About the MHP
The Maritime Heritage Project began as a tribute to Captains James H. Blethen and James H. Blethen, Jr., great-great-grandfather and great-grandfather of Dianne Blethen Adams Levy, founder of the project.
Through researching their shipping histories, D.A. Levy became enamored of the drama of mass migration taking place around the world in the mid-1800s: Europeans fled war and persecution; 750,000 Irish immigrants crossed the Atlantic to America’s eastern seaports to escape the potato famine; hundreds of thousands of people rushed from every part of the globe seeking refuge and opportunity in the gold fields and mines of California, Mexico, Australia and Alaska.
Entrepreneurial shipping companies built huge steamships designed to carry hundreds of passengers and tons of goods. The combination of sail and steam made steamers faster than the elegant clippers and the addition of creature comforts, such as hot-and-cold running water, made them more practical. New methods of transportation, thought and commerce were born. Louis J. Rasmussen wrote: “It was the steamer, not the sailing vessel, that revolutionized the old systems . . . by annihilating in great measure time and distance . . . the propeller steamer’s cork screw opened old Neptune like a bottle, noiselessly skimming the tide.”
Overland immigration during the Gold Rush is the subject of hundreds of novels and movies, yet it is a matter of record that California’s rapid development was due to commerce by sea.
When winter storms blocked overland trails during 1848-49, fortune seekers booked passage on anything afloat: 762 vessels cleared eastern ports for San Francisco that first winter after the discovery of gold. By January 1850, 39,888 people arrived in 805 vessels. By the end of 1852, San Francisco was the third most important port in the Nation, after New York and Boston.
Ships delivered both practical and exotic goods, whereas wagon trains often abandoned precious wares when their wheels bogged down along the plains or in the soft, vast desert sands at the Eastern foothills of the West’s majestic mountains. Please Support The Maritime Heritage Project