This dramatic image Illustrates James E. Buttersworth's ability to convey the effects of the sea's ever changing weather conditions. The waves and sea state bear Buttersworth's characteristic fluidity and motion. The subject vessel is the important early screw steamer STAR OF THE SOUTH, built by T. Birely and son at Philadelphia in 1853. After disastrous beginnings in the 1840's, screw steamers began proving their worth in the 1850's with the revolutionary engines and propellers designed by R.F Loper. It was the association between Birely and Loper that developed the finest screw steamers in the world. Equipped with the new steam engine and propeller, STAR OF THE SOUTH became the first entirely successful wood screw steamship in history.
STAR OF THE SOUTH is dramatically silhouetted against a cloudbank and lit by a diagonal shaft of light from an overhead break in the clouds. The ship appears to be steady and riding nicely in the rough seas. The portrait is balanced by a merchant ship struggling under shortened sail in the left background, clearly illustrating the advantages of STAR OF THE SOUTH's superior screw propulsion in heavy weather. Buttersworth depicts the steamer slightly right of center, suggesting controlled forward momentum.
At 960T x 206.1'L x 31.2'B x 15.6'B, STAR OF THE SOUTH was larger, faster and more luxurious than any of her screw driven predecessors. Her cabin was fitted with adjoining staterooms that could accommodate 40 passengers. She was initially built to run between New York and New Orleans. After 1855, she began making passages to South America and Liverpool, recording the fastest run (17 days) to Liverpool of any American screw steamer.
The following two years found her operating under charter in the Black Sea, carrying troops and supplies for the Crimean War. In 1858 she returned to America and was put on the New York to Savannah run where she was highly successful until the outbreak of the Civil War.
Starting in May of 1861 she was chartered at $600 per day by the U.S. Quartermaster Corps serving as a troop transport and commerce patrol vessel in which capacity she was kept in continuous operation throughout the conflict. As well as the US Jack on the foremast, the ship flies a 20 star naval boat ensign on her stern staff. 20 star U.S. flags were used as maritime ensigns from the early 19th century, up to and including the time of the Civil War.
The House flag flown from the vessel's mizzen hoist is that of Boston Merchants Peirce & Bacon, a mercantile firm that shipped cargoes extensively from New England to ports on the Gulf Coast. It is likely Peirce & Bacon commissioned this fine portrait of their vessel from Buttersworth to grace the walls of their New York office.
In 1865, STAR OF THE SOUTH was laid up at New York. In 1866 she was sold and briefly returned to the merchant service, but arduous sea duty during two wars and too little maintenance, had taken their toll. Her boilers gave out and she completed her final voyages as a sailing vessel. The Shipping and Commercial List shows that she vanished, without a Custom House clearance, from New York in April, 1868. No doubt she was towed away for scrap.
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