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Why does this Lady of Salem look Egyptian?

he reason why this “Lady of Salem” looks Egyptian is because it represents a ship called Cleopatra’s Barge, built here in Salem 


in 1816 by shipbuilder Retire Becket.


It was America’s first ocean going yacht. It was ordered built by George Crowninshield Jr., who was part of the super rich Crowninshield family and considered one of America’s first playboys.


The yacht was 83 feet (25 m) long at the waterline, 23 feet (7.0 m) wide, and weighed 192 tons. It had two masts in the configuration known as a hermaphrodite brig: square-rigged forward and schooner-rigged aft. This made it fast but required a relatively small crew.


It cost about $50,000 to build in 1816 ($1M today) and about the same amount was spent for fitting out and luxury furnishings ($2M total).

Lady of Salem Cleopatra .jpg

Painted by Artist Meg Nichols of Painted Lady Sign Co.

The main cabin was 19 feet (5.8 m) by 20 feet (6.1 m) with mahogany panels inlaid with other decorative wood. Furniture was covered in red velvet with gold lace and the kitchen included custom silver, china and formal glassware. The starboard side was painted in colorful horizontal stripes and the port side a herring-bone pattern. It even boasted indoor plumbing.


George Crowninshield Jr. took one trip on the ship starting Mar. 30, 1817, sailing to Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. His cousin Benjamin Crowninshield was the captain.


They went to the Azores, Madeira, Gibraltar, Málaga and other ports on the southern coast of Spain. In Marseilles, the ship was repainted and redecorated. The next stops were Toulon, France and Genoa, Italy.


24 - George Crowninshield Jr looking right.jpg

George Crowninshield Jr.

It was widely suspected that the Crowninshields were planning to free former Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte from his exile on Saint Helena island and bring him to America. 


George and his relatives visited several of Napoleon's supporters and relatives on the island of Elba where Napoléon had escaped in 1815. In Rome, they met with Napoleon's mother Letizia Ramolino and siblings Prince Lucien and Princess Pauline. They took on board the captain of the ship on which Napoleon escaped Elba and his doctor along with souvenirs such as a pair of Napoléon's boots and an imperial snuffbox. 


It was also rumored that George was hoping to bring back a European princess to marry. He courted many Princesses but he returned with neither wife nor a princess.

Cleopatra’s Barge returned from the six month voyage in October 1817. George died several weeks later on Nov. 26.


Some of the furnishings were removed and eventually placed in what later became the Peabody Essex Museum. The barge was auctioned off to a Crowninshield brother for $15,400 ($350k today) in July 1818 and used for a few trading voyages.


Boston merchants William Sturgis and John Bryant bought the ship in April 1820. Although Bostonians assumed it was going to be used as a trading vessel, the owners had another plan. They sailed it to South America under Captain John Suter in June 1820. He had instructions to try to sell it in the Kingdom of Hawai'i, then known as the "Sandwich Islands.”


Suter sold it to Hawai’ian monarch Kamehameha II (aka Liloliho) for slightly more than a million pounds of sandalwood. Liholiho used it as his private yacht, renaming it Ha'aheo o Hawai'i ("Pride of Hawai’i") in 1822 after a rebuild. Under an all-Hawai’ian crew, Ha'aheo wrecked in Hanalei Bay, Kaua'i, Hawai'i in April 1824.


In January 1994, Paul Forsythe Johnston of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of 


George Ropes painted Cleopatra's Barge in 1818. It is on display in the Peabody Essex Museum

American History applied for the first underwater archaeological permits issued by the state of Hawai’i to find and investigate the wreckage.


Johnston was formerly a curator of the Peabody Museum of Salem (now part of the Peabody Essex Museum). After several years of work, the ship remains were finally located, carefully excavated and many artifacts were recovered. A section of the stern was uncovered, documented and re-buried.

Today, some of the furnishings are on display in the Peabody Essex Museum, the Kaua’i Museum in Kaua’i, Hawai’i and the Smithsonian Institute.

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Pompey the cat was the pet of Capt. Benjamin Crownishield. The cat was lost on the voyage.

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