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Eighteenth-Century Colonial American Merchant Ship Construction

Kellie Michelle VanHorn
Thesis: December 2004
Chair: Crisman


    Past research on eighteenth-century ships has primarily taken one of two avenues, either focusing on naval warship construction or examining the merchant shipping industry as a whole in terms of trends and economics. While these areas are important to pursue, comparatively little is known about actual construction techniques used on the ordinary merchant vessels of the period. Most modern sources emphasize hull design and lines drawings; contemporary sources take a similar direction, explaining the theory of ship design but often leaving out how to put the ship together. In recent years, however, new information has come to light through archaeological excavations regarding Anglo-American merchant ship construction. In this study, several of these shipwrecks were examined in light of economic factors and the literary evidence from the period in an attempt to gain a better understanding of colonial American merchant ship construction in the eighteenth century. While the data set was not large enough to make conclusive statements, this type of comparative analysis should begin to establish a framework for the interpretation of future shipwreck excavations.

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