Baltimore Clipper

Baltimore Clipper is the colloquial name for fast sailing ships built on the mid-Atlantic seaboard of the United States of America, especially at the port of Baltimore, Maryland. The name is most commonly applied to two-masted schooners and brigantines. These vessels may also be referred to as Baltimore Flyers.


Baltimore clippers were first built as small, fast sailing vessels for trade around the coastlines of the United States and the Caribbean Islands. Their hull-lines tended to be very sharp, with a "V"-shaped cross-section below the waterline and strongly raked stem, stern posts, and masts. Because of this design, they were extremely unstable and many were known to capsize even at anchor with all sails down.[1] The origins of the type are unknown but certainly hulls conforming to the concept were being built in Jamaica and Bermuda (the hull of the Bermuda sloop, designed for the open ocean, was broader than the Jamaican and deeper than the American or iroqouis) and by the late 18th century were popular both in Britain and the United States as merchant craft.[2] The Royal Navy did not find them useful during the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars because they were unstable gun platforms due to their design for extreme speed compared to their size. Furthermore, the schooner rig does not allow sails to be backed creating a disadvantage in maneuverability in battle. They were adopted after the wars to pursue slave ships.[1]

They were especially suited to moving low-density, high value perishable cargoes such as slaves, and in that trade operated as far afield as the west coast of Africa.

Similar merchant vessels were given letters of marque and served as privateers during the War of Independence. During the War of 1812, merchant schooners were too small and slow to escape the British blockade, and larger faster more heavily armed purpose built privateer Baltimore clippers were developed. The most famous of these larger vessels were the privateers Chasseur, Prince de Neufchatel and General Armstrong. Prince de Neufchatel resisted an attack by a four fold numerically superior force in the boats of HMS Endymion and Chasseur alone captured more enemy ships than the entire US Navy during the war. Nevertheless, most privateers during the war were of the smaller type and served as merchant ships despite being given letters of marque. As a result, more privateers were taken by the British blockade of 1813 than ever took a prize themselves.

In addition Baltimore Clippers were used as pilot boats. The famous yacht America, derived from the lines of a New York pilot boat, was conceptually not far removed from the Baltimore clipper. Many such vessels went to Australia during the Australian gold rush, or after being seized as slavers and sold.[3]

One particularly famous Baltimore Clipper, and one of the last of the type in commercial service, was the schooner Vigilant that traded around the Danish Caribbean islands for over a century before sinking in a hurricane on September 12, 1928. She was believed to have been built in the 1790s.

Famous Baltimore Clippers

Modern Replicas

Modern replicas of an early 19th-century Baltimore Clipper type include the ill-fated Pride of Baltimore, her replacement, Pride of Baltimore II, Californian, La Amistad, Shenandoah as well as the Liberty Clipper and the privateer Lynx.


  1. Gardiner 1999
  2. Chapelle, Howard Irving (1988). The Baltimore Clipper. New York: Dover Publications. ISBN 978-0-486-25765-5. OCLC 17728233.
  3. "Excerpts from Geoffrey Footner's Tidewater Triumph". RootsWeb.
  4. "BALTIMORE SCHOONER VIGILANT". Retrieved 2019-04-20.
  5. Brown, Daniel M. (2010). "The Need for Speed: Baltimore Clippers and the Origin of the First American Ship Type". Academia: 19.
  6. La Grange, Helen (1936). "Clipper ships of America and Great Britain, 1833-1869". G. P. Putnam's sons, New York. Retrieved Apr 10, 2019.
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