Henry B Cromwell

Cromwell Line, New York (1858-1902)

Henry Bowman Cromwell was born April 29, 1828 and died in Brooklyn, New York on April 2,1864.

Henry Cromwell became engaged in trade at an early age. In 1850, at the age of 22, Henry became a partner in the firm of John Haight & Company in Hudersfield, England, and resided there until early 1854 when he returned to New York and subsequently became engaged in the shipping business as
HB Cromwell & Company.

In 1854, the newly formed HB Cromwell & Co. purchased the New York, Baltimore and Alexandria Steamship Company also know as the Parker Vein Fleet of ten small wooden screw steamships. This fleet had been operating between New York and Baltimore in the coal trade. These vessels were continued in the New York and Baltimore trade by HB Cromwell & Co, but as business did not necessitate the use of the whole fleet in this trade, Cromwell decide to place some of the vessels on other routes. Cromwell began managing this small line of steamships in connection with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. By upgrading those steamships and adding several other steamships, Cromwell's business continued to increase until he had connection with nearly all the important domestic seacoast ports.

In 1855, HB Cromwell decided to place a vessel on the New York to Portland, ME route during the summer months, and if successful, continue the service throughout the year. The steamers Caledonia and WesternPort were chosen for this route and left New York on their first trips to Portland, June 1855.

In 1856, Henry B Cromwell married Sarah Seaman and Rebecca Cromwell (Henry's sister) married Valentine Hicks Seaman (Sarah's brother). At this point, the Cromwell, Seaman, Hicks futures become inter-twined.

In 1857, Henry B Cromwell was listed as a mercantile agent in the Brooklyn, New York Register as having offices at 68 Pierrepont Street. Cromwell had two newly upgraded propellers, the Atlanta and the Memphis to be placed in the New York and Charleston service. At that time, Mr Cromwell owns eleven coasting steamers, 2 between New York and Charleston (Atlanta and Memphis), 1 between New York and Portland (Caledonia), 2 between Baltimore and Charleston, 4 between New York and Baltimore, and 2 between New York and Savannah

At that same time, Cromwell had two propeller steamships on the stocks at the Westervelt Yard for a New York and Savannah run. The Huntsville and the Montgomery were soon added to the Cromwell Fleet.

In 1858, Henry Cromwell offered to lease or sell four of his upgraded steamers to the Secretary of Navy to take part in Flag Officer William B. Shubrick's 18-ship expedition against Paraguay, to gain satisfactory apology for the 1855 firing upon survey steamer, the Water Witch. As a result of that show of force, Paraguay apologized for the incident and agreed to pay an indemnity. After leasing the Caledonia, the Western Port, the Atlanta, and the Memphis for that expedition, the Navy agreed to purchased all four steamships from Cromwell. This gave Cromwell additional capital to expand and modernize his fleet.

Late in 1858, The Cromwell Savannah Line was established by Henry B Cromwell and a group of Georgia investors to run service between Savannah, Georgia and New York City.

Steamship Potomac is having a new engine and boilers at Pusey, Jones & Betts, Wilmington, DE will leave for New York on December 20, 1858.
Locust point is receiving new engines, boiler wheel and shaft same as Potomac by Thatcher & company of Wilmington, DE., engines are 40" x 42"

Cromwell has put in complete order during 1858. Steamers Parkersburg, Patapsco, Potomac, and Locust Point and are now contracting for five fast steamers for the New York and Philadelphia trade. (from the New York Herald, Dec 24th, 1858)

Steamship R R Cuyler launched August 20, 1859 by Samuel Sneeden, Greenpoint, New York

In 1860, The New England Screw Steamship Company was established. Henry B Cromwell was one of the incorporators. The corporators were chiefly the persons who had been successfully conducting the steamship lines between Portland and New York, and which had been found extremely beneficial to the proprietors and the city. Those incorporators were St. John Smith, John B. Brown, Philip H. Brown, James O. Brown, Mark P. Emery, Henry Fog, Henry B. Cromwell, and John Baird. John B. Coyle, who is identified as the successful manager of our steamboat enterprises, is president of the company, and Henry Fog...

The New England Screw Steamship Company (1860-1865)
Totten/Chesapeake built 1849 sold 1865
Dirigo built 1865 sold 1865
Franconia built 1864 sold 1865
Locust Point
Mount Vernon built 1859 sold 1861 Iron Propeller 180 x 29 x 16
Patapsco / sold 1863
Potomac / sold 1865
Potomska / Potomski lost 1866

Henry and Sarah Cromwell had 3 children,
George Cromwell (born3 JUL 1860),
Henry B. Cromwell (born 8 DEC 1860),
Francis Cromwell, died as an infant.

During the few years previous to 1861 Henry Cromwell had in successful operation steam lines from New York to Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington, Norfolk, Alexandria, and Washington, Portland, and Baltimore; also a line from Baltimore to Charleston and Savannah. Other ports touched by the Cromwell Line were Havana, Cuba; Montreal, Quebec, Halifax, and St John's, Canada.

In 1861, The Cromwell New York and Portland Steamship Line, the Cromwell Savannah Line,
the Cromwell Baltimore Line
, and H B Cromwell & Company all became known as the Cromwell Steamship Line.

The following steamers were sold at public auction on April 2nd, 1861.
1/2 interest in Chesapeake $10,000.
1/3 interest in Georges Creek $7,600.
1/3 interest in Thomas Swan $10,000.
1/3 interest in Locust Point $11,100.
1/3 interest in Patapsco $11,100.
1/3 interest in Potomac $11,200.

In 1860, the RR Cuyler was built at Samuel Sneed, New York

In 1861, Potomski (unknown) was sold, and was later lost in 1866.

When the civil war began Henry Cromwell sold nearly all his vessels to the government, and immediately proceeded with the construction of two fine steamers, the George Washington and George Cromwell, which subsequently sailed between New York and New Orleans. Although Mr. Cromwell's commercial interests were so largely connected with the south, he firmly upheld the cause of the US government (North) during the war.

The steamship line was seized by Federal forces during the Civil War and began it's routine New York to New Orleans service after the Union's capture of the city of New Orleans in 1862.

In 1864, Henry B Cromwell died.

Sarah Cromwell was 28 yrs old, widow with two small children, when Henry B Cromwell died.
Henry’s sons, George and Henry were only 4 and 3 years old respectfully at the time of Henry’s death.

After 1864, Clark & Seaman became the listed agent for Cromwell SS Line.
Samuel H Seaman, Sarah’s youngest brother, was 26 yrs old when Henry B Cromwell died.
John Hicks Clark, Sarah’s cousin, was 41 yrs old when Henry B Cromwell died.

In 1865, the Potomac burned off cape Elizabeth, ME 1865

In 1866, The Cromwell Line comprises the following First-Class Steam ships:
George Washinton....Capt cv Gagner
George Cromwell.....Capt EE Vaill
General Meade.......Capt J Berry
General Grant.......Capt EW Holmes
Sheridan............Capt JH Bolton

The Steamship Victor will leave Saturday, Sep 29, 1866 from Pier 9, North River

In 1868, the Patapsco burned at sea

In 1868 started a New York to Havana run.
In 1870, the Mariposa (built 1863) lost off Florida.

Cortes (built 1862) was lost off Halifax

1871 Cromwell's Line (from 1871 Treasurer's report)
Cortes wood scw (1862) 1246 tons ex "DeMolay"
George Cromwell wood scw (1862) 978 tons
George Washington wood scw (1862) 989 tons
Mariposa 1082 tons

In 1872, the Steamship New Orleans was the first of four new ships built to modernize the Cromwell Steamship Line in the early 1870's.

In 1873, the Cromwell Line is engaged exclusively in the New Orleans trade,
and has been organized about 12 years, and is managed by Clark & Seaman,
No. 86 West Street. The steamers sail from Pier 9, North River, New York.
The following is the of vessels composing the fleet:

Cortes scw (1862) 1246 tonns
George Cromwell scw (1862) 978 tons
George Washington (1862) 989 tons
New Orleans (1872) 1440 tons
Knickerbocker (1873) 1800 tons
Total, 5 vessels, aggregating 6458 tons

(From The Nautical Gazette of December 13, 1873)
Cromwell Line, this is the oldest line in the American coastwise trade, and from the time of building the Huntsville and Montgomery has maintained a fleet of really first-class steamers which have not been excelled for speed and thoroughness of construction by any American line. The fleet consists of the following vessels:
name length beam depth tons
George Cromwell 187 30 15.0 978
George Washington 187 30 15.0 989
Cortes 209 35 17.0 1446
New Orleans 240 33 24.8 1440
Knickerbocker 280 34 23.0 1642

In 1874, Clark & Seaman announce they will resume their old route between New York and Portland.... steamers George Washington and George Cromwell have been withdrawn from the New York New Orleans trade and their places have been replaced

During the 1870's through the 1890s, the Cromwell Steamship Line operated four first-class steamships, the New Orleans (1872), the Knickerbocker (1873), the Hudson (1874), and the Louisiana (1879). With these four luxurious steamships, The Cromwell Steamship Lines ran steamship passenger service between New York and New Orleans.

The Cromwell Line Steamship Co. had offices at the foot of Toulouse St. New Orleans, LA. in New Orleans. Cromwell's line of first-class steamships, one of which leaves Pier No. 9 North River every Saturday at 3 PM, had the over-whelming confidence of the public. The Cromwell Line was an excellent example of the kind of company that influenced much of New Orleans economy and provided many jobs for New Orleans residents.

In February 1877
SS George Cromwell (built 1862) lost Cape St Mary’s, Canada
SS George Washington (built 1862) struck rocks Canada

In 1881, John Hicks Clark died.

In 1882, Samuel H Seaman became listed agent for Cromwell SS Line.

The Cromwell Line was taken over by The Southern Pacific Railroad Company in the late 1880s but continued to operate under the Cromwell Line name and flag until 1902.

In 1894, E S Allen became listed agent for Cromwell SS Line.
ES Allen was probably connected with Southern Pacific or the Morgan Line.

In 1899, The Cromwell Line eventually sold the New Orleans, after over twenty-five years as part of the Line's first-class steamships, to the Merchants and Miners' Transportation Company for $60,000.

In 1900, The Cromwell Line sold the Hudson, after over twenty-two years as part of the Line's first-class steamships, to the Merchants and Miners' Transportation Company for $90,000. Hudson was renamed Frederick in 1905.

In 1902, Southern Pacific Line officially took over the ships of the Cromwell Line.
The ships transferred to the Southern Pacific fleet were the Comus, the Knickerbocker, the Louisiana and the Proteus.

At that time, all Southern Pacific properties were consolidated under the flag of the former Morgan Line.

F O O T N O T E :
When I started this phase of my research on the steamship New Orleans, I wanted to get as much information as possible from the builders and owners of the New Orleans. I was hoping to find more pictures, ships plans and anything else useful in identifying the wrecksite I am working as the New Orleans. I found that there was an abundance of information on the Merchants & Miner’s Transportation Line (1852-1951), the second owner of the New Orleans. Several books have been written on M&MT plus Merchants & Miner’s was a Baltimore, Maryland firm so getting to those records is not that hard. I also luck Pusey & Jones Shipbuilding, at the Hagley Museum Library in Wilmington, Delaware. Since Pusey & Jones was a Wilmington company and they built hundreds of ships from 1848 to 1956 there is still a lot of information available. I found there was very little information available on the Cromwell Steamship Lines (1854 – 1902) which was the first owner of the New Orleans from 1872-1899 and there is almost nothing at all on the Boca Grande Steamship Line, or on Charles H Lawrence, the last owner of the steamship New Orleans.


When I started researching Cromwell, I thought HB Cromwell well established business tycoon like John D Rockefeller. Until early 2004, I believed that HB Cromwell had been personally involved in the building of the New Orleans since the plans at Pusey & Jones indicated “built for HB Cromwell”. I falsely assumed that HB Cromwell was the guiding hand for the Company for most of it’s almost 50 years of existence (1854-1902). Earlier in 2004, I found out that HB Cromwell actually died in 1864. During those early years, HB Cromwell cornered the atlantic coastal shipping business. Cromwell either owned or participated largely in many coastal shipping companies, the New York, Baltimore and Alexandria Steamship Company, the American Atlantic Screw Steamship Company, the New England Screw Steamship Company, the Cromwell New York to Portland Line, the Cromwell Baltimore Line, the New York and Virginia Line.

Early this spring using Geneology.com, I found that HB Cromwell, given name was Henry Bowman Cromwell, was born in 1828. In 1854, Henry Cromwell was only 26 years old when he started the Cromwell Steamship Line with ten ships. Imagine owning ten steamships at 26 years old! Henry was only 36 when he died and by that time he had created one of the finest coasting ship services of that time. Quite a remarkable feat!

As I continue to dig, I discovered that Henry was quite an opportunist and that he had actually accumulated much of his wealth and power through other peoples miseries and misfortunes. It seems that Henry Cromwell actually purchased the first ten ships “for pennies on the dollar” from the Parker Vein Steamship Line also known as the New York, Baltimore and Alexandria Steamship Line. It seems the president of the Parker Vein Coal Company had sold vast amounts of shares in the company, way beyond the worth of the company and then sold the 10 steamships, took the cash and left thousands of investors “holding the bag”. It seems Henry Cromwell got his ships and the routes, and connecting railroad agreements at a “bargain basement price”.

Over the next several years when Henry Cromwell would replace boilers or engines on those older steamships, he would rename them and declare them the “new steamship”. The appearance was that Cromwell’s fleet was a lot newer and larger than reality. In late 1860 and early 1861 as hostilities, between the North and the South that would lead to American Civil War, were starting to erupt, Henry Cromwell made a great deal of money by selling guns to the rebel states prior to the formal declaration of war.

More Aid and Comfort to the Enemy (NY Times, January 26, 1861)

When the Civil War finally broke out, Henry was able to sell most of his old steamers to the US Navy, which desperately needed ships. Henry was able to sell the old ships at much higher than the price than he had paid for those them… Henry then built several newer ships and then subsequently chartered them to the US government to carrying troops and mail between cities. Carrying mail was a very lucrative business back then at $150,000/yr. Prior to 1862, there was no income tax so businesses were extremely profitable. Even after 1862, income tax was only 3%. many shrewd businessmen made huge profits on the war between the states. Unfortunately for Henry, he died in 1864, but his legacy of ruthlessness continued for many in the family owned business.

Rotten Coasting Steamers (NY Times, February 19, 1882)

Employee Wages (NY Times, )

Fire on Steamhip (NY Times, June 01, 1899)

Copyright 2005 Bill Medford
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