Using the information compiled by the Independence Seaport Museum, the Tuckerton Seaport Museum, and information from the Ocean County historian I have been able to stitch together little about the fifteen-foot Perrine that I have been referring to as Little Sister but I have been able to build an understanding of sneakbox history as well as the family history of the Perrine Boat Works that would have produced it. Among all of the sources, they generally agree that the sneakbox originated in the nineteenth century, but there seems to be debate as to whether Hazelton Seaman was the first to market the design or whether that is the myth built from Nathaniel Bishop’s voyage Pittsburgh to New Orleans in 1875. However, at least one source suggests that the design is associated with the hunting practices of the Lenni Lennape natives of the region. In any event, the sneakbox was a well-established design by the time that Samuel Perrine, Jr. and Joseph Howard Perrine, his son, opened Perrine Boat Works, née Shipyard, in 1900.
The Perrine family history in the region seems to stem from the immigration of Daniel Perrin to New Jersey via Jersey, England in 1655 after fleeing Huguenot persecution in France. The descendants that I am concerned with begins with Samuel, Sr. born around 1799. At the same time that Hazelton was in theory laying down the first sneakboxes in 1836, Sammy, as he was known, was constructing the Harvey Cedars hotel. Like much of the maritime culture that we have been collectively studying, Sammy’s hotel sought to cater to the wealthy tourists coming from New York City and Philadelphia. Sammy was also the first skipper of the Lifesaving Service, founded in 1848, after which the Hotel served as one of only twenty House of Refuge stations that helped to service seamen between Maine to Georgia and was a precursor to the modern U.S. Coast Guard.
Samuel Jr. was born shortly before this point, around 1837-40, and became involved as a keeper of the Harvey Cedars Life Boat Station along with his father. Around 1886, the federal government began paying Sammy Jr. for his upkeep service demonstrating the earlier involvement in maritime aid that would lead to the formation of the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915 by merging several of these previous services. For thirty years, Sammy Jr. served as the captain for a 100-135-foot luxury yacht owned by Nathan Middleton and John Leisenring, Pennsylvania coalmen. J.H. Perrine was introduced to life aboard the Sans Souci as the cook and butcher, before becoming a Hires Root Beer salesman, and ultimately going into business with his father.
The shop that they opened around 1900 had previously served as a schoolhouse, which in turn had originally been a church. In 55 years, they produced roughly 3,600 vessels that ranged from 12ft hunters to 20ft racers, but on rare occasions could be built as small as 9ft or as large as 44ft. This would make Little Sister a representative model of their work, with Lesley listing towards the outlier category. The shop had two floors, the first floor focused on the construction of the vessels while the second floor operated as sail and rope manufacturing, which his niece mentioned as being performed by female relatives. Beulah also reminisces how Uncle Howie married into a wealthy family, but that they sold her family home in the late 20s citing the cost of heating as problematic. Either the Perrine family was not immune to the Depression, the Boat Works was not a successful as initially believed, or a combination forced them to stay humble. Their modus operandi seemed to follow the pattern of assembling the frames at the Perrine shop and then sending the frames out to many local craftsmen to undergo the construction process before returning to Perrine for finishing touches. Without witnessing the original shop, it is difficult to gage the extent to which their assembly line resisted industrialized production, however this description is reminiscent of cottage industry and the visual evidence suggests that they leaned towards risk rather than certainty, or more accurately an amalgamation of the two.
Beulah relives a tale in which her brothers, Earl and Howard, die in a boating accident in October of 1930. This not only explains some of the design inconsistencies that we have collectively experienced, but also explains how the Chadwick family became the inheritors of the Perrine. Earl and Howard worked for their uncle, and seemed to be the ones interested in equipping their crafts with internal combustion engines. If Perrine was reluctant to incorporate this technology, it might explain why Lesley features fuel tanks while the younger Little Sister does not. It is possible that their deaths may have ended the Perrine exploration away from traditional models.
In any event, J.H. Perrine had no children of his own, his nephews died, so the business passed to John Chadwick Sr. who lived and worked with him, and whose family worked as sailmakers. John Chadwick Jr. inherited the business from him, and while they ceased manufacturing in the 1980s, the plans and traditions passed to his nephew, Allan Chadwick. He has since passed away, so the Perrine/Chadwick design is a little difficult to trackdown. J.H. Perrine passed away in 1956, Little Sister was built some time around 1950, making it one of the later vessels that he was associated with. Given his age at the time, it is completely possible that Perrine had very little to do with the actual construction of Little Sister, so while she bears his name, it is completely possible that it is a Chadwick boat. If that is the case, it may be appropriate to think of Little Sister as one of the 15ft Diamond Class vessels associated with the Chadwick name.
I have not been able to track the ownership of Little Sister further back than George H. Stewart, so I have not been able to determine her lineage. However, she underwent some repair work, performed by representatives of Perrine Boat Works, suggesting an ongoing relationship between buyer and seller and potentially making Stewart the sole owner prior to the Independence Seaport Museum. The museum took charge of the vessel in 1986 from a summer cottage, suggesting that it served as a seasonal leisure vessel for Stewart. This matches the information that has been given to me, demonstrating a turn to leisure and racing from hunting around World War I. While John Brady from the Independence Seaport Museum suggested that these racing vessels would have been popular with yacht clubs, Timothy Hart from the Ocean County Cultural and Heritage Commission and the Tuckerton Seaport Museum suggests that yacht clubs favored the fleet production of the Beaton Boat Works while Perrine catered to customers less interested in fleet ownership and racing. Stewart may have been an exemplar customer for Perrine as someone who kept his craft for leisure.
Little Sister represents the farthest that the sneakbox can get from its roots. The nineteenth-century models were defined by their small frames and camouflage coloring, while Little Sister was built to sail. She sports attractive paint, has no oarlocks or decoy compartments, and big enough to hold two or three instead of one. While the freeboard on the bottom is a departure from the traditional design, the beam of this vessel would still allow her to navigate in shallow conditions. Little Sister may not have been used for hunting, but her basic design suggests that she still could.