Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Once in Rags, Ever a Queen: Schooner Days MCCLXX (1270)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 26 May 1956
Full Text
Once in Rags, Ever a Queen
Schooner Days MCCLXX (1270)

by C. H. J. Snider

Resuming NANCY's Story - 8

IT is quite true that many small vessels of the late 18th century were straight as gun-barrels, but there is reason for believing that the fur-trader Nancy, which became a transport in the War of 1812 and ended gloriously as HMS Nancy, was quite the reverse - strong-sheered, curving well up at both ends.

Men-of-war were straight sheered to keep their guns on the same level, and contemporary traders were short-nosed and blocky. But John Richardson and his master carpenter were men of both imagination and experience. They gave the Nancy her sweet lines, her strong sheer, her raking spars, her graceful overhang, for practical purposes as well as to satisfy the innate artistic instinct.

The ensemble kept both ends of the ship dry in rough weather. Her behavior at all times, under sail and at anchor or on a lee shore through a wild October gale on Lake Huron, vindicated their judgment. In weather so rough that her windlass was almost torn out of her, by the tug of three cables and anchors she always kept her head clear, never swamped nor was clean-swept and lost nothing from her deck. And she leaked no more than normal in spite of all the tossing.


The Nancy's spars may have all been oiled or varnished bright as yachts' spars are often kept so pleasingly. But it is more than probable that her mastheads, doublings and any spars on which hoops and barrels did not have to travel were "blacked" for protection against the weather. The six yards which crossed her masts may or may not have been blacked as well.

Topmasts, lower masts and jib-boom would be slushed or lubricated so that the sail hoops could travel on them. The usage of painting all spars throughout for their preservation had not yet developed.

All the Nancy's rigging was hemp. Steel wire rope had not been invented. Her shrouded and stays and standing rigging had to be tarred down frequently for preservation, Her cables are not chain, but hemp. Replacing them in wartime with a great scarcity if all materials was a nightmare of almost continuous splicing and resplicing.


The same must be said of her canvas. At the end of 1813 her wardrobe consisted of two partial suits of nine sails, all so torn, worn and ragged that it was not possible to make one sound suit from the eighteen shreds and patches.

The Nancy was a queen to her dying day, but in 1814 she was a queen in rags. She wintered at Sault Ste. Marie, and Alexander Mackintosh worked his whole crew every reasonable day upon repairs to her hull, rigging and sails.

Perhaps some really new cordage and canvas came through with the reinforcement of 400 naval men who marched on snow-shoes from New Brunswick. Or it may have been brought up in the spring with the Glengarry reinforcement of Mackinac. Alexander may have made a new mainsail, foresail and headsails, his greatest need, his greatest needs, before August when his bluejackets met him at Nottawasaga. The Nancy was self-supporting; her crew were carpenters, coopers, sail makers, broom binders as required. Even haymakers, when the sheep for Gen. Procter's table needed fodder, as Alexander Macintosh's logbook shows:

"Monday, August 2 (1813) - Returned to the opposite shore and took some hay on board for the sheep."

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
26 May 1956
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 46.5103907436383 Longitude: -84.3390864868164
Richard Palmer
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Once in Rags, Ever a Queen: Schooner Days MCCLXX (1270)