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The Model

The model was built by Charles and N. David Newcomb of Bolingbroke Marine in Trappe, Maryland. The two professional model makers began their work in March 1975, scaling every timber to size and making everything out of the same type of wood as the original. The model makers devised miniature rope-making equipment to manufacture the 5,000 feet of rigging and anchor cable required in 20 different sizes. Women from the Newcomb family and members of the community made the rigging and sails, for which they imported linen duck from Scotland.

The model makers left the starboard side of the vessel unplanked to reveal the timbering and joinery of the hull and to permit a view of the vessel's living accommodations in the stern and cargo stowage, complete with tobacco hogsheads.


The Ship

The Brilliant was a true ship, being square-rigged on three masts. Her lower deck was 89'-3" long, her breadth was 27'1/2", and the depth of her hold was 12'-2". She was built of oak, pine, and cedar. When purchased for war service, the Royal Navy assessed her hull, masts, and yards at £2,143. Her cordage, including halyards, sheets, tack, and anchor cables, were assessed at £340. Brilliant's sails, 27 in all, were judged to be worth £143. Five anchors were assessed at £58, while a long boat with a complete sailing rig and oars was estimated to be worth £45. Other items aboard the Brilliant were inventoried and assessed for a total value of £914. Among these were block and tackle, metal fittings, iron-bound water casks, hour and minute glasses, compasses, hammocks, an iron fire hearth, and 10 tons of coal.

After her conversion in 1776 as a ship of war in the Royal Navy, she was commissioned as HMS Druid. Her first voyage westbound across the Atlantic was as an escort for a convoy to the West Indies. She served as Druid until 1779, after which she became the fire ship Blast. In 1783, she was sold out of the service for £940 and, for the next 15 years, the former Virginia tobacco ship served as a whaler in Greenland. She was lost in the Arctic in 1798.


Tobacco in Colonial America

At the time of the Revolutionary War, tobacco was the most important crop produced in the Chesapeake Bay colonies of Maryland and Virginia. Driven by demand in Europe, tobacco was the region's most valuable export and was even used as currency.

The tobacco economy's strength was due to a combination of factors. Tobacco flourished in the tidewater climate and, with an abundance of land, the crop was planted widely. Indentured servants and increasing numbers of African slaves toiled to plant, tend, harvest, cure, and pack this labor-intensive crop. In addition, the Chesapeake Bay, with its network of navigable tributaries, made possible the large-scale export of tobacco.

For shipment, cured tobacco was packed into wooden casks called hogsheads. Plantation workers pressed the tobacco into hogsheads to protect the delicate leaves during the long and frequently arduous journey from tidewater plantation to European market. The size of hogsheads was standardized at 48'-30"; by the 1760s, experienced workers were packing nearly 1,000 pounds of tobacco into a hogshead.


Related Images

The rigging and sails of the <i>Brilliant</i> model.
The rigging and sails of the Brilliant model.
The 1:8 scale model was made with painstaking accuracy.
The 1:8 scale model was made with painstaking accuracy.
The <i>Brilliant</i>'s deck.
The Brilliant's deck.

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