The Chadwick Family Papers


Excerpt from the Chadwick Family Papers, eds. Lytle Shaw and Jimbo Blachly. 

The editors of Barzakh have come to us with a request for information about our recent work with the Chadwick Family Papers, which I co-edit with the illustrator J. Blachly.  The last few years leading up to this year’s Quadricentennial of the Hudson exploration have found us in the family archive’s materials relating to New Amsterdam, where the Anglo/Dutch branch, some with the variant name of Chadwijk, contributed greatly to the cultural life of the remote company town. Over the course of our research, including a recent trip to Amsterdam, we have found ourselves reading the papers of English, American and Dutch Chadwicks (and Chadwijks) who operated as sailors, architects, landscape painters, men of science, financiers and nautical engineers. Many of our breakthroughs came in Dutch archives, as well as some of the perhaps false leads that seemed like breakthroughs at the time.

Though I had the benefit of a nautical education as a child, the trip to Amsterdam also afforded Blachly a chance to familiarize himself with the rudiments of the sailor’s and boatman’s arts. Blachly was in fact so enthusiastic about this new branch of learning that, as an evening diversion after our long days in the archives, he began Contemporary Sterns, a project that juxtaposes fine examples of recent ship architecture with some of the more exciting nautical yarns from the Chadwick archive. We here present 10 vignettes.



I jumped aloft to take in the main-topgallant studding sail, but before I got into the top the tack parted, and away it went, swinging forward of the sail, and tearing and slatting itself to pieces. After great exertions, I was making fast the hallards when the captain looking up, called out to me, “lay aloft there, Chadwick, and furl that main royal.”


The brails were hauled up, and all the light hands in the starboard watch sent out on the gaff to pass the gaskets; but they could do nothing with it. The second mate swore at them for a parcel of “sogers” and sent up a couple of the best men; but they could do no better, and the gaff was lowered down.


“Hard up the helm!” and a great ship loomed up out of fog, coming directly down upon us. She luffed at the same moment, and we just passed each other, our spanker boom grazing over her quarter.


How I got along, I cannot remember, I “laid out” on the yards and held on with all my strength. I could not have been much of service, for I remember having been sick several times before I left the top sail yard, making wild vomits into the black night, to leeward.


I was stationed at the weather crossjack braces; three other light hands at the lee, one boy at the spanker sheet and guy; a man and a boy at the main topsail, topgallant, and royal braces; and all the rest of the crew-men and boys, tallied on to the main brace.  The captain calls out: “helm’s a lee!”


Leaving the studding sail, I went up to the crosstrees to view the storm. The foot of the topgallant mast was working between the cross and trestle trees, and lay over at a fearful angle, topmast below. The anchors were then to be taken up on the rail, and every now and then the seas broke over it, washing the rigging off to leeward, filling the lee scuppers breast-high, and washing chock aft to the taffrail.


The mizzen topsail, though new and close reefed, spilt from head to foot, in the bunt; the fore-topsail went, in one rent, from clew to earring, and was blowing to tatters; one of the chain bobstays parted; the spritsail yard sprung in the slings; the martingale had slued away off to leeward; and, owing to the long dry weather, the lee rigging hung in large bights at every lurch.


The braces had been let go, and the yard was swinging about like a turnpike gate, and the whole sail having blown out to leeward, the lee leach was over the yardarm, and the skysail was all adrift and flying about my head. I looked down, but it was in vain to attempt to make myself heard, for everyone was busy below, and the wind roared, and the sails were flapping in all directions.


We got the topsail wrapped around the yard, and passed the gaskets over it as snugly as possible, and were just on deck again, when, with another loud rent, heard throughout, the fore- double reefed topsail split in two athwartships, just below the reef band, from earring to earring.


Double gaskets were passed round the yards, rolling tackles, and other gear boused taut, everything made secure as it could be. There was no sail now on the ship but the spanker, and the close-reefed main topsail, which still held good. But this was too much after sail, and order was given to furl the spanker.

Barzakh Mag