The Great Age of Sail
As the 19th century unfolded, the greatness of a growing nation was measured by its naval muscle, the only way to move marketable goods between lucrative, foreign markets. For instance, Chinese tea found its way to London and coffee from Brazil wound up in San Francisco, thanks to the sailing ships. Within a generation of its new-found independence, the United States of America became a force in global shipping, eventually monopolizing trade in the East Indies and virtually every maritime highway which connected foreign ports. Additionally, continent-hopping travelers and emigrants provided a market for sailing ships too.
Cape Cod men and boys who hailed from West Yarmouth, Yarmouthport and South Yarmouth, jumped on the maritime bandwagon and soon this crooked arm of a Massachusetts peninsula became known as the `greatest nursery of seamen in North America', according to the historian Henry Kittredge. The tales and exploits of these captains provide rich fodder for maritime legends still told today.
Captain Asa Eldridge, born in 1809, first went to sea as a cook, a common practice for Yarmouth boys who aspired to one day skipper his own ship. Captain Eldridge is perhaps best known for setting a trans-Atlantic record from New York to Liverpool in 13 days, 1 hour and 25 minutes aboard the Red Jacket.
Another well known deep water skipper from Yarmouth The Great Age Of Sail was Captain Bangs Hallet, a 7th generation descendant of Andrew Hallet, one of the first white settlers who came to Yarmouth in 1640. Captain Hallet commanded no less than nine ships during a sea career lasting 30 years. Hallet nearly lost his life when his ship's main mast was struck by lightening, igniting a fire in the cargo hull which was laden with cotton. Fire engulfed the ship off the coast of North Carolina in February, 1840. A passing British steamer rescued Captain Hallet and his men, and true to lore Hallet was the last man to step off his burning vessel.
By the beginning of the 1860's the commercial soul of Yarmouth shifted from Yarmouth Port to South Yarmouth, as the Bass River area population grew, and additional wharfs were built to accommodate the short lived, thriving maritime industry there.
As the 19th century shut its doors, the need for tall ships sharply declined because the more popular machine driven steamships and barges didn't rely on the fickle wind for power. Also, the introduction of the Old Colony Railroad to Cape Cod in 1848, and to Yarmouth in 1854, allowed valued goods to quickly reach the Cape by land. Many sea captains retired or took up work on land. The so called Great Age of Sail lasted a mere generation but its significance to global commerce of the 19th century is remembered yet today.