Our Coasting Commerce

December 3, 1869


A group of men plan on establishing trade waterways from Richmond to New York with the help of Capatain S. Alexander. This idea was proposed in 1868 but without "energetic and persistent" effort to keep it afloat.


In January 1868 a company was chartered in this city under the style of "The Virginia Steamship and Packet Company." The corporators were Corbin Warwick, A. F. Harvey, E. O. Noltino, W. S. Donnan, L. H. Frayser, Robert A. Faine, Garret F. Watson, A. Y. Stokes, A. L. Ellett, John H. Greanor, and John H. Parker. These gentlemen proposed, with the cooperation of their fellow-citizens, to establish coasting lines, especially one to New York, and, as their means enabled them, to add lines to Europe and to South America. No energetic and persistent effort to carry out their object had been made up to this time. But as the freighting business has increased, and the ability of the community has been enlarged, both the motive and the capacity to make their charter available have been strengthened, and we understand that the first step in this direction has been taken with considerable spirit and resolution. On Wednesday the directors of the company, under the charter, held a meeting. In order to obtain practical information on the subject, Captain S. Alexander, late of the steamship Saratoga, was requested to give the meeting his views and experience in the coasting trade with New York, and the kind of vessels adapted to the business. According to Captain Alexander, the freighting business between Richmond and New York is very large, very lucrative, and rapidly increasing. The present New York Steam Line employs five steamships, and there is one in course of construction to be added to the line. The aggregate earnings of the company are about a million of dollars per annum, and the handsome profits yielded may be understood when it is stated that the steamer Isaac Bell paid for herself in fifteen months. These heavy gains upon our trade are all transferred to the North. Were they retained here, we may imagine what a solid benefit this city would derive from them. A large capital now steadily drained from us would be kept here, adding largely to the strength of the resources for our local business. It was determined at once to proceed to raise means with the view of starting a line owned in this city. It is desirable that subscriptions shall be distributed very generally in town and country--in every locality directly interested in the immense transportation business between this city and New York. Captain Alexander, a gentleman of extensive experience and intelligence, is confident of the triumphant success of the enterprise, and will prove his health by becominga liberal subscriber to the block. His plans are very perfect and comprehensive, and as the modelling of the vessels is a most important part of the adventure, he has prepured drafts in which all the advantages of his large experience are incorporated. He gives a very great additional stowage in the hold, compared with other roasting steamers, and assigns an especial deck to fruits and vegetables, which is so ventilated as to insure the transportation of everything which can be preserved by a proper supply of air in the most perfect order. This will be a great benefit to the fruit-growers and truckmen. Then, the berths for passengers are arranged better than those in any of the sea steamers, securing to the passengers space, light, and ventilation, in a most satisfactory manner. His model is decidedly the best we have seen. Now, it is understood that only a small sum is needed at present to start the work. "We trust that under the improved condition of things--the readmission of the State into the Union and the return of confidence--the spirit of our people will rise, and that they will be eager to take a hand in the shipping business, whose advantages were so plainly proved to them before the war. To recover it, with its profits, should be an objective point with us now. To secure at least the benefits of competition, and to have a strong Richmond interest upon the waters by the time the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad throws upon them its immense trade, should be an enterprise seized on with avidity and prosecuted with unflagging energy. Imagine our lines to New York, to Liverpool, and to Rio, rapidly coming and going--our markets filled with western produce, domestic manufactures, the fabrics of Europe, and the coffee and sugar of the South--merchants from the West laying in their coffee and sugar, their groceries, and a part of their general stock, here, because we have secured to us the cheap and direct transportation which lines owned by ourselves will insure, and, furthermore, because we have the best communication with the West; and you cannot but be ready to do everything in your power to give this enterprise a momentum that will insure its continued progress to the most permanent and triumphant success.
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Jermaine Reynolds




“Our Coasting Commerce,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed July 2, 2022, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/1541.