How Do You Transfer Large Livestock From Ship to Shore?

Carolyn’s Compositions



Have you ever wondered how oxen, bulls, and cows were transferred from ships to shore in 1790s Maine? If so, the answer is in the two stories related below.


Background: Madame de La Tour du Pin was a French refugee escaping the French Revolution. The following story is from her 1794 journal.


One day that spring, I had had to go to Troy to fetch things that I needed for my work. The negroes were working in the fields with my husband and M. de Chambeau was busy in his carpenter’s shop, so I went to the stable, saddled my mare, as I often did, and set out at a caner. On the way back, I crossed in the ferry, taking the mare with me, and went to call on a friend who lived in a mill about a mile from the town. She kept me to tea and as it was late I rode back to the ferry at a good pace, which made me very hot. As we were about to leave the bank, four large oxen and their driver insisted on coming too, despite the protests of Mat the boatman, who had noticed that the oxen were making my mare nervous. My first impulse was to get out, but it was late and I was afraid my husband would be worried, so I stayed. In midstream, these four enormous beasts, naturally unyoked, all leaned over the same side of the ferry to drink. It heeled over, and seemed likely to capsize. Mat told me to let go of my horse and hold on to his belt. I had not, until then, realised the imminence of the danger, but Mat’s words made the blood freeze in my veins. Fortunately, just at that critical moment, one of the passengers drew his knife and plunged it into the rump of one of the oxen. The pain made the animal jump overboard. The other three followed and the ferry returned to an even keel, though not before it had shipped so much water that we were standing in it up to our ankles. —from the Memoirs of Madame de La Tour du Pin, pp 261-262


The following is an excerpt from my novel-under-construction, She Saw Her Promised Land (earlier titled Intertwined Love):

090412 IMG_9561e


Background: French immigrant, escaping the French Revolution, had signed a tentative contract with land speculator Gen. Henry Knox to purchase 220,000 acres of land in Maine, on which she planned on developing a French colony. Her first farm, 100 acres, needed livestock to support a few initial families. Here is that story:

Monday (Oct. 17, 1791) morning, at three o’clock, Col. Jones joined Rosalie at the ship, bringing two bulls and two cows She watched as the crew struggled to get them on board. The ship then set sail with a strong wind, which was so violent by six o’clock that the ship had to anchor. They lifted anchor at seven-thirty, but at nine o’clock they had to stop again. Although they managed had sailed to within three and a half miles of the farm by ten-thirty, they realized they needed to return to Gouldsboro’s harbor to find shelter. They dropped anchor in that harbor, which was near Col. Sargent’s home.

“Being deprived of the thermometer we can no longer give you the certain results of the temperature,” Rosalie later told Louis des Isles (her secretary). “But we made our observations of the weather by comparing it to the past days. The winds this morning were from the northwest, and the temperature was cold, producing a line and a half of ice. At noon we had a bad wind, hail and snow. The storm just passed through, but the temperature remained about the same for the remainder of the day. We spent the night anchored in the same place where Col. Sargent. had come to join us previously.”

On Tuesday morning at seven o’clock, the weather was clear, but it was cold enough that Rosalie measured two lines of ice. The wind, although not quite as hard, remained hard enough to retain them five miles from their farm.

“Our people must be kind of worried as to what happened to us,” Rosalie told Col. Jones.

At noon the sky and cold remained but the northwest wind had lessened. At one o’clock, they lifted anchor and began sailing to their farm, spotting smoke from Rosalie’s farmhouse in the distance. They continued sailing along the shore until they saw their habitation. Although they had less than four miles to travel they didn’t expect to be back before nightfall.

“When our people saw us arrive at six o’clock, they were greatly pleasured. We too were happy. We had enough water to get to our home property,” said Rosalie. “We were carried by the water, fortunately, to get home promptly.”

Louis was among the several settlers who rowed to Rosalie’s sloop to see the livestock. Everyone helped to push and shove the bulls and cows off the boat into the sea so they could swim to the shore.

And that’s how oxen, bulls, and cows were transferred from ship to shore in 1790s Maine.

Tjur bull

Tjur bull

Sometimes I find myself needing an extraordinary push to get where I’m going. Many times I’d like to just sit around relaxing, letting my obligations rest untouched. Like the oxen, cow, and bull, I need to be pushed into the waters to get to my destination.

The above stories are a needed bit of trivia to add to your collection of other needed bits of trivia. Information one will never use…or I would have thought until I started writing my novel-under-construction.

That’s the thing about education and learning. You never know when a bit of trivia will be useful.

When you meet someone new, the usual conversation—where you live, what you do, family—can lead nowhere. If you have interesting stories to tell it can lead to more conversation.

These stories have been a conversation starter on occasion. Trivia can open the door to beginning relationships by demonstrating your interest in something useless. However, for me, it leads to a discussion on my novel-under-construction. And these conversations have allowed me to interact with strangers in a, well, meaningful way. Try it sometime. Share something trivial that you are interested in. It’s surprising where it can lead.


Photo credit:

About carolyncholland

In several if my nine lives I have been a medical lab technician and a human service worker specializing in child day care, adoptions and family abuse. Currently I am a photo/journalist/writer working on a novel and a short story. My general writings can be viewed at My novel site is
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