Painted by Corné before 1805 as she was leaving Crowninshield's wharf at Salem..
Belisarius was a large merchantman for her day, built by Enos Briggs at his shipyard at Stage Point in the South Fields. She was launched in October 1794. She was originally a ship of two hundred and nine tons burthen, but immediately enlarged to two hundred and sixty-one and one-half tons. She measured only ninety-four and one-half feet in length, with a breadth of twenty-five feet, and was so narrow that her depth, - usually one-half the width of a vessel, - must have been much more than half her breadth. So narrow a craft would seem to have been designed for speed rather than tonnage, but she carried most valuable cargoes and paid duties on them, ranging from fifteen to twenty-one thousand dollars. Her great depth should have made her stiffer. She was an early ship to be copper-bottomed, and was launched with all her masts standing. She was pierced for sixteen guns and mounted that armament.
The speed of the "Belisarius" was comparable to that of the modern clipper, although her build was very different. Under favourable conditions she often sailed up to 10 knots. She sailed well in light wind; making four or five knots. Many times she made daily run over two hundred miles. Her best run was two hundred and forty three miles. Her voyages to the East were among the earliest and the quickest.
In 1796 she was on her third voyage in command of John Crowninshield, reaching home from Calcutta in seventy-five days on July 26, 1798. She sailed a passage of 104 days from Madras and Tanquebar. The "Belisarius" crossed the line in twenty-three days from Salem, and passed Cape of Good Hope in fifty-five days.
On her eighth voyage to Sumatra she did it in one hundred and two days from Bencoolen. It is supposed that the Belisarius has made the shortest voyage to the East Indies that was ever made from USA.
She escaped the lightning of the tropics in August 1802. First she left India and a gale carried away some of her spars and killed a man, forcing her to return. Again she sailed, August 14, and four days out was struck by lightning at midnight while all hands on deck were taking in sail. One of the hands, Shehane of Salem, was instantly killed. The first officer, Meek, and two seamen were struck senseless and much hurt. The weather was squally with hard rain and the ship was under close-reefed topsails. The bolt descended by the main-top-gallant-mast and down the main-mast into the 'tween-decks, Captain Skerry and every person on board except the man at the helm being more or less stunned. All the compasses were disabled, both below and on deck, and their polarity destroyed, the north point of one tending to the southeast, and that in others fixed at southwest. Volumes of smoke issued from the hatches and companionway and for more than an hour the ship appeared to be on fire. Shivering the main-top-mast, the bolt passed out at the ship's side. But she escaped with great difficulty and made Salem harbour on August 24, 1802.
After successful voyaging in the India trade for eight years and after bringing home wealth to her owners, the ship Belisarius, went to pieces in a gale in the Bay of Tunis in April, 1810, but the crew and cargo was saved.
Courtesy: Essex Institute, Salem, MA
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