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The Eckford Cider Jug, and Its Story
I would like to share another one of my acquisitions. It is a cider jug bearing the monogram “HE”. Still researching this, but its history is quite interesting. It was made for an individual named Henry Eckford, a world-renowned maritime architect and shipbuilder. This piece is my absolute favorite in my collection. What seems like an unremarkable jug has such an important historical value and is precisely why I’ve decided to expand my little ship collection to include these armorials, pseudo-armorials, and monograms. I hope you enjoy reading through my research on Henry Eckford, and that you may see the uncertainties that come with determining individual associations of these special-order pieces.
US Navy and War of 1812
Henry Eckford’s contribution to the United States navy was of paramount importance during the War of 1812 and kept the British from invading the United States from the north through Lake Ontario. The late curator of maritime history at the Smithsonian Institution once wrote:
“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 labor, and to do all this in extremely short periods of time, that maintained American superiority on Lake Ontario." The History of the American Sailing Navy: The Ships and Their Development, Chapelle, 1935.
Notably, Chapelle highlights Eckford’s skillful flexibility in designing ships in record time. This was especially valuable when Lake Ontario superiority would depend on British and American navies constantly building ships to “one-up” each other. The Lake Ontario naval theater would eventually become known as the “Battle of the Carpenters.” The importance of Lake Ontario during the War of 1812 can’t be underestimated. It was the most important strategic access point from the north of the United States. British superiority on Lake Ontario would grant the British a resupply route through the St. Lawrence River, where the British allied Quebec and Montreal are situated.
Eckford’s largest ship, the New Orleans was laid in Lake Ontario, but would not be finished due to the end of the War of 1812. It was designed to have 130-guns, a monstrosity on Lake Ontario that would’ve dwarfed even Admiral Nelson’s oceangoing HMS Victory, which had a mere 104-guns. Despite its size, it was specially designed for use on the great lakes. It would remain unfinished and in a state of decay for years. The New Orleans was laid down in response to the HMS St. Lawrence, which was a 112-gun ship of the line built on Lake Ontario, an example of the arms race in the Battle of the Carpenters.
Commodore Isaac Chauncey praised the speed and skill of Eckford’s shipbuilding activities in a letter to the Secretary of the United States Navy:
“I think that [Eckford] could have built sooner, and perhaps cheaper than any other Man, and as to his talents as a Ship Carpenter I am bold to say, that there is not his equal in the U. States, or perhaps in the World – his exertions here (on Lake Ontario) was unexampled – The Madison (Chauncey's first flagship in the War of 1812) was built in 45 working days in a new country, where everything was transported from New York (over wilderness roads) except the timber. The General Pike (another full-rigged ship, larger than the Madison) would have been launched in 40 days, except from the circumstances of my being obliged to send Mr. Eckford with thirty-five of his best workmen to Black Rock, where he rebuilt and fitted out five vessels in less than 30 days; returned to this place, and launched the General Pike in 62 days, from the time her keel was laid. The Sylph, a schooner of 340 tons, was built in 21 days.” Commodore Chauncey to the Secretary of the Navy, No. 92, Sackett’s Harbor, 1813.
Additionally, Eckford’s arrival on New Year’s Eve in 1812 on Lake Erie would secure the United States’ superiority there, where Eckford would design Commodore Perry’s flagship, the Lawrence, and its sister ship, and improve the other Lake Erie naval ships. “Eckford played a major role in seven of the nine vessels that fought in the Battle of Lake Erie,” see Oliver Hazard Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie, 1988, p.29.
Eckford would eventually build the first USS Ohio in 1820 after the war, which would serve as the flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron under Commodore Isaac Hull for a few years in suppressing piracy and protecting commerce (cool!). One officer of the Ohio expressed “I never supposed such a ship could be built – a ship possessing in so great a degree all the qualifications of a perfect vessel.” See Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, vol. 5. Eckford resigned as Chief Naval Constructor after USS Ohio launched.
Henry Eckford’s shipbuilding activities were also important for the China trade in more ways than one. One of his earliest commercial clients was John Jacob Astor, the first multi-millionaire in the United States, who made his fortune in the fur trade.
The North West Company in Canada declined Astor’s initial business partnership proposal to work with him to trade with China due to internal division over the partners considering previous losses with the China trade. Astor would learn from this and develop his own significant and reliable supply chain of furs from Canadian merchants, and interior North American agents. He would be the most important American fur trader. His shipping activities early on involved purchasing a space on other merchant ships, such as the Ontario in 1798, and the Mary in 1799, but after tasting the profits of the China fur trade, he would purchase his own partnership in a ship in 1800, the Severn, in which he exported 1,023 beaver skins, 351 fox skins, 103 otter skins, and 30,753 seal skins, alongside red dyes, and ginseng. See John Jacob Astor: Business and Finance in the Early Republic, Ch. 3 pp. 65-93, 2017.
Astor further expanded his China presence after two voyages on the Severn, by buying out Severn as principal owner in 1804, and commissioned Henry Eckford the following year to build his first ship made specifically for the China trade. Eckford designed and built the Beaver for Astor in 1805, which rivaled the East India Company ships – a stark contrast from the early American China trade ships which normally emphasized speed over capacity. Ibid. However, it seems Eckford’s design was built for both – making the long run home from Canton to Bermuda in a mere 75-days. See Henry Eckford, American Shipbuilder, p. 178, n.6 (1947). Astor was undoubtedly pleased with Eckford, commissioning his second China trade ship with him soon after, the Magdalen, named after Astor’s eldest daughter. He would sell the Severn in the interim. Astor’s inaugural years in the China trade involved sending the Beaver and the Magdalen on an alternate rotation between Canton and New York, utilizing 100% Eckford designed and built ships. After Eckford’s resignation as Chief Naval Constructor in 1820, he would return to build ships for Astor, launching the Isabella and the Henry Astor in 1820, and the Tamaahmaah in 1824. It’s unclear what trade these latter ships would be utilized in, but perhaps the Tamaahmaah was involved in the whaling trade as a scrimshaw whale tooth depicts her in 1825:
Perhaps his greatest contribution to China trade shipping, and shipbuilding in general for that matter, was his role as a teacher in the shipbuilding trade. His apprentices include famous shipbuilders such as Isaac Webb, David Brown, Jacob Bell, John Robb, Stephen Smith, and many others. See Henry Eckford, American Shipbuilder, p. 181, n.15 (1947). Eckford was so influential on the Webb family that Isaac Webb would name his second son after Eckford: Eckford Webb. Eckford Webb and his elder brother, William H. Webb would be brilliant shipbuilders. These second and third generations of shipbuilders would become known for their extremely fast clipper ships, with the majority being used for the China and India trade. David Brown and Jacob Bell would form their renowned shipyard, Brown & Bell, in New York and build over 150 vessels, and the Webbs would build over 200 vessels in New York, many destined for China. Arguably the most famous clipper ship designers was Donald McKay who apprenticed under Isaac Webb and would be employed by Brown & Bell shortly before starting his own legendary shipyard in Boston, Massachusetts. Brown & Bell would notably build one of the earliest clipper ships, the Houqua, for the China trade in honor of the Canton Hong merchant. John Robb would start his own shipyard in Baltimore and was famous for his fast Baltimore clippers. Interestingly, Robb would also employ a young Frederick Douglass as a caulker. Eckford’s pupils would set up their shipyards in almost every major US port. The typical American Clipper can be seen in this famous Chinese export plate illustrated in China for the West, vol. 1, p. 229:
Henry Eckford was instrumental in building foreign navies as well. Don Manuel Hermenegildo de Aguirre was appointed as Commissioner General of War and Marine of the newly formed United Provinces of South America – later known as the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata. Aguirre commissioned Eckford and Brown to build three corvettes. Eckford’s shipyard would build two of the three corvettes to be sold to the United Provinces for their Liberation squadron. However, the rebel effort would see only the Eckford built Curacio. The other two corvettes would be sold to Spain and Portugal to satisfy debts unpaid by the Aguirre. This was the first example of Yankee shipbuilding utilized for United States diplomacy. See Sea History: The Art, Literature, Adventure, Lore, & Learning of the Sea, No. 164, p. 20, 2018. Eckford would additionally build frigates for the governments of Colombia and Brazil. See Henry Eckford, American Shipbuilder, p. 175 (1947).
His most important contribution in this sphere, however, was his instrumental role in securing diplomatic relations between the United States and the Ottoman empire in 1931. This would result in the first formal American-Ottoman treaty of commerce and navigation. See The Bicentennial in American-Turkish Relations, p. 291. The treaty was ratified but would essentially fail when the United States Senate rejected the article that required frigates, brigs, and corvettes to be built in the United States for the Ottoman Navy. Ibid. at 294. The doors would open once again when Henry Eckford would personally sail his newly built The United States corvette, to Istanbul to Constantinople with a copy of the ratified treaty. The United States would be mistaken as a gift for the Sultan, and after quick correction, would be sold to the Sultan for $150,000. Henry Eckford was subsequently hired as a shipbuilder for the Ottoman Navy, satisfying the originally rejected article. Eckford would immediately get to work redesigning the ships in construction but would die of Cholera in 1832. However, “Henry Eckford brought the most up-to-date naval technology to the Empire, and the Ottoman navy was transformed” in his short-lived time there. See Technology transfer and diffusion in the context of globalization: A study of a critical decade in the ottoman empire through the experiences of henry eckford, 1830-1840, p. 94, 2013. Eckford left a lasting impression the Sultan with The United States that he “gave him a snuff-box set with diamonds.” See Letter from Commodore Porter to Home 1832. The Sultan would express that "America must be a great nation if it can afford to lose such men as Henry Eckford.” Henry Eckford, American Shipbuilder, p. 195 (1947). This is The United States taken from an image in the Istanbul Naval Museum Collection:
The issue of who ordered this service for Eckford, of which only a punch bowl and two cider jugs are known, is one that may still be up for debate. The family attributes the origin of the service as a gift from the Turkish government to Eckford. However, Eckford would spend less than two years in the Ottoman Empire before his body would be preserved in spirits of wine and taken back in the bark, Henry Eckford. See Henry Eckford, American Shipbuilder, p. 193 (1947). The porcelain and decoration does not fit well with the time frame of 1830-1832 and the length of his work in the Ottoman Empire make this story unlikely. The more likely story, as Cohen & Cohen has surmised in 2017, is that the service was a gift to Henry Eckford from John Jacob Astor, the china trade merchant mentioned previously, although they narrowly attribute this piece to the inaugural voyage of the Beaver in 1806. It may be equally likely that the service would’ve traveled on the Magdalen in 1807, when Astor had a more established business relationship with Eckford, or in any of their subsequent voyages back and forth. The two would clearly remain friends in New York, especially considering the rapid commission of the Isabella and the Henry Astor within the same year of Eckford’s resignation from the Navy.
- Henry Eckford (1775-1832)
- Elizabeth I Richardson (1904-2000), by descent
- Alanson B. Houghton II (1930-2016), by descent (Nephew of Elizabeth Richardson)
- Joan Oestreich Kend Collection of Americana
- Sold at Sotheby’s on January 20, 2017, in New York, Lot 4128
- Cohen & Cohen
- Polly Latham
Thank you for reading my very long post, but with these pieces, the interest is in its history! They do tell a better story than the pieces with depictions of ships. Here is the cider jug. It is 10" tall:
The punchbowl that absolutely carried the price was phenomenal. I feel privileged to even have this cider jug in my collection. https://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2017/collection-of-joan-oestreich-kend-n09607/lot.4128.html
See pages 140-145:
Wow John, what a marvelous acquisition, yes the provenance and history of the original owner are impressive. Thank you for sharing the history, not least amazing is that it sat in Manhattan with that much ground around the house. Sharon
Absolutely fascinating! What a career he had - I am always so impressed with what people have achieved in terms of construction, whether buildings or ships etc, without the computing assistance we have now. It is incredible. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of that, thank you!
Congratulations on acquiring the jug; it seems a perfect for for your collection.
I like your piece, it always nice to see some history on apiece John
Hi Sharon, Julia, and John! Thank you very much for your very kind words. I'm glad you all enjoyed it! Perhaps I wrote a bit too much on non-China trade stuff, though. It's funny - while researching this piece, I found comments on the original lot at Sotheby's that the magnificent punch bowl was "accompanied by two unremarkable jugs". Mine is the smaller of the two, and with a modern replacement lid, restoration to the spout, and retouching to the gilt, but I suppose one's trash is another's treasure. In this case, the centerpiece, at least for the moment!
I enjoyed this especially because it gave me a reason to learn more about the American China trade, and kept finding interesting leads that led to other interesting facts. For example, one of the sources discussed the circulation of specie, or silver coins used in Canton, since silver was one of the few reliable goods the self-reliant Chinese were interested in. It looks like the Chinese Hong merchants punched these coins with their chop marks to test the metals, and are an interesting, abundant relic of the China trade:
It might be interesting to collect these, too, although I'm hesitant because of fakes...
That was interesting. I didn't know any of that. I am very much enjoying all this trade information.
@bartholin I’m almost sure you already own this book. I believe it’s still one of the best (and most affordable) books for anyone interested in export porcelain.
I'm glad you enjoyed it, Julia! I certainly did as well.
Thank you for the recommendation, Birgit! I actually do have that one buried away in my bookshelf, but you've reminded me to finish reading it. I think when I started reading it initially, I was unhappy with how one source characterized a Filipino tribe (I am Filipino), so I put it down and never picked it back up again. The scope of its content does look much more substantial than the other books I have, though. I've never seen another book discuss the Philippines and the China trade. Apparently, my relatives in the Philippines used to have a wealth of Chinese porcelain but in the '90s and early 2000's, there were waves of buyers who swept through the province and capitalized on the knowledge gap.
John, great read I have one correction though. The battle for Erie, you guys got lucky, in the middle of the battle the wind changed direction giving the Americans the upper hand. If I recall when the wind changed, it put the British fleet between the land and the US navy so rather than British fighting with the wind in their sails and at their backs they had no room to tac against the wind. Because of this win by the US the Canadian militia, British Regulars with their Indian partners had to retreat up the Thames River do to their supply line was cut off.
Thank you for the very interesting correction, Ron! 😆 I was unaware of that fact - I admit my research on the War of 1812 hyperfocused on Lake Ontario, and I didn't look too much into Lake Erie other than the one source.
As in all histories the story change perspective depending on who tells the story. I don’t think the war of 1812 is taught in American schools, it should be. It broke the back of the ‘manifest destiny’ concept.
I have my own qualms with the American education system, although I do think they've taught about the War of 1812 at some point. Unfortunately, I was not interested in history until I started collecting antiques about a little over a year ago.
@bartholin I taught the War of 1812, some arsonists paid us a visit and Andy Jackson taught them another needless lesson on retreat at New Orleans, as the war was actually concluded before the Battle of New Orleans. Neither side knew it was over. We got a little riled up with the British habit of stopping our ships and impressing our sailors, oh well. Just like the French-indian War (called the Seven Years War in Europe) is probably also taught differently in Canada.
Thank you for the interesting information, Sharon! I have a lot more reading to do on the War of 1812 it seems.
Also, it looks like this happened between the British and the United States everywhere, even in Canton. I did come across two interesting letters related to the first ship Eckford built for Astor, the Beaver. This is a letter from Isaac Chauncey to James Madison discussing an event where the British impressed a sailor from the Beaver on its first trip to Canton in 1806:
This is a follow-up letter discussing more British confrontations at Canton, and a further explanation that the sailor mentioned in the first letter was not a subject of Britain after all (the reason given for impressing), but from Philadelphia, whcih the British captain would later acknowledge, "but would keep him until he was ready for sea in order to punish some other Americans that he was vexed with."
@bartholin That was fun, I wish Chauncey had included the more suitable for a fishmonger gentleman's words. Hard words between peoples of a common descent caused many problems and continue to do so. Few know that one cause of the Boston Massacre was a local resident telling a British soldier to come clean his out house, except he did not use the word out as a descriptor for the house. I myself was surprised to learn that in a legal history course. Ron absolutely is correct as to how history is taught, I'm certain that the French-Indian War was taught differently in French Canada than it was in British Canada. It was also good warfare practice for a little future disagreement between British citizens that would see the creation of a separated nation. "We must all hang together now or we will surely hang separately," goodbye George.
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