Gosport Navy Yard, located in Portsmouth, across the Elizabeth River from the busy port of Norfolk, Virginia, was one of the largest shipyards in the United States. Norfolk merchant Andrew Sprowl established the yard in 1767. Sprowl remained a loyalist when the Revolutionary War erupted. The yard was confiscated by the Commonwealth of Virginia, and then burned by the British in 1779.
The yard remained inactive until 1794, when the property was leased by the United States. Captain Richard Dale served as the superintendent for this new government shipyard. When the US Navy was formally established in 1798, it assumed operation of the yard and designated it as the Gosport Navy Yard.Read more
Hello readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. Close to two weeks ago, Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard of the United States, impacting our lives from the Carolinas to Boston. While each person lost during this disaster is keenly felt, perhaps no single story is more relevant to maritime history than the tragic loss of the HMS Bounty and two of her crew. For the families of Claudene Christian and Robin Walbridge, our thoughts and prayers are with you.
What makes the HMS Bounty so special is that she was created out of period-correct materials, with the same tools they would have had back then and with the original building plans from the first HMS Bounty. The modern ship was not just a replica: it was an authentic rebuilding of the same ship, right down to the hand-bend nails in her keel. Constructed for the 1962 movie “Mutiny on the Bounty,” the tall ship HMS Bounty has since served in many motion pictures and as a unique piece of living history for the coastal cities of Britain, Europe and the United States. Read more
Hello again, readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. A quick look at modern popular culture will make it clear even to the most casual of observers that the Caribbean Pirates of the 17th and 18th century are icons in family entertainment. Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” series has been immensely successful, and the 20th century is full of films about swashbuckling heroes and adventures at sea. And yet, a sampling of our news headlines paints a very different picture of piracy: container ships are ransacked, crews held for ransoms, and tourists are kidnapped or killed. Indeed, the world recognizes this problem and has deployed dozens of warships to counter the pirate threat to commerce and personal safety. Why is there such a dichotomy on the subject of piracy?
As a historian, it seems to me that the issue of piracy meets its natural response in the modern headlines: piracy has been reviled and combated since time immemorial, as it should be. The catch is that people also like stories of adventure, romance and rooting for the underdog. English (and by extension, American) culture especially has always had a bit of a rebellious streak, with heroes like Robin Hood robbing the superfluously rich and thumbing their noses at a corruption. For the Anglo-American world, pirates served as an excellent source of rebellious fun once they had faded into the past a bit, and books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island capitalized on this fun in the late 1800s. About two centuries had passed since the buccaneers had last prowled the Caribbean, and it seemed safe to feature pirates as a source of adventure.Read more
Hello readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. Many of the posts on this blog over the past few months have concerned the SS United States. While this blog will by no means abandon the proud ship as a subject matter, it will nonetheless begin to focus on a new topic: Maritime Piracy. Piracy is an issue that comes up frequently in our news, especially in the past few years. Just yesterday, naval forces from France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands worked together to catch numerous pirates that had stolen boats and taken hostages in the Gulf of Aden. Read the full article HERE!
During the American Civil War, the Confederates deployed several small ships of war as commerce raiders, bent on damaging the Union’s trade routes. Since the Confederate government was not officially recognized by the United States government, these commerce raiders were seen as pirates by Union ships. Perhaps no raider is as famous as the CSS Alabama, a British-built sloop-of-war that terrorized Union shipping all over the world. In fact, First Mate Joshua P. Atkins from the T.B. Wales filed an insurance claim for his lost property when the CSS Alabama captured and burned his ship on November 8th 1863.Read more
Hello again readers, and welcome back to the library’s blog. As I write this post, OpSail 2012 is drawing to a close in Norfolk, Virginia. This past weekend was a celebration of the maritime heritage and culture that is shared by so many nations of the world. The United States had proud representatives in the form of naval vessels like the USCG Eagle, but so too did the United Kingdom, Canada, Indonesia, and many others. Ships like Germany’s FGS Hessen opened their decks to curious guests, while their crews took turns answering questions and exploring the other vessels for themselves.
And yet, it was not just maritime heritage that we celebrated – it was also a commemoration of the War of 1812, whose bicentennial will soon be upon us. This occasion made OpSail 2012 a patriotic celebration as well as an international one, as military re-enactors and historic wooden ships like the Godspeed – a replica of one of the vessels that carried the Jamestown settlers to Virginia – joined modern military vessels in saluting the War of 1812.Read more