In the years between cleaving off from Thomaston in 1848 and becoming a city in 1854, Rockland was a place of great anticipation – particularly in the north end of Rockland Harbor.

The son of a well-known naval engineer was rising to fame designing a fast new style of cargo ship. His name was Samuel Hartt Pook. He formed an association with Rockland boat builder Deacon George Thomas.

Thomas was prominent in the Second Baptist Church, earning the title of Deacon. In 27 years, he built 42 vessels.

Together they built clipper ships.

Their first one was Springbok in 1851. She took her name from the African antelope, and in later years would be remembered as a smaller version of Red Jacket.

In March 1852 came Defiance. She was 204 feet long, compared to the 121-foot Springbok. Defiance was much bigger and tested Pook’s “flat floor theory” with only 10 inches of deadrise from the garboard plank to the turn of the bilge amidships. This made the hull ride lower in the water.

Defiance averaged 18 knots in a run from Rockland to New York (about 21 mph), and in a sprint for Sandy Hook, Connecticut clocked 20 knots (23 mph).

In October of the same year came Rattler. At 192 feet in length, she was slightly smaller than Defiance. By accounts of the day, Rattler was a looker. She was a fast ship with a sharp bow.

Red Jacket would be the best of them all, and a true game changer. It was launched at 11 a.m. Nov. 2, 1853. In all she was 250 feet long and 45 feet wide. A bottle of New England rum was used to christen Red Jacket.


Having been sent to New York to have her masts and rigging installed, Red Jacket began a record-setting voyage from New York to England.

At the helm, the skilled and experienced Captain Asa Eldridge. He had set speed records in the past, and he was all about it with this opportunity. It would rain, snow or hail every single day of the trip.

“She tore along, carrying every bit of canvas she could wear,” according to an account of the day.

The result was 13 days, one hour and 25 minutes, from Jan. 11 to Jen. 23, setting the world speed record for sailing ships crossing the Atlantic.

Along the way, between noon of Jan. 18 and noon of Jan. 19, Red Jacket sailed 417 miles, averaging 17.5 knots (20 mph) with brief intervals cresting 20 knots (23 mph).

In observance of that feat, “the main brace was spliced.” (The main provision of rum was served to all hands.)

The arrival of Red Jacket at Liverpool was by every account spectacular. Thousands made their way to see her reach Liverpool by the River Mersey.

Captain Eldredge seized the moment. He brought his clipper ship into the harbor with “a large amount of sail set,” streaking past the tugboats as they tried in vain to get their lines on her.

Reaching his place of honor, Eldredge snugged up his sails and brought the great ship around into its mooring as neat as you please.

It is the pride of Rockland to this very day.

Glenn Billington is a lifelong resident of Rockland and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.