The Browns’ bustling transatlantic trade demanded ships, and lots of them. The ownership, operation, and financing of these vessels soon became a business unto itself for the Browns.
The Atalanta appears to have been the Browns’ first ship. Built in 1809, this modest 380-ton vessel was moored in Philadelphia and owned by William and James Brown. By 1830, the Browns would own a whole or part interest in as many as two dozen ships that plied shipping lanes between Liverpool and eastern and southern U.S. ports.
Unfortunately, because their owners would not allow them to set sail until they had a full cargo, these ships rarely departed on schedule. Then, in 1818, came the Black Ball line, the first transatlantic “packet” service—“a regular succession of Vessels, which will positively sail, full or not full, from Liverpool on the 1st, and from New York on the 5th of every month.”
James Brown saw this development and decided to do the same for Philadelphia, partnering with Thomas P. Cope & Sons to establish a regular packet service between Philadelphia and Liverpool. The Cope line effectively put an end to plans for a similar Baltimore line, but the Browns accepted that as the price of progress.
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