Ship Ulysses

The ship Ulysses, 340 tons, was built in Haverhill and registered in Salem in 1798; William Gray, owner, Josiah Orne, master. She was 100 1/2 feet long, 28 feet wide, and 13 feet 10 1/2 inches deep. She had an uneventful career as a merchantman. She sailed for Batavia in June 1798, returning in July the following year, when she paid $13,000 in duties according to Salem Custom House records. In August 1799 she was commissioned as a private armed vessel, commanded by William Mugford. She carried 11 guns and 28 men. She cleared for India that month. The next entry made on this ship in the Salem Custom House was in 1801, when she returned from Lisbon with a cargo of salt and Lisbon wine. She sailed for Isle de France (Mauritius) in 1802 bering Letters of Marque signed by President Jefferson an Secretary of State Madison. (The papers are on deposit with the Peabody-Essex Museum of Salem, formerly the East India Marine Society). Her primary fame in the marine literature came not from her merchant service or her average success as as a privateer, but from her technical achievement in surviving an immense gale. In January 1804 Ulysses left Salem for Marseille, and three days out encoutered a terrific gale. She was sailing at 9 knots, when a large sea struck her astern and tore clean away the whole rudder and stern-post. She broached to with her mainmast sprung, and in this helpless position she lay for three weeks of tempestuous weather. Captain Mugford was able to jury-rig a temporary rudder within twenty days and was able, without further disaster, to enter Marseilles at the end of March. The painting by Antoine Roux shows Ulysses at Marseilles.

The Ulysses and her False Rudder
The false rudder was cut from a spare topmast and from four studding-sail booms, and braced with small ropes. The rudder was secured on its sides with bolts and wooden cleats. It was attached by ten eye-bolts, to a false stern-post twenty feet long. An equal number of eye-bolts were fixed in the false stern-post at intervals corresponding with those of the rudder. Through these pairs of eye-bolts sections of iron crowbars were dropped, and they served as pintals on which the false rudder swing. In recognition of the ingenious false rudder, Captain Mugford received a gold medal from the American Philosophical Society [Vol. VI, p. 203]. The device is also described in Bowditch's Practical Navigator.

She finally returned home to Salem in August 1804, paying duties of $15,814. She cleared for France in September 1804 with a cargo of brandy, gin, and specie, but her subsequent actions are not recorded.


25 June 1996