About the Illinois

typicalhudsonriversloop.jpgThe Illinois was originally a Hudson River packet sloop, running from Newburgh, NY, and was built there at the foot of South Street in 1818. She could carry about one hundred and fifty tons, making many trips to New York City and back, carrying passengers and produce from the farms. When she was a packet sloop her captain was Elijah Woolsey, the father of George D. Woolsey, whose reminiscences follow:

"The Illinois was painted with stripes of somewhat gaudy colors, as was the fashion of the times, but not so elaborately as the Nyack sloops. They were very smart in their appearance and good sailors too, for now and then, as they passed through Newburgh bay on the way up or down the river, they would try conclusions with our home sloops and sometimes worst them. The Illinois carried but three sails, mainsail, jib, and topsail. The latter was attached to the topmast by hoops like the mainsail, and sheeted out to the end, of the gaff. There was no “club” to it, nor did it set much flatter than the mainsail or jib. It seems to have been the idea of the old time sail-makers that a certain amount of “bag” was an advantage and some of the sailing masters and skippers shared this error. They would occasionally declare that a flat sail did not hold the wind and that it was better to have the leech shortened so as to give the rest of the sail room to belly out a little, and this was quite compatible with their ideas of keeping the sail “rap” full, when beating to windward, and never “pinching.”
The old packet Illinois, as we first remember her construction, had a cabin about half the length of the vessel for the accommodation of passengers, two after-cabins or state-rooms, altogether in both cabins some twenty-six or twenty-eight berths. The cabin was built of hard wood, much of it mahogany, with a very large oval mirror across the bulkhead, separating the main cabin from the state-rooms aft. Panels composed of mahogany, mirrors in panels at head of berths, with gold bead around. She had a very long companion-way, with large brass signal lamp hanging in the center for light at night, and a floor of hard wood, kept very white and clean.

Everything then known for the comfort of the passengers was done that could be done. There was nearly as much preparation to go to New York then on a packet, as people make now to go to Europe. The women brought their sewing to fill up their time industriously, for at times in very dull weather, the packets would be some two days on the passage. The hold of the packets was always divided by separate bins for the different kinds of grain and produce brought by the farmers. What was termed the forecastle, the place set apart for culinary purposes, was arranged much after the manner of the houses of that day, having a chimney and fireplace of brick, also a mantel over the fireplace, and a brick hearth in order to keep the vessel from fire. There were four berths also in the forecastle for the accommodation of the men on the vessel.
Frequently we would have the Illinois loaded decks to the water, especially in the fall; hold full of all kinds of grain; the long quarter-deck filled with butter, dead hogs, and often I have seen a sheep-pen around where we used to steer, full of sheep, which made it nice and warm for the man at the helm in cold weather. Frequently we would have live-stock on the main deck, lashed to a pole running fore and aft from mast to quarter-deck. In fact the business, if my memory serves rightly, increased wonderfully, so that I have seen all kinds of produce in wagons, waiting for their turn to be unloaded, standing from Crawford’s dock up into Water Street, for some distance, and when the packets were thus so full and heavily loaded, they were towed to New York, for there were steamboats also, of the first old type, running from Newburgh at that time."

On July 2, 1878, the sloop Illinois, then having been altered into a schooner for two years, owned and commanded by Captain James Wilson of Newburgh, while lying at anchor in Long Island Sound in a fog off Captain’s Island, was run into by the Stonington Line steamer Massachusetts, and sunk. The Illinois had left Saybrook the day before the accident, and by the morning of the second, before daylight, got up as far as Captain’s Island, wind all died out, ebb-tide made, so they anchored. At three or four o’clock in the morning it set in foggy. At a little after four o’clock, the steamer Massachusetts came along and struck the schooner on the starboard quarter a glancing blow, taking the whole side of the vessel out, and she sank. The wreckers went to work and in about thirty hours the vessel was on the ways at City Island.
(**The Sloops of the Hudson** by William D. Verplanck, Moses W. Collyer. G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York & London, 1908)

Historical Context

Between the exploration by Henry Hudson's Half Moon and Robert Fulton's steamboat Clermont historic voyage from New York to Albany, there were two centuries where the North River sloop dominated Hudson River travel and shipping. The sloop was the forerunner of the vast commerce on the Hudson and an important part in the development and growth of the State of New York.
The sloops did not feel the competition of the early steamboats, and in fact often made better time between Albany and New York, when the wind was fair. Nor, at first, did the sloops appear to have difficulty in withstanding the competition of the towboat companies. But with the great increase in the size and number of cargoes, necessitating vessels of larger tonnage to transport the commodities to the New York markets with reasonable despatch and regularity, the sailing vessels of the Hudson were doomed. They made a good fight, however, and with their defeat has disappeared one of the most picturesque features of the Hudson River.