Monday, May 4, 2009

The 18th-Century Sloop “Nancy”

The “Clearwater” and the “Sojourner Truth” ca. 1980. The “Clearwater,” birthed in Poughkeepsie, was built in 1969 by Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. as a teaching tool for environmental education.
Here at the Historical Society, it sometimes feels like “history” begins in the 19th century. Aside from a few Indian arrowheads, our earliest artifacts, our earliest maps, and our earliest photographs are all from the 1840s or '50s. But there are a handful of items in the collection from 18th century. The earliest are probably the three documents related to the ship called the “Nancy.”

To get some idea of what the “Nancy” looked like, go down to the Hudson River and watch for the “Clearwater.” The “Clearwater” and the “Nancy” are both sloops – single-masted sailing vessels with sails aligned along the length of the ship. Sloops were the workhorses of the Hudson River from the time of the earliest European settlers to the growth of the railroads in the 19th century. They were maneuverable ships that could handle the Hudson’s strong tides, variable winds, and sometimes shallow waters, and required only a small crew. The Dutch used them to connect their early settlements in Fort Orange (now called Albany) and New Amsterdam (now Manhattan). In those days, the cargo was often trading goods – furs and grain, or flour from the local mills. By the 1790s, the sloops were carrying fish, lumber, straw, mail, and passengers.

1836 painting by Hastings resident George Harvey showing a sloop docked at the Hastings waterfront, printed on a Historical Society notecard from 1983. (The original painting is in the collection of the New-York Historical Society.)
One of these hard-working sloops was the “Nancy.” The three documents in our collection give us a great deal of information about her. She was about half the size of the “Clearwater” -- 44 feet long and 14 feet 9 inches wide, and weighed 35 tons. She was built in Albany in 1794. In March of 1796, her owner leased her to Philip Forgey and Corbus Lefergy for “one hundred and four pounds current money of the state of New York.”

The two later documents in our collection, dated 1796 and 1797, are operating licenses issued by the U.S. Government and bearing the embossed seals of both the New York Customs House and the Naval Office of the District City of New York. Apparently, licenses had to be renewed annually, since each one permits the owner to carry on the “coasting trade” for “One Year from the date hereof, and no longer.” Her original title was “the Nancy of New York,” but on these two documents she is rechristened “the Nancy of Greenburgh.” (Hastings, as you will recall, was not incorporated as a village until 1879.)

Lease and one of the two licenses for the sloop "Nancy." These documents have been digitized by the Westchester Historical Society. Click on the documents to view them on the Historical Treasures of Westchester County web site. Click on the word "next" at the top of the window to cycle through the pages of the documents.
Forgey and Lefergey are only two of the many variations of the familiar Hastings family name of Lefurgy. The Lefurgys are some of the earliest identifiable residents of Hastings, having been tenant farmers under Frederick Philipse before the Revolution. Lefurgys married into many prominent local families, including the Dobbs, the Snedens, the Browns, the Pulvers, and the Posts.

While we haven’t yet been able to trace Philip Forgey, “Corbus” may have been Jacobus (also known as James) Lefurgy, who was born in Hastings in 1761 and died here in 1826. Further research in the extensive collections of Lefurgy papers given to the Society by Margaret Lane and Clarence Parker may reveal more about the “Nancy” and her cargo and help us fill in the details of Hastings’ early history.
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  1. I read with interest the history of the Sloop Nancy. You might be interested to know that the Treasury Department has, in its collection, what is commonly called a "ship's paper" I believe, issued to the Nancy on October 14, 1794, signed by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, prior to the ship's voyage to the West Indies. The document was discovered many years ago in the Customs House in NYC during a renovation.

  2. Winston DinwoodieJune 5, 2011 at 12:26 PM

    There was another sloop named 'Nancy'with Capt. Hart as the ship's master. It carried on the coastal trade. I am wondering if the sloop referenced on your site could be a successor to the earlier 'Nancy' which received damage during a severe storm. She sailed from Savannah, Georgia on 13 Dec 1786 with New York as its destination. As it was a few leagues from Sandy Point, it was blown out to sea and around Long Island, finally managing to put in at Martha's Vineyard on 20 December. The storm continued and its mast was broken around the 22nd. The snowstorm was so severe that a number of people living on Cape Cod died. Could there be a connection? I am writing a biography of two of the passangers who were aboard during its troubled passage and knowing more about the first Nancy would be helpful, especially its dimensions and design and ultimate outcome. I like your site very much. My email address is

  3. The Clearwater sails on, heading into her 47th year and about to under the most complicated (and expensive!) restoration in her history. Visit us at and help us Float the Boat with a donation. (, #floattheboat on social media.)