Black Ball Line (trans-Atlantic packet)

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This article is about the trans-Atlantic packet shipping company. For other uses, see Black Ball Line (disambiguation).
Map of the Port of New York on the south tip of Manhattan Island in 1851. Heavy broken line marks the waterfront below City Hall park in 1784. Area filled in prior to 1820. The docks of the Black Ball Line are in the upper part of the figure.

The Black Ball Line was a passenger line founded by a group of New York Quaker merchants headed by Jeremiah Thompson, and included Isaac Wright & Son (William), Francis Thompson and Benjamin Marshall. All were Quakers except Marshall. The line initially consisted of four packet ships, the Amity, Courier, Pacific and the James Monroe. All of these were running between Liverpool, England and New York City. This first scheduled trans-Atlantic service was founded in 1817. In operation for some 60 years, it took its name from its flag, a black ball on a red background.

In 1851, James Baines & Co. of Liverpool entered the packet trade using the same name and flag as the New York company, despite its protests. Thus, for about twenty years, two "Black Ball lines" under separate ownership were operating in direct competition on the transatlantic packet trade. James Baines & Co. also operated ships running between Liverpool and Australia, including famous clipper ships such as Champion of the Seas, James Baines, Lightning, Indian Queen, Marco Polo and Sovereign of the Seas.

The Black Ball Line is mentioned in several sea shanties, such as "Blow the Man Down," "Homeward Bound", "Bullgine Run", and "Hurrah for the Black Ball Line."

List of Black Ball Line (USA) ships[edit]

Year (?) Name Tonnage Shipyard Status/fate
1815 James Monroe aground in 1850 off the Tasmanian coast
1816 Amity 382 BRT New York stranded on 24 April 1824 in Manasquan
1822 James Cropper
924 BRT William H. Webb, New York stranded on 18 May 1854 in New York
1844 Yorkshire 996 BRT William H. Webb, New York in February 1862 lost on the trip from New York
1845 Fidelia 895 BRT William H. Webb, New York
1846 Columbia 1050 BRT William H. Webb, New York
1847 Isaac Wright 1129 BRT William H. Webb, New York fell on fire on 23 Dec. 1858 on the Mersey and sank
1850 Manhattan 1299 BRT William H. Webb, New York broke out on 14 March 1863 Liverpool en route to New York, disappeared
1851 Isaac Webb 1359/1497 BRT William H. Webb, New York went to the dissolution of the Black Ball Line for Charles H. Marshall & Co. and sank on 25 October 1880
1851 Great Western 1443 BRT William H. Webb, New York
William Thompson
1854 1383 BRT sank 31 December 1875 after a collision, in the Irish Channel
1855 James Foster, Jr. 1410 BRT William H. Webb, New York was in 1881 as a Hudson sold to German owners
1855 Neptune 1406 BRT William H. Webb, New York ran in April 1876 to the Nova Scotia coast and broken
1860 Alexander Marshall 1177 BRT William H. Webb, New York sank 1869 in the North Atlantic
1869 1683 BRT William H. Webb, New York In 1887 sold to Norway as Sovereign and took fire on 20 March 1891 at the coal loading


  • Stephen Fox, Transatlantic: Samuel Cunard, Isambard Brunel, and the Great Atlantic Steamships, Harper Collins (2003) ISBN 0-06-019595-9, pp. 3–16 (introductory chapter on sailing packets).
  • Transatlantic WNYC Reading Room (reproduces chapter referred to above)

External links[edit]