In the 1790’s, Maryland led the nation in shipbuilding and Baltimore was the undisputed leader of this industry on the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore Clippers, built for speed in an era when speed on the high seas was synonymous with survival, won the respect of the maritime nations of the world and helped establish the reputation of the Port of Baltimore as a center of commerce and the home of some of the world’s most creative shipbuilders.
The design for Baltimore Clippers emerged from the shipyards of Fells Point in response to the need for fast ships that could elude the powerful but lumbering British naval vessels that preyed upon American shipping, even after our successful War of Independence. Baltimore Clippers were “sharp built,” that is, they had a V-shaped hull that could cut quickly through the waves. As a result they were fast, but had little cargo space, a major factor in their eventual decline. They were gaff-rigged schooners, although many had a square sail for driving power on the foremast. As a consequence, they could sail closer to the wind and were much more maneuverable than the clumsy full-rigged British ships of the time.
Baltimore Clippers were fast, highly maneuverable sailing machines that employed the highest technology and design available at the time. They reached their zenith between 1795, the unofficial re-commencement of naval hostilities between the US and Great Britain, and 1815, the end of our Second War of Independence. After that time, changing economic and maritime conditions made them obsolete. They stand, however, as thoroughbred progenitors to a remarkable lineage of American sailing vessels.