Skip to main content

Durham Boat––Defining a Vernacular Watercraft Type


Durham boats were a vital part of eastern North American inland transportation during the 18th and 19th centuries, but are underrepresented in the archaeological record. The discovery of a 19th-century shipwreck in Oneida Lake, New York, that closely resembles historical Durham-boat descriptions allowed for an analysis of this vernacular vessel type. The Oneida Lake shipwreck is fully described and compared to primary historical accounts to establish it as an archaeological example of the Durham-boat type.


Los barcos Durham fueron una parte vital del transporte interior del este de Norteamérica durante los siglos XVIII y XIX, pero están subrepresentados en el registro arqueológico. El descubrimiento de un naufragio del siglo XIX en el Lago Oneida, estado de Nueva York, que se parece mucho a las descripciones históricas de barcos Durham, permitió realizar un análisis de este tipo de embarcación vernacular. El naufragio del Lago Oneida se describe por completo y se compara con los datos históricos principales, para establecerlo como un ejemplo arqueológico del barco tipo Durham.


Les Durham étaient des bateaux constituant une part essentielle du transport continental de l’Amérique du Nord aux 18e et 19e siècles. Ils sont malgré cela sous-représentés dans les relevés archéologiques. La découverte, dans le lac Oneida à New York, d’une épave du 19e siècle ressemblant de près aux descriptions historiques des Durham, a donné lieu à l’analyse de ce type de bâtiment vernaculaire. L’épave du lac Oneida est intégralement décrite et comparée aux principaux récits historiques à disposition pour déterminer qu’il s’agit d’un exemple historique d’un type de bateau dit Durham.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11
Fig. 12


  • Ainslie, Henry Francis 1839 Fort Henry Kingston. Watercolor, Accession No. 1955-128-16, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, ON. Maritime History of the Great Lakes <>. Accessed 27 July 2018.

  • Allen, Nathan 1814 Contract for Ten Durham Boats (to Be Delivered at Lachine in the Spring), between Nathan Allen and David Sears, both of the City of Montreal, and Isaac Winslow Clarke, Deputy Commissary-General, Montreal, 3 December. Manuscript, No. 717, Henry Griffin, Notary Public, CN1-187, Archives Nationales du Québec, Quebec, QC.

  • Anderson, John A. 1917 Navigation on the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers. Proceedings of the Bucks County Historical Society 4:282–312.

  • Arendt, John Wallace 1894 All about the Durham Boat. Mss 179, Folder 14, Collections of the Bucks County Historical Society, Doylestown, PA.

  • Bining, Arthur Cecil 1933 The Iron Plantations of Early Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 57(2):117–137.

  • Blackwood, John 1814 Contract for Thirty Durham Boats (to Be Delivered at either Kingston or Fort Wellington in the Spring), between John Blackwood, Shipbuilder of Kingston, Upper Canada, and Isaac Winslow Clarke, Deputy Commissary-General, Montreal, 6 December. Manuscript, No. 723, Henry Griffin, Notary Public, CN1-187, Archives Nationales du Québec, Quebec, QC.

  • Brewington, Marion 1947 Notes, Washington’s Boat at the Delaware Crossing. American Neptune 2:167–172.

  • Burridge, George Nau 2001 Reseach Notes: The Durham Boat. Voyageur 17(2):52–58.

  • Canniff, William 1869 History of the Settlement of Upper Canada. Dudley & Burns, Toronto, ON.

  • Davis, William W. H. 1975 History of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. A. E. Lear, Pipersville, PA.

  • Dunbar, Seymour 1937 A History of Travel in America. Tudor Publishing Company, New York, NY.

  • Durham Township 2016 History of the Durham Boat. History of Durham Township, Durham Pennsylvania Historical Society <>. Accessed 26 July 2018.

  • Ewing, Sarah W. R. 1971 Reflections on the Ore Boats at Old Batsto. Batsto Citizens Gazette 5(4):1. Batsto, NJ.

  • Ford, Ben, Timothy Caza, Christopher Martin, and Timothy Downing 2016 Durham Boat Shipwreck, Oneida Lake, Oswego County, New York. Report to New York State Museum, Albany, NY, from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Department of Anthropology, Indiana.

  • Frackenthal, Benjamin Franklin, Jr. 1937 The Durham Iron Works, Durham Township: Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In The Bucks County Historical Society, Papers Read before the Society and other Historical Papers, Vol. 7, George MacReynolds, Horace M. Mann, Edward R. Barnsley, and B. F. Fackenthal, Jr., editors, pp. 58–94. Berkemeyer-Keck Co., Allentown, PA.

  • Glover, Thomas J. 2005 Pocket Ref, 3rd edition. Sequoia, Littleton, CO.

  • Greer, Georgeanna H. 2005 American Stonewares, The Art and Craft of Utilitarian Potters, revised 4th edition. Schiffer, Atglen, PA.

  • Guillet, Edwin C. 1963 Early Life in Upper Canada. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, ON.

  • Hager, Robert E. 1987 Mohawk River Boats and Navigation before 1820. Canal Society of New York State, Syracuse.

  • Hough, Franklin B. 1880 The Thousand Islands of the River St. Lawrence. Davis, Bardeen & Company, Syracuse, NY.

  • Hulan, Richard H. 1986 The Batsto Boat: Evidence of Delaware Valley Swedish Technology. In The Challenge of Folk Materials for New Jersey’s Museums, pp. 63–69. Museums Council of New Jersey, Trenton.

  • Johnson, Crisfield 1877 History of Oswego County, New York. L. H. Everts & Co., Philadelphia, PA.

  • Lord, Philip, Jr. 1990 The New York Durham Project, a Project in Transportation Archaeology. Manuscript, New York State Museum, Albany.

  • Lord, Philip, Jr. 2003 The Navigators, a Journal of Passage on the Inland Waterways of New York, 1793. Manuscript, New York State Museum, Albany.

  • Moore, Jonathan 2008 Fort Henry National Historic Site of Canada, Submerged Cultural Resource Inventory: 2004, 2006, and 2007 Surveys. Manuscript, Parks Canada Agency, Ontario Service Centre, Underwater Archaeology Service, Ottawa, ON.

  • Morrison, W. E. 1876 History of Seneca County, New York. J. B. Lippincott & Co., Ovid, NY.

  • Mullings, Ken, and Don Butterworth 1987 Dead Man Bay Wreck “B.” Manuscript Field Notes and Report, Preserve Our Wrecks, Kingston, ON, and Jonathan Moore, Ottawa, ON.

  • National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum 2012 Launch of the Codorus. National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum <>. Accessed 28 March 2016.

  • Rees, John U. 1998 Durham Boats: Preliminary Research on River Vessels Used by the Continental Army, 1775–1782. Manuscript, Durham Boat Folder, David Library of the American Revolution, Washingtons Crossing, PA.

  • Rees, John U. 2000 “The Uses and Conveniences of Different Kinds of Water Craft”: Continental Army River Vessels, 1775–1782. Manuscript, Wagons and Watercraft File, David Library of the Revolution, Washingtons Crossing, PA.

  • Ringwalt, John L. 1888 Development of Transportation in the United States. J. L. Ringwalt, Philadelphia, PA.

  • Schultz, Christian 1810 Travels on an Inland Voyage through the States of New-York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, and through the Territories of Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi and New-Orleans; Performed in the years 1807 and 1808. Isaac Riley, New York, NY.

  • Simms, Jeptha 1882 The Frontiersmen of New York. George C. Riggs, Albany, NY.

  • Starkey, J. Albert 1963 Excavation of the Historic Boat at Batsto. Bulletin of the New Jersey Academy of Science. 8(1):2–6.

  • Terrell, Bruce G. 1992 The James River Bateau: Tobacco Transport in Upland Virginia 1745–1840. East Carolina University, Program in Maritime History and Underwater Research, ECU Research Report No. 7. Greenville, NC.

  • Tunis, Edwin 1973 The Tavern and the Ferry. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

  • Washington Crossing Historic Park 2016 Durham Boats. Washington Crossing Historic Park <>. Accessed 28 March 2016.

  • Weiskotten, Daniel H. 1991 Little Falls Canal of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, New York State Museum, Durham Project. Manuscript, Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum, Chittenango, NY.

  • Yates, Austin A. 1902 Schenectady County, New York: Its History to the Close of the Nineteenth Century. New York History Co., New York, NY.

Download references


Excavation of the shipwreck was permitted under New York State Museum Permit No. 3118, New York Office of General Services Inquiry No. I-1833, New York Department of State File No. F-2014-0156, New York Department of Environmental Conservation Permit Application No. 7-3526-00202, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Permit Number 2014-00225 with New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation recommendation. Susan Anagnost, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, identified the wood samples. Charles Ver Straeten (New York State Museum), Julieann Van Nest (New York State Museum), and Carlton Brett (University of Cincinnati) went well beyond the expected to identify the origin of the stone cargo. Aquatic World of North Syracuse provided expedited and reduced-cost air fills, and Tammy Caza assisted with dive logistics. Dana Ashdown and the staffs of Chittenango Landing Museum Archives, the David Library of the American Revolution, and the Bucks County Historical Society Library were instrumental in identifying and accessing historical sources. Doug Ford is currently building a model of the Oneida Lake Durham boat and offered several useful observations on the hull construction. Christopher Morris and three anonymous reviewers provided useful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ben Ford.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest Statement

On behalf of all the authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ford, B., Caza, T., Martin, C. et al. Durham Boat––Defining a Vernacular Watercraft Type. Hist Arch 52, 666–683 (2018).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • inland waterways
  • ship construction
  • 19th century
  • New York
  • Great Lakes