Nehemiah Hand, of Setauket, Master Ship-Builder

Footnotes to Long Island History

Nehemiah Hand of Setauket, Master Ship-Builder



Thomas R. Bayles


       Caption:  The “Daisy,” one of the ships built by Nehemiah Hand.  It was constructed in 1871.

          Nehemiah Hand, who lived in Setauket during the past century, was one of the most successful shipbuilders on Long Island.  The following account of his activities has been preserved in his own words and gives a glimpse of the interesting career of this man.

          “I was born in the Village of Fireplace (Brookhaven) January 19th, 1814.  My father’s name was Nehemiah, and he was a descendant of the Hands who were among the first settlers on the east end of Long Island.  My mother was a daughter of General Mapes, who came to this country during the Revolutionary war.

          “My father was drowned in November 1813, with ten other men, all heads of families, while fishing in the sea at New Inlet on the South Beach.  I was born the following January, my mother being left with five small children to care for.  When I was 17 years old, I walked 18 miles to Stony Brook to see my brother, who was a shipwright.  He agreed to give me my board and clothes and a quarter’s schooling until I was 21.  The schooling I did not get, never had but 72 days schooling in my life.  While with him I had the rheumatism to bad that I had to go on crutches for three months, and was made a cripple for life.

          “The summer of 1835 I was 21 and worked for Titus Mathews of Bridgeport.  In 1886 I built the schooner ‘Delight’ for Adam Bayles.  In 1837 I made the model and molds for the schooner ‘Swallow’ and helped build her by the day.  In 1838 I was married to Mary Bennett of Setauket.  That year I worked for Bell & Brown and learned to build square rigged vessels.

          “In 1839 I built the vessel “Hardscrabble” for Louis Davis of Miller’s Place.  In 1840 I bought a lot and built a house in East Setauket.  In 1844 I laid down the first set of ways ever built in Setauket, for repairs.  I soon got a vessel to repair, the ‘Martha Ann,’ and before she was done I contracted with Capt. Charles Tyler to build the sloop ‘Commerce,’ and to own one quarter of her when finished.  In 1846 I built the schooner ‘Mary Rowland’ for Capt. Thomas W. Rowland, which proved to be a good sailer.  The same year I built the schooner ‘Albermarie’ for William B. Whitehead of Suffolk, Va., and in 1848 built another schooner, the ‘South Hampton’ for the same man.  These vessels brought pine wood from Virginia to Providence for steamboat use before coal was used.

           “In 1849 I built a schooner on my own account and called her the ‘Marietta Hand’ after my oldest daughter.  I sold one half of her to Capt. Micah Jayne, the boat to be commanded by Capt. Scudder Jayne.  In four years she had earned us $7,200, when we sold her for $5,800 which was $200 more than she cost us.  In 1851 I built the brig ‘N Hand’ for Turner and Townsend.  I owned one fourth of her and in less than four years she had paid her owners $22,562 when we sold her for $10,250.  Business for all kinds of vessels was first rate at this time.  In 1852 I built the large sloop ‘Chase’ which was used as a packet between New York and Providence.

          “In 1853 I built the schooner ‘Flying Eagle’ on my own account.  I sold half of her to Capt. Benjamin Jones and others.  I sent her to Constantinople in the time of the Crimean war with a cargo of rum and pepper.  I thought that would warm them up and make them fight if anything would.  We got $5,000 for carrying it.  She was a good sailer and paid her cost in the first four years.  In 1854 I built the bark ‘C. W. Poultney.’  She cost $39,000 and ran as a packet between Philadelphia and New Orleans.

          “In 1855 I built the brig ‘T.W. Rowland.’  She cost $28,000 and I owned one fourth.  Setauket was a lively place that summer, from 90 to 100 men being constantly employed.  Mechanics came in from all quarters, more than there were houses for.  I started the bark ‘Urnia’ and finished her in 1856, for Capt. William R. Turner.  She cost $31,000 and was built for the coffee trade between New York and Brazil.  Two years later she ran as a packet between Shanghai and Nagasaki, when Japan was first opened to the commerce of the world.  She brought home a cargo of tea and silks, the freight on which amounted to $12,000.  In 1857 I built the schooner ‘Andromeda’ for Capt. T. W. Rowland.  He owned one fourth and I three fourths of her.  We ran her three years between Bridgeport, Conn., and Washington, carrying marble to enlarge the capitol.”

          Mr. Hand built the schooner “Aldebaran” in 1860 and gave one eighth to his son Robert N. Hand, who only 19 years old, took charge of her as captain and sailed to Charleston.  She left that harbor the day before Fort Sumter was fired upon.  Robert took as his first mate Edward Hawkins and they went to Oporto, captain and mate not yet 20 years old.  February 27, 1863 she left New York with a cargo bound for Marinham.  She was captured March 13 by the rebel privateer, “Florida,” plundered and burned.  The “Florida” was in command of Capt. Moffitt, who was a son of the sensational Methodist preacher Moffitt, who preached on Long Island at one time.  The captain and all hands of the ill fated schooner “Aldebaran” were taken  on board the privateer and kept ten days, and then put on board the brig “Run In Need” and sent to Greencock, Scotland, with nothing but their clothes.  The captain asked Moffitt for his chronometer, charts and nautical instruments, as they had been given to him by  his father, but Moffitt said they were contraband of war, and refused.  It cost the boys $350 to get home from Scotland.  Mr. Hand filed a claim in Washington for the value of the vessel, and after waiting 13 years received $30,160 with interest at 4 per cent.

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