One Way of Getting Ice to the Tropics

Henry David Thoreau, in his Walden, describes the pond, in winter, being visited by the ice-cutters, who cut the pond’s ice to be shipped to the south.  Before that time, however, others adopted riskier ways to achieve the same goal.  From the Baltimore Patriot, reprinting the Boston Daily Advertiser, January 3, 1820

“Particulars of a voyage made by capt. Hadlock, in the brig Retrieve, of Castine, to procure a cargo of Ice.

Sailed from Castine Aug. 13th, for Labrador Coast.  Ran the shore down for the purpose of finding an ice island.  Saw several which were too large.  Sept. 11th, anchored near & fastened to an island grounded in about 40 fathoms.  Commenced cutting and loading ice.  A gale coming on, weighed and made a harbor lat. 53, 30.—When the gale subsided, another island drove in near us, alongside of which we anchored, the island having got aground in 30 fathoms.  The island rolled very much, and by our cutting on one side, when nearly loaded it rolled heavily from us, and a prong 20 or 30 feet from the main body of the island lifted the brig about 6 feet, and set her a-leaking, so that one pump was kept going.  Expected to have to discharge and abandon the undertaking, but in the course of a day or two she began to tighten, and we continued to proceed in loading from the same island–completed and sailed for St. Pierres, Martinique, and arrived at the close of Oct.  The vessel being very leaky, and owing to the time of year, lost a little before we arrived; but if the vessel had not been leaky should have carried in the whole cargo.  The dangers & difficulties attending the undertaking were great, on account of the height of the island above water, their unsteadiness, and various plans for getting the ice.  The only one by which we could succeed was to send part of the crew on the island, and get off large lumps with crow bars and axes, precipitate them  into the sea, and afterwards hoisting them on board from the salt water.  Capt. H. undertook the voyage, under an engagement with the gentleman who has the privilege of supplying Martinique with ice.  The stock falling short, capt. H. was employed to attempt to obtain a cargo in the above manner, on condition that he was to have a certain sum, whether he succeeded or not.  The Retrieve arrived in Boston harbor on Sunday, from Martinique.”


About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden