Virginia (pinnace)

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The first recorded ship of noteworthy size built in America was the pinnace Virginia.[1] As plans of early 17th century sailing vessels have not yet been found, reconstructing Virginia is a challenge. [2] There is a very small sketch of the Virginia[3] on J. Hunt's 1607 map of Ft. St. George in Popham, Maine, showed a sketch of a pinnace, thought to be the Virginia, that was built at the Popham colony in 1607–1608. Built at Fort St. George and the Popham Beach Colony (Sagadahoc), a locality now in southern Maine, Virginia was launched in 1608 and was the first ocean-going ship built in the New World. After this date, the Virginia made two voyages that brought settlers to the Jamestown colony in Virginia and continued active travel until 1610.[4] How her coastal rigging would have been changed for a cross-Atlantic voyage is not yet understood. Plans with rigging for a reconstruction of Virginia with a plausible rigging.[5]

Virginia was less than 50 feet long with a beam of 14'6", a flush main deck that drew approximately 6'6" fully loaded, and a free board of less than 2 feet. Virginia would likely have been rigged as a modified barque with a square-rigged main mast, a much smaller second mast that was gaff rigged, and a small square sail under the bowsprit. The main mast on many pinnaces would have been large enough to carry a small topsail. An aft-rigged mizzen mast carries a sail that in John Walker's drawing of the Virginia when rigged for a trans Atlantic voyage resembles a lateen sail more closely than a spanker. "For coastal work, Virginia would have used a fore and aft rig with a spirit mainsail and one headsail."[attribution needed] For comparison, two of the three ships in a small fleet that brought 105 settlers to Virginia in 1606–1607 were the pinnaces Godspeed and Discovery and they weighed 40 and 20 tons respectively. [6]

The first ships built in what is now North America were built in 1564 at the French Fort Caroline near Jacksonville, Florida. A small shallop was built by French carpenters to augment the four ships brought from France the previous year. The shallop was approximately 28 to 30 feet (8.54 to 9.15 meters). It had two masts carrying a square sail forward and a lanteen on the aft. It weighed between 40 and 60 tons. It was used by eleven French mutineers to sail to the Caribbean in search of plunder. [7] Eugene Lyon, The enterprise of Florida, University Presses of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, p 37. [8]

The Fluyt, the Hooker and Pinnace Design

There are some resemblances between the pinnace and the much larger Fluyt, a three-masted, square-rigged merchant ship of the 17th century. Fluyts were built by the Dutch to be economical in operation, carrying the largest cargo and smallest crew possible. Fluyt's could be 80' long and weigh in excess of 200 tons. They had a wide, box-like hull and a very narrow, high stern. Lightly armed with perhaps a dozen cannon, they were not ideally suited for dealing with pirates and privateers or any other armed conflict but there are journal records of pinnaces in early America involved in small sea battles.

There are also some general resemblances to the rig used on the Hooker. [9] The "Howker"as it was often called in England was also called by the French a "Houcre" or "Hourque "and by the Dutch "Hoecker", was another type of small merchant vessel used in the coastal waters of Northern Europe. The hooker was a vessel that varied according to locality or time and some had pole masts, while others had the more usual separate mainmast and topmast, with tops, shrouds and the rest. All of the hookers had bluff rounded bows and sterns, with a high rudder and tiller fitted over the bulwarks. Length could be 85' or less, tonnage as much as 120 tons. It seem possible that both the fluyt and hooker influenced the design of the pinnace which was a common ship, and usually present in the small fleets that brought colonists to the earliest English colonies in the New World. A pinnace is frequently mentioned in the records of such voyages which have often been uncovered by genealogical research and published as such on the web.


External Links -16th and 17th Century Pinnaces and English Shipbuilding

  • 16th century English pinnace - early print. Lacking identity and provenance as depicted on Dr. J.P. Sommerville's page about Elizabeth I: Exploration and Foreign Policy (University of Wisconsin), n.d. Retrieved September 18, 2008.
  • The Lions Whelp- Duke of Rochester's privateer, 1628. Under Research at the New Zealand Maritime Record, nd. Retrieved September 4, 2008.
  • Mathew Baker and the Art of the Shipwright (in German). Baker was royal ship builder under Elizabeth I. "His Fragments of Ancient Shipbuilding' (1586) is considered a ground breaking work and invaluable for the study of 16th century shipbuilding. Sept. 15, 2005.Chapter 3 (pp. 107-165) of Stephen Johnston, ‘Making mathematical practice: gentlemen, practitioners and artisans in Elizabethan England’ (Ph.D. Cambridge, 1994). Retrieved August 22, 2008.
  • 17th century English ships. - In "Some Seventeenth-Century Vessels and the Sparrow-Hawk" by William Avery Baker. Pilgrim Society Note, Series One, Number 28, 1980, April 30, 2006 (Plymouth Hall Museum, Plymouth Massachusetts). Retrieved September 18, 2008.
  • "The Shallop Elizabeth Tilley" - by Peter Arenstam, The Piligrim John Howland Society, Plymouth Massachusetts. cf Shallops and small ship building in the 17th century.) Retrieved August 20, 2008.

External Links - Early Voyages to New England, Maryland and Virginia in which a pinnace is mentioned

The early settlement of New England & Virginia", n.d.


  1. Building a replica of the Virginia. - at Maine's First Ship Project, Bath ME, 2007. Internet Archive, 2007, retrieved September 4, 2008.
  2. Essex Shipbuilding Museum, Essex, Massachusetts, 2007, retrieved on Sept.1, 2008.
  3. Surviving Sketch of the Virginia at Maine Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport Maine, 2006. Retrieved September 18, 2008.
  4. In "The 1606/1607 Voyage To Virginia". At, retrieved on Sept.22, 2008
  5. Catalog of Plans of historic boats and ships at Maine Maritime Museum, Bath ME, 2008. Retrieved September 1, 2008.
  6. Pinnaces Godspeed and Discovery to Virginia 1606-07. (The third ship was the 100-ton barque Susan Constant.) In "The 1606/1607 Voyage To Virginia" at 'Virginia, Her History and Families'. Retrieved on Sept. 2, 2008
  7. Rene de Laudonniere, L'Histori Notable in Lussagnet, Les Francais en Amerique, 2:124-25.
  8. Charles E. Bennett, Laudonniere and Fort Caroline, University of Florida Press, Gainesville, Florida, p 87-93, 96, 103-106. Paul H. Gissendaner
  9. Hooker, Hourcre, Hourque, Hoeker Retrieved on Sept.1, 2008