National Park Service
Return to Maritime home page
Maritime Landmarks
Back to Large Vessel Landmarks Main Page
Back to Landmarks Main Page
Grace Bailey
National Historic Landmark Study
by Nicholas Dean, 1990
Designated December 4, 1990

Present and Historic Physical Appearance

Under sail at Mattie. Photo courtesy Ray Williamson.
The two-masted schooner Grace Bailey has the following dimensions:

Length on deck: 80'
Length overall: 118'
Breadth: 23'5"
Gross tonnage: 58
Passenger accommodations: 29
Rig: Main, fore, 2 headsails, no topsails

The vessel is framed and planked with white oak, with a deck of longleaf yellow pine. It carries neither inboard engines nor powered deck machinery, propulsion when needed being provided by a small yawl boat with an inboard motor. It was originally fastened with wooden treenails but is now fastened with six inch galvanized ship spikes. There is a centerboard with its centerboard trunk, the main mast being offset somewhat from the center line of the hull to accommodate the width of the trunk. The only significant alteration to the schooner lies in the substitution of companionways for cargo hatches and the installation of staterooms below decks.

It should be noted that the historical record is extremely unclear regarding "standard practice" in the carrying of top masts on coasters along the Maine coast. At present the schooner currently sails "bald-headed," i.e., without top masts. Apparently there was a good deal of variation in rig, top masts being sometimes carried on the main masts in summer months and sent down in winter or not carried at all. In any case, its present rig would not have seemed unusual during the period when the type was common.

Statement of Significance

The most common American vessel type was the two-masted coasting schooner. Developed in the mid-to-late 18th century, these vessels reached a more or less standard form by the mid-19th century, a design that continued to be built into the first decades of the 20th century. The only variation of note in the two-masted schooner, aside from the underwater form of the hull, or the lines, was the presence of a centerboard. Tens of thousands of these vessels were built and operated on the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts, and on the Great Lakes in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The "freight trucks" of their time, the coasting schooners carried coal, bricks, iron ore, grain, oysters, and numerous other bulk products between ports.

In addition to Grace Bailey, there are now only four surviving two-masted coasting schooners in the United States--Lewis R. French (1871), Stephen Taber (1871), Governor Stone (1877), and Mercantile (1916)--all subjects of separate studies.

The preceding statement of significance is based on the more detailed statement which follows.


Grace Bailey was built in Patchogue, Long Island, New York, in 1882 by Oliver Perry Smith, and named for owner Edwin Bailey's daughter, Grace, born that year. In 1906, Grace Bailey was rebuilt and renamed form Mr. Bailey's granddaughter, Martha, nicknamed Mattie. From 1906 until 1990, the schooner sailed as Mattie, but in the spring of 1990, after restoration, was returned to her original name.

Originally built by Oliver Perry Smith, the two masted schooner Grace Bailey is one of only three such historic vessels in Maine. Designed for the "coasting" trade, in 1939 it became a member of the fleet of windjammers developed by Frank Swift for the commercial conveyance of passengers along the Maine coast. Its significance, therefore, lies not only in its design and association with maritime history, but equally for the association with Swift's early and unique approach to the preservation of historic vessels. The vessel meets criteria A and C.

Grace Bailey's association with the Maine coast began in 1919, when Captain Herbert L. Black of South Brooksville, Maine (like her present home port of Camden, also on Penobscot Bay), purchased her. She was then sold to Captain William F. Shepherd of Deer Isle, Maine, who continued to operate her as a coaster until 1939, when she was chartered to Captain Frank Swift of Camden for use as a passenger carrying "windjammer." Captain Swift bought her in 1940. She has since been owned by:

Frank Swift, Camden, Maine 1940-1961
Jim Nisbet, Camden, Maine 1961-1969
Leslie E. Bex, Jr., Camden, Maine 1969-1986
Raymond and Ann Williamson, Camden, Maine 1986-present


The type of vessel discussed here, the two-masted schooner used for "coasting," i.e., the transport of cargo from one Atlantic Coast port to another from the early nineteenth century to about the outbreak of World War II, was once "so common that nobody paid much attention the them."[1] However, before examining their development and function, it should be clear what these small vessels were not. Designed to run fairly close to shore, these schooners were neither fishing vessels with the ability to ride out a gale on off-shore fishing grounds, nor did they ever approach the scale of the four-, five-, and six-masted great coal schooners which arose to transport that commodity from southern to northern seaports. While the occasional multi-master even made a trans-Atlantic crossing, the coasters stayed close to home. "Deepwater men often accused coastwise sailors of setting their course by the bark of a dog.[2]

One of the earliest depictions of a schooner appears in an engraving by the Dutch artist Van de Velde, who died in 1707, which shows a two-masted vessel with a gaff-rigged sail on each mast. By 1780, Falconer's Universal Dictionary of the Marine defined a schooner as:

A small vessel with two masts, whose main-sail and fore-sail are suspended from gaffs reaching out below by booms, whose foremost ends are hooked to an iron, which clasps the mast so as to turn therein as upon an axis, when the after-ends are swung from one side of the vessel to the other. [3]

The origin of the term "schooner" is itself obscure. The Oxford Universal Dictionary assigns it a date of 1716 and suggests an American origin,[4] while Webster's calls the word of "origin unknown."[5] It has also been noted that in Scotland, "to schoon" is to skim along the water.[6]

"Coasters," in the United States, according to the late Howard I. Chapelle, have been schooners since 1800, if not earlier. The early coasting trade was carried out in vessels of all types."[7] It is said that "the straight fore-and-aft-rigged schooner is decidedly a coastwise vessel, and attempts to use such craft for long voyages on the high seas have invariably been disappointing and disillusioning, if not disastrous to the adventurers.[8] However, coasters ventured into the Caribbean, the American schooner Success being reported in Jamaica, bound for San Domingo in 1801.[9] Other surviving accounts from the later 19th century describe a considerable Caribbean trade.[10] The schooner supplanted the square-rigged vessels in the coasting trade for very practical reasons:

The fore-and-aft rig came to be preferred for coasting vessels for several reasons. Fewer sailors were required to handle the vessel, and a schooner could be worked into and out of harbors and rivers more easily than any square-rigged craft. Her trips could also, as a rule, be made in quicker time, as she could sail close into the wind, and it was hardly necessary for her to sail from Maine to New York by way of the Bermudas, as some square-rigged vessels have done during baffling winds.[11]

Along the Maine coast, for many years the little schooner filled the transportation niche today occupied by vehicles ranging from pickups to two-ton trucks. First, until roughly 50 years ago, many of Maine's secondary roads could hardly be classed as "all weather," and along the numerous peninsulas, north-south transport of staples such as firewood and hay was, during the spring "mud season," more easily and safely achieved by water.

Second, Maine's deeply indented coastline made waterborne commerce a matter of economy. It is but 293 miles by road from the Maine-New Hampshire border at Kittery to Maine's eastern-most city, Eastport,[12] but the state has some 3,500 miles of coastline.[13] In addition, to a greater extent in the nineteenth century than now, Maine's numerous small islands required transport of freight.

Finally, many of the products requiring transport were produced at or near the shore. These included brick, fired from estuarine clay; granite, often quarried on off-shore islands; and wood, rafted to a convenient loading point. The coasters carried box boards and empty cans to sardine canneries and delivered the processed fish.

Such vessels were handy, economical, and easily built of readily accessible materials, perfectly suited to their task, and their number was legion. They were the errand boys, the short-haul freight droghers, and the passenger busses form many a year, and their contribution to the coastal community life, especially in New England, was substantial.[14]

They were unromantic little vessels, described by a man who spent his youth in them as "no more than sea-going tipcarts, hauling their prosaic cargoes from one coastal port to another."[15] He added, however, that "without them the country could hardly have been settled."[16] Another of the few historians who has bothered to examine the small coasters described them as:

the errand boys of the coast. They averaged around a hundred tons and were found in every river, bay, and inlet from Quoddy to Cape Fear. To southern cities they delivered the products of Maine farms, shores, forests and local industries... In turn they brought back southern pitch pine, pitch and turpentine to the yards in which they had been built.[17]

By the early 1880s, a definite small coaster type had been in existence for at least 20 years, and probably longer. In his 1882 Report on the Shipbuilding Industry of the United States, Henry Hall described it as "centerboard vessels with flat bottoms. In all cases, however, the models are full, the beam large, the bow sharp and long, the run clean and the sheer considerable forward." To Hall such schooners had "the jaunty air of a yacht." He observed that "schooners with sharp bottoms do not pay, and few are built."[18] Chapelle described them as "2-masted fore-and-aft rigged schooners 50 to 75 feet long, having short, high quarterdecks with bulwarks or turned-stanchion rails."[19]

Such are Grace Bailey and Mercantile, two of the last three survivors of this type of vessel, the third being Stephen Taber. Their significance to the coastal Maine scene in general was summed up by the late John F. Leavitt, who has already been cited. In his Wake of the Coasters, published in 1970, Leavitt reminisced:

There was a time when spars and rigging made a commonplace pattern against the Maine sky. It was in 1938 when the last cargo-carrying schooner was launched in the State of Maine, yet today there seem to be very few who remember when the reaches and thoroughfares swarmed with coasting schooners. Perhaps that is because the sight was so taken for granted. On the other hand, until the advent of good roads in the middle to later 1920s, most of the isolated towns east of Portland depended upon the schooners for connection with the outside world, particularly during that part of the year when the dirt roads were nearly impassable.[20]

Nine years after John F. Leavitt wrote the passage quoted above, there was an attempt to revive the working cargo schooner on the Maine coast. Launched in 1979, the 97-foot, two-masted John F. Leavitt obtained a cargo for the Caribbean--and was lost on her maiden voyage. In addition, though subsidized by a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, in that same year students at the Maine Maritime Museum's Apprentice shop built a smaller schooner, the 42-foot Vernon Langille, and began a program of freighting firewood out to offshore islands. Langille is still afloat, but the experiment was ultimately abandoned.[21]

For all practical purposes, the coasting schooner ceased to be economically viable in the 1930s. No four-, five-, or six-masted schooner survives today save as a derelict hulk; while three- masted schooners remain, two as west coast museum vessels and one, Victory Chimes, also carries passengers as a Maine windjammer. One early two-masted cargo schooner, Alvin Clark, survives at Trenton, Mississippi, though in deteriorated condition.


However, on the Maine coast Grace Bailey, Mercantile, and Stephen Taber not only have survived but turn a profit for their owners because, in 1936, Captain Frank Swift conceived the idea of converting small two-masted cargo schooner to passenger vessels. In an early brochure, undated but probably from near the beginning of his venture, Swift offered a one week cruise for $32 or a two week cruise for $60 and describe the trips as follows:

These schooners are not yachts--just picturesque down-east sailing vessels, clipper bowed and able, with billowing sails and hempen rigging.

Each Monday, from July 4th until September 10th, the Annie Kimball and the Lydia Webster will sail from Camden, Maine, for a week's cruise--not to follow an exact itinerary but to use the winds and tides to make the cruise most interesting.[22]

Swift purchased Grace Bailey in 1940 and Mercantile in 1943.[23] Today, fifteen "windjammers" operate out of mid-coast Maine: ten out of Rockland, one out of Rockport, and four out of Camden. They no longer carry lumber and granite, but, as is often remarked, "the only cargo that loads and unloads itself."[24]

Grace Bailey 1990 restoration, bow view. NPS photo by Candace Clifford
It must be emphasized that a week on a windjammer in more in the nature of a "maritime experience" than "sail training", per se. Passengers are encouraged but not required to lend a hand as needed. In addition to whatever better understanding of Americas's maritime heritage the windjammers foster in laypersons, on a practical level they are also an instrument for the preservation of both schooner sail handling and maintenance and the wooden shipwright's skills as well. For example, Grace Bailey's recent thirteen month refit employed an average of ten hands at any one time, with Mercantile's earlier refit running at roughly the same figure.[25]

Extensive renovation of Grace Bailey began in the spring of 1989. Briefly, masts, deck, deckhouse, and ceiling were removed, and all of her hog corrected. To ensure that existing hull form was retained, work proceeded slowly in a sequence which removed every third frame and "three or four" hull strakes at a time.

Restoration work in the hold. NPS photo by Candace Clifford, 1990
It is not known precisely what percentage of Bailey's 1882 fabric remains, nor is information available on how many haulouts and refits occurred between her documented 1906 rebuilding and the present set of repairs. However, it is a fact of life of wooden vessels that the replacement of deteriorated elements is an ongoing process. A 108-year old wooden schooner has undoubtedly been repaired on an number of occasions, the 1989-1990 operation being one more in a continuing sequence.


1. Nicholas Dean, interview with Captain W.J. Lewis Parker, Camden, Maine, May 1990.

2. Polly Burroughs, Zeb: A Celebrated Schooner Life (Riverside, Connecticut: The Chatham Press, 1972), p. 33.

3. William Falconer, A Universal Dictionary of the Marine (London: T. Cadell, 1780), p. 257.

4. The Oxford Universal Dictionary (Oxford: The Oxford University Press, third edition revised, 1955), p. 1806.

5. Webster's Third New International Dictionary(Springfield, G. & C. Merriam, 1981), p. 2031.

6. Eric Partridge, Origins (New York: Greenwich House, 1983), p.594.

7. Howard I. Chapelle, The National Watercraft Collection (Washington: United States National Museum, Government Printing Office, 1960), p. 258.

8. William A. Fairburn, Merchant Sail (Center Lovell, Maine: Fairburn Marine Educational Foundation, 1945-1955), Volume IV, p. 2608.

9. Charles S. Morgan, "New England Coasting Schooners," in E. W. Smith, ed., Workaday Schooners (Camden: International Marine Publishing, 1975), p. 158.

10. Ralph H. Griffin, Jr., ed., Letters of a New England Coaster 1868-1872 (no place of publication, Ralph H. Griffin, Jr., 1968), passim.

11. Henry Hall, Report on the Ship-Building Industry of the United States (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1882), p. 93.

12. Maine Department of Transportation, Official Transportation Map (Augusta, Maine Department of Transportation, 1979), Mileage Chart.

13. Jim Brunelle, Maine Almanac (Portland: Guy Gannett Publishing, 1979), p. 5.

14. C. S. Morgan, "New England Coasting Schooners," p. 156.

15. John F. Leavitt, Wake of the Coasters (Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1970), p. 17.

16. Ibid., p. 17.

17. P. Burroughs, Zeb, p. 33.

18. H. Hall, Report, p. 94.

19. H. I. Chapelle, National Watercraft Collection, p. 40.

20. J. F. Leavitt, Wake of the Coasters, p. 3.

21. Jane Day, "The Return of Working Sail" Wooden Boat, No. 31 (November/December 1979), pp. 18-23.

22. Brochure in possession of Nicholas Dean, Edgecomb, Maine, n.d.

23. Maine Windjammer Cruises brochure (Camden, Maine, 1990).

24. Nicholas Dean, interviews with Parker Marean, Wiscasset, Maine, and Captain Douglas Lees, Rockland, Maine, May 1990.

25. Nicholas Dean, interview with Captain Ray Williamson, Camden, Maine, June 1990.


It is to be regretted that in maritime histories, both general and of Maine in particular, rather scant attention has been given to the small coasting schooners. For example, in William Hutchinson Rowe's The Maritime History of Maine (New York: W.W. Norton, 1948), only 2 pages of over 300 are devoted to the coasters. The only work which deals with the small coasters specifically is:

John F. Leavitt, Wake of the Coasters (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1970).

List of Merchant Vessels of the United States (U.S.G.P.O., Various issues and dates), identifies vessels only by rig and tonnage, not by number of masts or function.

Return to Maritime home page

Last Modified: Mon, Feb 5 2002 2:56:48 pm EDT

Privacy & Disclaimer

Parknet logo