The Doric Columns
Henry Eckford - Master Shipwright
Henry Eckford (1775–1832) was a Scottish-born shipbuilder, naval architect, industrial engineer, and entrepreneur who worked for the United States Navy and the Navy of the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century. After building a national reputation in the United States through his shipbuilding successes during the War of 1812, he became a prominent business and political figure in New York City in the 1810s, 1820s, and early 1830s.
Eckford was born in Kilwinning, near Irvine, on 12 March 1775, the youngest of five sons. As a boy, he probably trained as a ship's carpenter in the shipyard at Irvine on the Firth of Clyde
In 1791, at the age of 16, Eckford left Scotland to begin a 5-year shipbuilding apprenticeship with his mother's brother, the noted Scottish-born Canadian shipwright John Black, at a shipyard on the St. Lawrence River in Lower Canada. In 1796, he moved to New York City to work as a journeyman in a boatyard on the East River
In 1800, aged 25 he opened his own yard on the river. The yard prospered, turning out a series of ships that were handy and seaworthy, and upon which he built a reputation as a talented shipbuilder In the years before the 1812 war he assembled merchant vessels and occasionally formed partnerships to construct small craft for the United States Navy. In 1808 Eckford and Lester Beebe completed 4 gunboats for the defence of New York harbour. In addition to his superior skill in shipbuilding, Eckford was a leader who inspired exceptional dedication from those who worked under his direction. Commodore Isaac Chauncey, speaking of Eckford, stated "there is not his equal in the United States or perhaps the world."
Henry Eckford busied himself with the reorganization of the United States Navy for President Andrew Jackson. Eckford's efforts, along with those of Adam and Noah Brown, were key to American success on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812. It was Eckford's extraordinary ability to design, lay down, and build ships, ranging in size from a very small schooner to the largest frigates, working in a wilderness and in severe winter weather with sick or dissatisfied labour, and to do all this in extremely short periods of time, that maintained American superiority on Lake Ontario. From a naval shipbuilding point of view, the outstanding men of the War of 1812 were Eckford and the Browns, Adam and Noah [who also designed and built ships at Sackets Harbour]. Through the efforts of these three, the U.S. Navy held control of the lakes and prevented the British from invading the North and Northwest [i.e., modern-day Ohio] No officer or constructor of the Navy accomplished more. There were no competitors to the Browns and Eckford among the navy yards, or in the contract shipyards along the coasts, even though on the lakes building was made infinitely more difficult than on the coast because of climate and geographical conditions, to say nothing of scarcities of labour and some materials. One advantage Eckford and the Browns may have had was a lack of attention by U.S. government officials to their activities; Federal officials focused their efforts on the coasts, where they greatly interfered with shipbuilding decisions and progress during the war.
He then prepared a publication on Naval Architecture. Around the same time he donated $20,000 to establish a professorship of Naval Architecture at Columbia College.
Construction at Sackets Harbour during the War of 1812
The design of Jefferson seems to have been adapted from fast-sailing small-craft types of the period. The overwhelming strength of the Royal Navy led shipwrights to build extremely sharp-hulled vessels with the speed to outrun British ships. The brig Jefferson exhibits characteristics similar to those of a thoroughbred racing horse: capable of a high rate of speed, but demanding constant and very close attention. The ship carried 21 guns weighing a total of 32.2 tons. The combination of the extreme hull form with the weight of the armament would have made the brig 'crank', meaning that it was unstable and prone to capsizing. This required vigilance by the crew when the vessel encountered strong gusts of wind.
Naval Career of
In 1831 his talents were brought to the attention of Sultan Mahmoud of the Ottoman Empire, who commissioned Eckford to build a sloop-of-war. Afterwards, he was given the office of Chief Naval Constructor for the Empire. A year later he travelled to Turkey where he established a navy yard, but then suddenly on November 12 at the age of 57 - just as he was about to be made a Bey of the Empire - he died probably of Cholera.
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