospect of relief, and after struggling hard all through the night of May 12, morning found the vessel taking water. By noon Captain Perkins gave up the fight, for by now everything was torn and flying and the battered old hull trembled under each onslught until it was obvious she was nearing the finish. Thus the old vessel found a fitting end to her strangely varied career. The blue waters of the Caribbean Sea cover the old hulk, a ship that lived in a few years more than most ships do in a lifetime.

Back in 1955 agitation began in Washington for the construction of a steamship for the United States Revenue Service. Most craft in the nautical arm of the Treasury Department were light graceful topsail schooners, which were much in favor. Nevertheless the backers of the measure asking for a steamboat won their day over the opposition of the Secretary of the Treasure, and in 1857 a bill was passed allowing an appropriation of $150,000 for the construction of such a craft. A contract was let to the William Webb yards of New York, builders of many famous paddle steamers.

The vessel was built and launched as the Harriet Lane in November, 1857, and entered service that year under the flag of the Revenue Service. Secretary of the Treasury, Howell Cobb suggested that the vessel be named for President Buchanan’s niece, and William Webb provided the bottle of wine for the christening. The ship measured about 600 tons, was brigantine rigged, and powered with a steam engines built by the Allaire Works. She had large paddle boxes typical of her period.

The Lane received orders on November 30, 1857, to sail under the command of Captain John Faunce for patrol duty off the Carolina coast. The first cruise resulted in the Lane'e capturing the slaver Wanderer. Three years later while the Prince of Wales was making a visit to the United States the government placed the fine cutter Harriet Lane at the disposal of the royal party.

Ominous clouds of the Civil War were gathering and in March of 1861 President Lincoln dispatched a force to relieve Fort Sumter. The Harriet Lane was among this fleet. Captain Faunce sailed past the Battery in New York at ten o'clock on the morning of April 8, outbound for Charleston. At 4:30 on the morning of the twelfth the first gun of the Civil War boomed from the battery on James Island. Meanwhile during the night the remainder of the supporting vessels arrived off the bar. A streamer was observed at 11:20 a.m., without ensign flying, and a shot was fired from the Lane across the bows of the approaching vessel. The latter ship proved to be the Nashville, inbound with passengers and freight from New York, and she was allowed to proceed. This shot from the thirty-two pound gun of the Harriet Lane was the first fired from a United States vessel in the great rebellion.

The Harriet Lane sailed north to Annapolis where she picked up the Constitution (Old Ironsides) and conveyed her to New York Harbor, arriving April 25, 1861. Still flying her Revenue ensign, the Lane next went to Pig Point on the Nansemond River and engaged the Confederate batteries on June 5, 1861. During the joint action against Hatteras Inlet the Lane struck bottom due to conflicting orders from the flag officer. It was necessary to jettison four of the ship's guns before she could be taken off the bar. Leaking badly from strain, she was ordered to New York after calling at Norfolk, Virginia. Here Captain Faunce was ordered to the Brooklyn Navy Yard with instructions to turn the vessel over to the Navy Department. So on September 17, 1861, the career of the Harriet Lane as a revenue cutter to a close.

In 1862 the Lane, now fitted out as a war vessel, was ordered to Key West. Passing Cockpit Point the Confederates gave her a blast with their shore batteries that blew her pilot house to bits. Eventually she was assigned to Farragut's units, moving on to Galveston, Texas, in time to participate in that port's capture from the Confederates on October 19, 1862. Her duties for the remainder of the year were assisting in the blockade of that port.

The first of the new year found the Federal ships in Galveston Harbor relaxed from their vigil. Commander Wainwright had under his jurisdication a fleet of vessels consisting of the Harriet Lane the flagship, Westfield, Clifton, Owasco, Sachem and a sailing ship named Coryphaeus. On shore three companies of Massachusetts units under command of Colonel Burril established headquarters, having just arrived from New Orleans on the steamer Saxon. The Confederates under the command of General Magruder, were massing for an attack. In spite of the seriousness of attacking against such odds, General Magruder felt the capturing of the port well worth the sacrifice it might entail. Moving his men up from the rear during the night, he made perparations to attack from land an sea. At a given signal the Confederate land forces opened up with a withering fire on the bridge and stratregic point held by the Federals. By sea four vessels manned by the Conferederates approached the anchored Federal fleet. These four ships, under orders from General Magruder, were the Bayou City, mounting a sixty-eight pound rifle cannon and carrying 200 Texans from Sibley's Brigade; the Neptune, a stern wheeler carrying two howitzers and 150 sharpshooters from Colonel Bayley's Seventh Texas Corps; and to paddlers, the Lady Gavina and John F. Carr, acting as tenders. These ships were protected by hundreds of bales of cotton piled around the paddle boxes and decks. The formidable fleet descended upon the Harriet Lane, and the Owasco and the game little Sachem promptly went to her aid. By morning Galveston celebrated New Year's Day with a Confederate victory. The Harriet Lane had been captured after a terrific fight. The Westfield had been blown up to prevent her capture, and the other ships hauled anchor. Outside the Federal fleet tighteneded its blockade of the coast.

For a time the Harriet Lane remained in disuse. Meanwhile the (Confederate) War Department transferred her to the Secretary of the Navy. A Lieutenant Barry, C.S.N., was placed in command. He made an exhaustive survey of the ship, reporting his adverse findings as to her adaptability as a cruiser, with the result that she was returned to the jurisdiction of the War Department.


Her next role was that of a blockade runner. It was not until April 30, 1864, that the Harriet Lane, loaded with cotton and in company with three other blockade runners, took advantage of adverse weather conditions and slipped out of Galveston via the southwest channel. Safely reaching the guilf, the four ships headed for Havana. The well known Maine steamer Katahdin, now fitted out as a war vessel, was doing patrol duty along the coast. She sighted the blockade runners and gave chase, but was soon left far behind. The Harriet Lane reached Havana safely, but new troubles beset her. The Spanish authorities would not release her, so there she remained to the end of the war, neglected and all but forgotten.

However as soon as peace came the U.S. Navy Department secured the vessel through diplomatic channels, and it was a fitting compliment to Captain Faunce, her old skipper, that he should be ordered with a full complement of officers and men to Havana to receive the battered rusty hulk that was once his proud vessel. A steamer was dispatched from New York with workmen ranging from ship's carpenters to boilermakers to repair the Harriet Lane. The revenue cutter McCulloch was dispatched from New Orleans with orders to proceed to Havana and convoy her on her trip to New York.

Sometime later she was sold out of service to Elliott Ritchie of Boston, Massachusetts. She was again rebuilt, her boilers and engines removed and she emerged as a three mast bark under the new name of Elliott Ritchie. Mr. Ritchie placed the grand old ship in the lumber trade where she remained until the close of her career.

Someday, when you yachtsmen sail your deep water ketches over the waters of the Caribbean or into Havana, dip your ensign to a grand old ship that is as immortal as the Constitution, Dewey's Olympia or the Oregon.

The Elliott Ritchie's brief specifications were: 180 feet overall, 30.2 feet beam, and a depth of 18.4 feet. She grossed 615 tons. She was framed of live oak, white oak planked, iron and copper fastened, and was strapped with iron over her frames for stiffening. She was rebuilt in 1869 at East Boston, Massachusetts.

See the article (PDF)

More about The Elliot Ritchie





1The Rudder Vol. 62 No. 3 March 1946 - pp. 30, 60, 62