Egbert Bull Smith and East Setauket Shipbuilding

By Beverly C. Tyler

1949 aerial photo - East Setauket looking southeast. Setauket School on the hill is center. Setauket Methodist Church at crossroad. Farms still dominated the area until the 1960s.

“The thoroughfare east and west of us was lined on either side with hedgerows, which we children had occasion to explore frequently in search of balls, arrows, and other

things belonging to a boy's and girl's stock of playthings; also for hens' nests. Back of these hedgerows were grain fields, gardens or pasture lands ...”

The description of North Country Road (now 25A) between East Setauket and Port Jefferson in 1857, was written by Egbert Bull Smith in his book Voyage of the Two Sisters. Egbert was born on February 8, 1846. His family consisted of his father, Vincent Jones Smith who was in California, his mother Angeline (Jayne) Smith, a brother Charles who was three years older, a sister Georgiana born in 1848, and a sister Josephine born two days before Christmas of 1849.

Egbert Bull Smith and his mother

Every school day, Egbert Smith, his brother and sisters would walk about a mile east along North Country Road to the one-story red East Setauket schoolhouse. Along the way they were joined by other classmates. The walk often became a small parade of children talking, laughing, and occasionally stopping at a special place along the dirt road to shoot for a marble or two. The boys would often talk as they walked along about the exciting adventures that were happening to some of the older boys of the community.

Egbert's father, whom he missed very much, was in California and like so many others was trying to strike it rich in the newly discovered gold fields. An older boy Egbert knew had left school and had gone to sea on one of the sailing ships that left New York City's South Street Seaport for destinations all over the world. When the boy returned to town, he was considered a hero by the other boys and was constantly asked about where he had been and what he had seen.

Gold had been discovered in California, near present-day Sacramento, and by February 1849, the first gold seekers had arrived in San Francisco aboard the ship California. Like Egbert’s father, the gold rush enticed many Long Islanders to board the many clipper ships heading for the west coast.

In a related development, trade with the Orient was in full swing and ships sailed to China daily with trade goods bringing back teas, spices, cotton goods, lacquerware, porcelain and other exotic wares.

The potential for profit in 2-4 year whaling expeditions was just being realized as well. Ocean-going whaling ships were bringing back thousands of gallons of whale oil and not even meeting the demand.

Long Island was also a main source of firewood for New York City. Ships left daily carrying cordwood, passengers and farm products to city markets. With all these factors combined, there was a great rush to produce ocean-going and coastal vessels to meet the demand.

Bark Mary and Louisa entering Hong Kong Harbor. Painting by Chinese artist. Photo courtesy Betsy Delforge

To build the necessary vessels, the shipbuilding industry was in full swing. Along Stony Brook Creek, Stony Brook Harbor and Setauket Harbor, shipyards were building

sailing vessels of every size and type. Lining Shore Road in East Setauket were the shipyards of Nehemiah Hand, William Bacon and David B. Bayles. At the intersection of

Shore Road and Bayview Avenue, the shipyard of William Bacon was constructing a 145-foot square-rigged medium clipper bark that was to be named Mary and Louisa. The

bark, completed during 1857, took on cargo in New York for Mobile, Alabama. This was the first of two trips that would test the vessel and its captain, Benjamin Jones, for the rigors of longer and more extensive voyages.

Egbert Smith recalled the bark as it was nearing completion. “One vessel especially excited my curiosity more than any other ... it was easy for me, during the school days to slip down to the yard during the noon hour and with other boys play hide and seek about her decks and cabins hoping all the time that some day, I might sail in such a ship, but I was afraid that time would never come.” For eleven-year-old Egbert Smith, that time would come the

following year.

One of the schoolbooks that must have helped to inspire Egbert Smith to travel to foreign ports was Warren's Physical Geography. The textbook was illustrated with engravings showing faraway lands and their people as well as many of the special features and unusual animals found there.

Schooner Stephen Taber loaded with cordwood

Egbert was also inspired by experiences that took him away from the local area during the summer months. “It was about this time that my uncle promised to take my brother and me with him on one of his