New York: The Black Ball Packets Seen Beyond the Fulton Fish Market in 1865


This scene, of New York’s bustling East River waterfront prior to the Civil War, shows the view looking east across Fulton Street from eighteenth century Schermerhorn Row, which is today renovated and predominantly occupied by the South Street Seaport Museum. To the right, the recently completed cast iron edifice of the Fulton Ferry Building on South Street contrasts sharply with the rambling assemblage of Fulton Fish Market stalls. Necessary expansion of these structures forced the addition of roofed-in extensions less than halving the width of busy South Street.

Not long after the date of this painting a major new brick building was constructed in place of the long low row of fish stalls that in 1865 offered the viewer such a fine sight of Pier 23, the terminus of the fleet of Black Ball Line Packets. The Black Ball Line inaugurated the first scheduled packet service between New York and Liverpool in 1817 and continued a very profitable business in transporting emigrants and English railroad iron until 1878. All ships of this famous line were built in New York on the East River.

The scene is cast on a moonlight evening as latecomers transact their business with the one market fishmonger still open.

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