“For figure-head she has an eagle’s head” — Massachusetts State Quarter Coin

The Massachusetts State Quarter Coin remembers when the largest clipper ship, of that time, was first launched in Boston 164 years ago.

From the Massachusetts Register, published by George Adams in January 1854:



This business has for the last year been exceedingly prosperous, not only in the Bay State, but in Maine, and, in fact, “all ‘long shore.”

In Boston and neighborhood, a great deal of ship-building has been carried on.

Fifty vessels built in and near the city, carrying nearly 50,000 tons’ burden, have been entered at the port of Boston.

East Boston has become quite distinguished for producing the best and largest ships in the country, if not in the world.

The Great Republic was launched at this place, Oct. 4, 1853.

This clipper was the largest ship in the world, and the pride of the American Mercantile Marine.

We copy the following account of her dimensions from the Boston Evening Transcript: —

“Her custom house measurement is 4,555 tons, her stowage capacity 6000 tons. It will require a crew of one hundred first class seamen, and fifty boys to sail her, which, with her chief and under officers, will number 175 or 180 all told.

“She will carry 48,000 barrels of flour in her hold, and between decks, and have room left.

“She is 325 feet in length, 53 feet breadth of beam, and 39 feet depth of hold, with four complete decks.

“Her four lower masts are each 130, 131, 122, and 100 feet long, and her lower yards each 110, 115, and 90 feet square. The mainmast is 4 feet in diameter, and the mainyard is 28 inches in diameter. She spreads 16,000 yards of canvas.

“For figure-head she has an eagle’s head ; on her stern there is a large eagle with the American shield in its talons.

“She has a fine library for her crew, and good accommodations for passengers. Her cabins are beautifully furnished and fitted.

“The Great Republic contains 2,380 tons of white oak; 1,500,000 feet of hard pine; 300 tons of iron; and 56 tons of copper. She has 1,600 knees, and is coppered up to 25 feet draught.

“The time occupied in building this vessel was equal to 50,000 days’ work for one man.

“On her spar deck she has five houses for various purposes, and a steam engine on deck, to assist in taking in and discharging cargo, hoisting the sails, working the pumps, tripping anchor, &c.

“She has eight boats, six of which hang from her davits, two on deck, in one of which there is a screw propeller.

“She is a perfect model of beauty from stem-to stern, and not a false line can be detected in her form, and is supposed to be the strongest ship ever built of wood and metal.

“She is owned solely by her builder, Donald McKay, Esq., and cost upwards of $300,000.

“Our citizens feel a pride in the success of this ship and all concerned in this stupendous enterprise. It was a bold step for the owner to embark so much money in a single bottom, but he is confident of success.”

Burning of the Great Republic.

After the preparation of the above account, news was received of the destruction of the monster ship by fire.

From the New York papers of Dec. 27, we take the following particulars: —

“The fire began at about 1 o’clock on Tuesday morning, in Treadwell & Sons’ Bakery, in the rear of 244 Front street. There was a strong breeze blowing from the westward at the time, and the fire spread rapidly to the front buildings and the adjoining warehouses, a number of which were either entirely destroyed or seriously injured.

“From these, the flying cinders reached first the lofty rigging and sails of the ‘Great Republic,’ which were soon in flames, and falling upon the deck, communicated the fire to the hull and to the cargo of the ship.

“Attempts to tow her into the stream and to scuttle her proved alike abortive, owing to the lowness of the water and the immense draught of the ship with her enormous cargo nearly all in.

“According to the New York Commercial Advertiser, the cargo of the Great Republic was worth about $225,000.

“It consisted of the following named items: — Beef, 896 tierces; Lard, 97 tierces, 53 barrels; Wheat, 23,406 bushels; Corn, 33,500 bush. ; Flour, 6,630 barrels; Cotton, 2,023 bales; Tea, 639 half-chests; Rosin, 4,046 barrels; Tobacco, 14 hogsheads; Argols, 10 casks; Maple Timber, 367 pieces.”

“The Great Republic was insured (on ship and cargo) to the amount of about $212,000 in New York, and out of town, $40,000, or $50,000 more. Of the latter, there was $15,000 or $20,000 in Boston.

“The G. R. had all her stores on board, advance wages paid, and was in all respects ready for a sea voyage.”


The Great Republic was rebuilt with three decks instead of four and her tonnage reduced to 3,337.

She made several runs from New York to San Francisco carrying passengers and freight. Her travel time was 92 days between the two cities.

In 1865, she came under British ownership out of Liverpool. In 1872, she was abandoned at sea.

The Massachusetts State Quarter Coin shows with an artist’s image of the Great Republic under full sails, circa 1850s.

Massachusetts State Quarter Coin