In the dining room of the Huyler House, there is a wooden model of the Brigantine Neptune, which was launched from Dewees Island in 1791.
The earliest industry on Dewees Island was the Naval Stores Industry, and to celebrate that legacy of shipbuilding, IPP developer John Knott commissioned artist Tom Boozer to build a model of the first ship launched from the island. The following details are all taken from the brochure entitled The Neptune Comes Home.
August 18, 1771 – “There have been build lately, and launched here, a fine brigantine at Mr Cornelius DeWees‘ Island for Captain William Thompson, and another Brigantine by Mr Walker for Captain John Wright, both destined for the West Indian Trade, and now near ready for sea. Also, for the London Trade, orders are coming from England for building several other large ships in this Province – proof of the goodness of vessels built here and showing the superior quality of live oak timbers to any wood in America for ship building.
-The South Carolina Gazette
Thus begins the history of the Neptune, a 65 ton brigantine launched July 29, 1771, registered August 8, 1771 by Cornelius DeWees, and built for the Charleston merchant, Daniel Bordeaux.
Originally Timicau Island, Philip DeWees acquired it in the early 1700s. He gave the island to his son, Cornelius in 1740. Cornelius used the island for ship building until he was run out of Charleston (for his role in the Revolutionary War) by King George.
Research has revealed little more about the Neptune, except what was recorded in the ships registry. She was registered as a 65 ton brigantine, which means she could carry 65 tons. The old British formula that measured the ships in tons allowed Tom Boozer to determine the size of the ship. The formula was the length of the keel, times the beam,times the depth of the hold, divided by 94. Using this formula, Tom. calculated that the ship would have had a keel length of 58 feet, an overall deck length of 68 feet, a beam of around 19 1/2 feet, and a hold depth of 8 feet.
Fully loaded, the brigantine could sail 12 to 14 knots. She carried rice, lumber, indigo, and deer skins to the West Indies and returned to the colonies with rum and sugar. She required a sailing crew of 12-15 and many more to load and unload the cargo.
Ship building played a vital role in the colonies. In Europe and England, American ships were believed to be superior in the quality of materials used as well as craftsmanship. The pool of immigrants that collected in the colonies gave the ship builders an opportunity to create new techniques. Dewees Island is proud to be a part of this important part of our American history and to share this experience with you.
Tom Boozer was born in Richland County, SC and is a eighth generation South Carolinian. He has a degree in Art and Architectural History from University of South Carolina and served in the US Air Force National Guard for 6
years. More recently Tom has been recognized for his hand carved duck decoys. He has shown his decoys up and down the eastern seaboard and received the South Carolina Folk Heritage award in 1998. He is recognized as a leader in carving working decoys and is one of about 6 people that make the hollow body decoys, called Connecticut or New Jersey style, which date from the 1840’s. Tom has been carving full time now for 24 years. He is also very active in the local arts and education programs.
Last fall, when Sam Smith of Dewees Builders called to speak to Tom, Dee signed her husband up to create this masterpiece. Tom quickly headed for the South Carolina Historical Society where he learned from Nicholas Oldberg’s ship registry that a 65 ton brigantine named the Neptune was built on Dewees Island and launched June 29, 1771. Further research led Tom to the records kept on sailing ships by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Closer to home, Rusty Fleetwood of Tybbe Island, Georgia, chronicled the ship building period from southern South Carolina to northern Georgia from the time the colonies were formed. His book, Tidecraft, documents the techniques, materials, and details of ship building that help make this model authentic. Tom was also helped by PC Coker and his book, Charleston’s Maritime Heritage 1670-1865. Mr Coker is a native of Charleston and a direct descendent of one of the first shipwright in the area. Eventually Tom put in over 100 hours of research on the ships history before he began to build the ship.
When construction began, Tom was very careful about the materials he choose to use. The planks on the original ship would have been from long leaf pine, a species native to this area and favored by ship builders. The wood for the planking on this ship is reclaimed long leaf pine once used in the Kendall Mill built in the early 1800’s and torn down in the 1970s. All of the metal and iron work on the brigantine are fabricated from scraps collected from the junk yard. And only hand tools have been used to make the ship similar to those used two hundred years ago. With the exception of the rigging lines, everything on the model has been hand made by Tom.
Having dedicated 700 hours of work on the replica, Tom developed a kind of kinship for the original Dewees Island ship builders. On long nights of working on the ship, Tom could imagine hearing the voices of those who toiled for weeks on the Neptune. This model is Tom’s mark to leave on the island.
The Neptune embodies the spirit of Dewees. It is a symbol of respect for climate, place, our natural resources and our heritage. The ship builders and the sailors depended on the natural resources and showed respect for what they had. They could not afford to waste these resources. Today, here at Dewees, we try to recapture that respect. As we become familiar with our history here on the island, we realize that we are not as far removed from our past as we may think. We learn that we too rely on the same resources and must show the same respect that our ancestors did.
Special Thanks to:
Steve Hoffiaus of the South Carolina Historical Society, Rusty Fleetwood of Tybbe Island, Georgia, and PC Coker of Charleston, South Carolina for their help in creating this reminder of our heritage.