The Ship Centennial

Sylvanus Smith, a suffragist featured in my book along with his suffragist wife Judith, was a shipbuilder. His firm, Smith & Townsend of East Boston, built the clipper ship Centennial and launched it from East Boston in 1875. Its first voyage was to Philadelphia, which was preparing to hold a world's fair celebrating the nation's centennial in 1876. Thus, the ship's name. The voyage, with a surprise passenger, is described in the subchapter of my book called "Stowaway."

The ship was intended for shipping between Philadelphia and San Francisco. However, it seems she sailed to England (1877) and Hong Kong (1878). She was also reported in Bombay. By 1898, her home port had shifted from Boston to San Francisco. She carried salmon between Alaska and San Francisco.

The Centennial was still in service as late as 1924.

There are paintings of the ship (right).


Recently, I discovered that the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have the Centennial's figurehead, attributed to Herbert Gleason. I found that Gleason was a Boston woodcarver who created an excellent figurehead for the ship Glory of the Seas. That ship was built and launched in 1869 by famed clipper ship builder Donald McKay, who lived next door to Sylvanus and Judith Smith.

Herbert Gleason is mentioned as a woodcarver in an article in the Summer 2005 issue of Folk Art by the American Folk Art Museum (NY): Ralph Sessions, “The Shipcarvers’ Art: Figureheads in Nineteenth-Century New York and Boston,” starting at page 44, see 50, The article says he was especially noted for “his remarkable figurehead for the famous McKay clipper Glory of the Seas [carved in 1869]."


So the figurehead ended its long journeys and now rests in storage. It is a wonderful physical reminder of the clipper ship era and the importance of Sylvanus Smith's shipbuilding in East Boston.

Images (top to bottom): Yorke, Centennial (England, 1877), ArtNet; unidentified painter, Centennial (Hong Kong, 1878), Skinner; Herbert Gleason, Centennial figurehead (Boston, 1875), image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Below: Boston Globe, May 25, 1876

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