The New York Regatta of July 4, 1860

Researched by James R. Heintze. All Rights Reserved.

By the mid-19th century regattas had become a popular form of entertainment in cities and towns that were in close proximity to rivers, bays, oceans, and harbors. The New York Regatta of July 4, 1860, was one of the earliest such races in which an image (a photograph published by E. Anthony of New York) of the participating vessels is extant. This race is also an excellent example for our understanding of the extent of popularity of these events at that time. Each year the Common Council of New York City appropriated funding for these kinds of races and in 1860 the amount was increased, "compared with those of former years." A description of the spectators and event appeared in a local newspaper:

As the hour of noon drew near a crowd began to flow through the streets leading to the Battery, and the various boats that were resting on the shores preparatory to being launched for the races, were the subject of close scrutiny. As 1 o'clock--the time appointed for the opeing of the regatta--drew near, the shores, Castle Garden, the docks from which a view of the races could be obtained, the two barges of the Common Council and the Regatta Club, under whose supervision the arrangements were made, and the numberless boats that broke the smooth surface of the bay, were thronged with an immense multitude, while the excursion boats glided hither and thither across the bay, deeply laden with excursionists.

The course for the races was also described:
The races were for four miles, from the Judges' boat off the Battery baths around a stake-boat off Pier No. 4, North River, turning from East to West; thence to a stake-boat between Pier No. 4 East River, and Governor's Island, turning it from West to East past the Judges' boat, and a second time over the course.
There were five events, including both rowing and sailing races. The sailing races were conducted without rudders so as to thoroughly test the sailors' skills. The first event, a sailing race, was canceled due to lack of adequate wind. There were five entries in the next race which consisted of rowing vessels. These boats seemed to be of larger size, the Aurora, 45 feet long, and the Niantic, 40 feet in length. Another boat, the Eagle, "broke an oar, and was thus prevented from starting." The third race consisted of "seventeen feet working boats, rowed with two pair of sculls." There were eight entries in this race. The boats were crammed together for the start of the race. "At the word 'go,'" the Judge Voorhies, "getting cramped for room, fell back to prevent a foul, and thus lost some distance" as the vessels rowed away. That these races were very competitive can be demonstrated by an incident that occurred in this race. An oarsman on the vessel F. T. Wood "jammed the handle of his oar into the Voorhies, shattering her severely, and destroying all her chances of the prize."

For the final race, there were ten entries, but only nine came to the starting line. The most notable feature of this race was participant Joshua Ward, of Newburgh, "the champion oarsman of America." Ward quickly dominatd the race. "At the end of the first two miles Ward was ahead." He won the race and received his $100 prize. Source: "Our National Anniversary" and "The Corporation Regatta," New York Times, 4 and 6 July 1860, 1 and 4, respectively.


This page last updated July 2009.

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