User:Gatoclass/SB/Rhode Island (1836)

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Rhode Island
Rhode Island underway, from a drawing by Stanton
Name: Rhode Island
Namesake: Rhode Island
Builder: Brown & Bell (NY)
Completed: 1836
In service: 1836–1850
Fate: Sank in storm, 1850
General characteristics
Type: Passenger sidewheel steamer
Tonnage: 589
Length: 211 ft
Beam: 28 ft
Depth of hold: 10 ft
Installed power: 1 × 350 hp, 50-inch cylinder, 11 ft stroke square steam engine
Propulsion: 2 × 24 ft diameter sidewheels, 30 inch dip
Capacity: About 300 passengers

Rhode Island was a passenger sidewheel steamer built in New York in 1836 for service on Long Island Sound. Considered to be one of the finest steamers of her day, Rhode Island maintained a regular service from New York to Providence, Rhode Island and later Stonington, Connecticut for the New York and Boston Transportation Company.

After being sold in 1846, Rhode Island ran for a time between New York and Philadelphia. The steamer sank with the loss of 32 lives in the Gulf Stream in 1850, while on her way to the California Gold Rush.

Construction and design[edit]

Rhode Island was built in 1836 by Brown & Bell of New York for the New York and Boston Transportation Company (later known as the New Jersey Steam Navigation Company), which planned to operate her on the New York to Providence route.[1] This route linked up with the Boston and Providence Railroad, thus forming a leg of the well-patronized route between Boston and New York.

Rhode Island was powered by a single-cylinder, 350 horsepower, square steam engine with a 50-inch bore and 11-foot stroke,[2] built by the Allaire Iron Works.[1] Steam was supplied by two iron boilers,[2] one on each guard, a common arrangement in this period that was intended to reduce the danger to person and property in the event of a boiler explosion.

At 589 tons and 211 feet in length, Rhode Island was at the time one of the largest steamboats yet built for operation on Long Island Sound, and was considered one of the finest. Her lower or main cabin was 165 feet long, and contained 170 passenger berths.[2] In total, she could accommodate about 300 passengers.[1]

Service history[edit]

Another view of Rhode Island

Rhode Island made her debut on the New York–Providence route in 1836, covering the distance in 12 hours and 24 minutes—a fast time in this period, though not as fast as that of her chief rival, Cornelius Vanderbilt's Lexington, then the fastest boat on Long Island Sound.[1] Later that year, a spate of thefts took place on the New York to Providence steamboats, including a theft of $39,000 in gold from Rhode Island. The missing gold was recovered in October when the steamer's engineer discovered it hidden in a large oil container—presumably stashed there hurriedly by the would-be thief during a search for the stolen goods.[3]

On November 10, 1837, the Providence and Stonington Railroad, which linked up with the Boston and Providence Railroad, opened its service between Stonington and Providence. Taking advantage of this new route, Rhode Island's proprietors transferred Rhode Island and another of their vessels, Narragansett, to a new service between New York and Stonington. They were soon joined once again by their chief rival Lexington, but after a time an agreement was reached with Vanderbilt, and from this point Rhode Island and Lexington shared the New York to Stonington traffic between them.[4]

Rhode Island continued to operate on the Sound for the same owners until 1846, when she was sold.[5] She later operated on the route from New York to Philadelphia.[2]


After the discovery of gold in California in 1849, a number of east coast steamboat proprietors decided to risk their vessels on the hazardous voyage around Cape Horn to the potentially lucrative California goldfields. Rhode Island would become one of these vessels.[6]

On January 25, 1850, Rhode Island set out from New York[6] with 44 passengers and crew for California. On January 29, the steamer ran into a gale in the vicinity of Bermuda and foundered. Twelve of the steamer's complement—nine crew and three passengers—managed to launch a lifeboat and were later picked up by a schooner. The remaining 32, who had been preparing a raft when the lifeboat was launched, were never heard from again.[7] In October 1850, a whaling bark in the Azores came across Rhode Island's 200-pound bell, stamped "James P. Allaire, N. Y., 1836", attached to a large broken beam floating in the water.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d Morrison, p. 272.
  2. ^ a b c d Stanton, p. 51.
  3. ^ "The $39,000 Dollars Found", The Patriot, p. 4, 1836-10-18.
  4. ^ Morrison, p. 276.
  5. ^ Morrison, p. 288.
  6. ^ a b Morrison, p. 512.
  7. ^ Stryker, p. 133.
  8. ^ "New York, October 12, 1850", Scientific American, Volume 6, Issue 4, p. 29, 1850-10-12.


  • Morrison, John Harrison (1903): History of American Steam Navigation, W. F. Sametz & Co., New York.
  • Stanton, Samuel Ward (1895): American Steam Vessels, p. 51, Smith & Stanton, New York.
  • Stryker, James (Ed., 1850): Stryker's American Register And Magazine, July 1850, Volume 4, p. 133, Phillips & Boswell, United States.