The Bayles family, of Port Jefferson (NY) was involved in caulking, and the building of barks, brigs, schooners, ships (whalers), steamers, sloops, yacht (schooners), and yacht (sloops) under five (5) names: (1.) Elisha Bayles, (2.) James M. & C. L. Bayles, (3.) James M. Bayles, (4.) James M. Bayles & Son, and (5.) C. L. Bayles.
First, Elisha Bayles was a ship caulker, and according to the New Bedford (MA) Museum, “ship caulkers were important shipyard workers, finishing the process of making new hulls and decks tight and leak-free; and restoring older hulls to the same degree of fitness.” Caulking was done prior to every voyage!
The caulker’s job required a skill, and special tools to complete the process of sealing the hull, and deck. On wooden vessels, Elisha probably used cotton and hemp fibers soaked in pine tar.
The New Bedford Museum web site mentions the, “fibers are driven into the wedge-shaped seam between planks, with a caulking mallet and a broad chisel-like tool called a caulking iron. The caulking is then covered over with a putty in the case of hull seams, or else in deck seams with melted pine pitch.”
Elisha, the caulker’s tools probably consisted of mallets, chisels, hooks, and narrow scrapers to clean the seams between the hull or deck planks prior to caulking.
The Patchogue Advance, July 14, 1949 issue mentioned, “Famous Old Sloop Emperor,” in the spring of 1828, Elisha Bayles was the “boss calker (caulker)” for boats on Long Island, when Captain Caleb Kinner, of Down Meadows (Port Jefferson) was building his boat. Kinner had contracted with Derby (CT) ship builders, Zephaniah and Israel Hallock to build the sloop Emperor.
Back on January 8, 1828, Caleb Kinner had signed an indenture agreement with Samuel P. Helme (1801-1828) to rent property consisting of a “store, small dwelling house, store house, shed stable, and yards in the village of Down Meadows. The annual rent was $100 for a term of 5-years, and $25 was to be paid each quarter. The document’s “Articles of Agreement” also listed a blacksmith shop.” But Helme died August 28 at the age of 27-years old.
It can be assumed Caleb Kinner, and his boat caulker Elisha Bayles were acquainted with the brothers, Zephaniah (known as Uncle Zeph), and Israel Hallock. Both brothers had been born in the Town of Brookhaven (the Stony Brook area), and relocated in 1816 to Derby (CT) to enter the boat building business. Elisha Bayles had been the subcontracting caulker during the brothers first year in business!
The Patchogue Advance article continued, “Elisha, with his son Alfred, and his brother Lloyd rowed across the Sound in a yawl boat (two-masted fore-and-aft-rigged sailboat), and up the Housatonic River to Derby, a distance of 40 miles” in 1828. While in Derby, the subcontracting Bayles brothers, and Elisha’s son caulked, then rigged the sloop, as well as assisted in the launch.
The Emperor (sloop) was sailed across the Long Island Sound to Port Jefferson (NY) to be used as a ”packet,” to carry mail, freight, and passengers on the Port Jefferson to New York – Long Island Sound water route for the next 30-years.
In the beginning the Emperor (sloop) competition was a mail stage coach that ran twice weekly. The sloop made the trip easier for travelers, it would leave Port Jefferson at 10:00 am and arrive in the City by sundown at the cost of $0.50 a passenger. You could also dine at the Captain’s table for “a shilling a meal”! She could carry a maximum of 60 passengers “with a cabin only 20-feet square”. By the summer of 1895, the Emperor (sloop) was competing with the Long Island Railroad, and was sold for $100; however she had profitable past.
The Hallock’s interest in the Derby, Connecticut shipbuilding business was sold in 1868, when the Naugatuck Railroad was being built through their property. Samuel Orcutt, and Ambrose Beardsley’s book, The History of the Old Town of Derby, Connecticut, 1642-1880 mentioned, four (4) vessels were built just before the sale, which were contracted by Thomas Chapman.
Elisha Bayles must have went from being a master caulker to building vessels. Two of the sloops (or schooners) believed to be built by Elisha were the Alonzo (c. 1830), and James Gorman (c. 1834). Soon after, the next generation of Bayles, James M., and Charles L. entered the shipbuilding business as prime and subcontractors in Down Meadows (Port Jefferson). The bulk of the shipbuilding contract for Elisha’s two sons started about 1836. The Bayles brothers probably were probably also investors in the ships built, since this was a common practice with shipbuilders. Around this time, 21-year old James purchased a house built in 1802 for John Willse at the corner of East Broadway, and East Main Street in Down Meadows (Post Jefferson).
Between 1830 and 1850s, wooden shipbuilding in Northport, Setauket, and Port Jefferson had become an important industry in Suffolk County. More vessels were needed to ship cotton from the south to England, and for whaling in the Pacific Ocean. In 1849, gold was discovered in California causing potential miners to travel by sea. Schooners were also needed for commercial trade along the east coast, and into the Gulf of Mexico to carry freight.
This growing shipbuilding industry can be tracked through the 1830 to the 1870 US Federal Census, which shows the increase in the number of men enumerated as: caulkers, riggers, painters, sailmakers, and shipwright with carpenter skills on Long Island.
In 1847, the Bayles brothers built the Edward Lather Frost (known as E. L. Frost), a schooner, believed to be “the first American vessel to bring cargo from Japan in 1856 after Commodore Matthew Perry established trade with that country”.
On February 23, 1852, the E. L. Frost arrived in San Francisco after an 18-day trip from Lahaina (Sandwich Islands) according to Louis J. Rasmussen’s book, San Francisco Ship Passengers, November 7, 1851 – June 17, 1852 (Vol. 3).
According to the May 10, 1850 issue of the Long Islander (Huntington) newspaper, the schooner Denmark built by the Bayles in 1841 was ashore at “Shinnecock, landed with flour, 700 barrels …” The brothers’ business continued to expand, as they matured in age!
The Records of the Town of Brookhaven (Suffolk N. Y.) contains an August 1849, Indenture between the Trustees of the Freeholders, and Charles L. as well as James M. Bayles for the “…privileges of a rail-way at Port Jefferson granted to Robbins & Jones”. The original grant would expire May 6, 1855; and the Bayles brothers were concerned and wanted to “…keep said dock in good repair for the accommodation of the public…”
The Bayles brothers built approximately 27 vessels between 1836 and 1854, as prime or subcontractors. They built one (1) to four (4) vessels a year! Information about the activity and fate of vessels, the Bayles brother built can be found in local, regional, national, and international books and newspapers!
It seems, James and Charles might have come back together in 1861 to build the schooner Lucinda A. Bayles. Part 3, will discuss some of the barks, brigs, schooners, ships (whalers), steamers, sloops, yacht (schooners), and yacht (sloops) built by James M. & C. L. Bayles Company, and after the split, those vessels independently constructed by the brothers.
Sandi Brewster-walker is an independent historian, genealogist, freelance writer and business owner. She is the chair of the Board of Trustees and acting executive director of the Indigenous People Museum & Research Institute. She has served in President Bill Clinton’s Administration as deputy director of the Office of Communications at the United States Department of Agriculture. Readers can reach her in c/o the LI.Indiginous.firstname.lastname@example.org.