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Colonial Era Bateau Perseverance

LCMM’s first replica was the bateau Perseverance, constructed on the museum's Basin Harbor site in 1986.

Brief History of the Bateau

What is the correct spelling of bateau? Putting aside the “spell it as it sounds” method of 18th Century spelling, there appears to be four known deviations in spelling the word bateau:

In Colonial North America, bateau referred to a very specific type of vessel. It was double ended (pointed at both ends) and flat bottomed with little rocker. In general it was built as an inland transportation vessel and used both in the civilian and military sectors.

The bateau was built of primarily two types of wood: white oak for framing and white pine for the planking, although this was dependent upon where its primary usage was intended. Some river bateaux used a bottom made entirely of white oak for the durability it afforded, as contact with rocks was the norm and not the exception. These flat-bottomed planks would be butted edge to edge with cross cleats inside. These seams needed caulking.

Sides were built in two different ways. One way was by overlapping planks, called lapstrake or clinker-built, and the other was similar to the bottom construction, with butted and caulked planks. The boats were asymmetrical: it was fuller in the bow and more slender in the stern. Oak frames for these boats would be either grown or sawn. The former's shape was part of a branch or root system that was naturally curved, called "compass wood". When there was not enough of a curve or there was not enough compass wood for a grown frame, two pieces of oak were joined so that one piece joined to the bottom and the other to the side with an overlapping joint and was possibly gusseted for added strength.

Sizes of bateaux ranged from 18’ to 48’. Sizes were not always given in feet, but in how many barrels they carried. (A barrel is approximately 33 gallons.) Some were known by how many men or hands it took to operate the boat, ie, a three-handed, five-handed, or eight-handed boat.

The bateau Perseverance was built at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, and is 33’ in length, 7’ in beam and 3‘ in depth. Its normal crew would be 5 men: 4 at the sweeps and 1 helmsman or pilot. Standard equipment would be 5 sweeps (oars), 1 paddle and 1 iron-tipped pole. There would have been an unknown amount of rope for mooring lines and such. As far as an anchor, to paraphrase, “the men will be taken to the place on the East side where they will be shown what type of rocks to be used as anchors”. This area is believed to be a glacial dump, so the rocks would have been smooth-sided.

LCMM's bateau Perseverance resides at the Basin Harbor site and can be seen there. Some of the employees have refurbished it and have been using it at historical reenactments for the past 10 years. It has been rebuilt twice and is in need of attention again as some of the original planking is becoming punky. Because it is a replica of a French & Indian War vessel, it is used mostly for those events by the reenactment unit known as Bradstreet’s Batoemen. Colonel Bradstreet was Deputy Quartermaster during the French & Indian War and was in charge of the bateaux and wagons. Most of his men were not from a military establishment and were very hard to command. Bradstreet had a unique mastery as their leader as many other officers called them “a great lot of rascals” and “willing to rifle any cargo”.

Building the Replica

Construction of the bateau Perseverance, showing the frames and bottom planking.
Building LCMM's first replica, the bateau Perseverance.

 


Launching the bateau Perseverance.