The 18th Century became known as the American age of sail. It was during this period that American sailors and shipbuilders introduced innovations that revolutionized the art of ship design and led to the emergence of the United States as a leading maritime power. Previously, Dutch, Spanish, French, and then British men-of-war and merchant ships dominated the oceans and controlled most maritime commerce. At the turn of the century, the young American Navy demonstrated that fast, lightly gunned frigate ships such as the Constitution, the Constellation, and the Essex were more than a match for the slow, cumbersome, heavily gunned British warships and were unsurpassed as maritime predators.
This tradition was carried a step further during the war of 1812, when a new class of vessel emerged from shipyards on the Chesapeake Bay. At first these were known as Baltimore packets, but the name was soon changed to Baltimore clippers. These were lightly gunned, but fast and maneuverable schooners with sleek hulls and sharp, angled prows that allowed them to poke in and out of small coastal harbors, sometimes sailing almost directly into the wind at full speed. Nothing like them had been seen before.
The Harvey exemplified this class of roving privateers, overtaking and capturing British merchantmen laden with cargo to support the British expeditionary forces then attempting to recapture the former colonies. She had a successful career, first as a warrior and then as a cargo carrier. She displaced about 225 tons, and had a length of 97 feet, a width of 25 feet and a depth of less than 11 feet.
With the end of the war, transatlantic trade resumed, and the Baltimore clipper evolved over the next 30 years to take the form of larger cargo carrying packets. These had similar hull lines and were longer, slimmer, and faster than older merchant ships. The final evolution of these thoroughbreds occurred when the first true American clipper ship, the Sea Witch was launched in 1844 and established speed records between New York and China which were never broken. Clipper ships reigned supreme until the era of sail gave way to the age of steam.
There were two later recreations of the Harvey, the latest of which is now moored in Baltimore harbor.