A Gundalow is a small boat, “a shallow drafted type of cargo barge,” built to be used on rivers and estuaries in the early days of New Hampshire and Maine history. There are records showing they were also used on the Merrimack River. A gundalow can be found on the town seals of both Durham and Newington, New Hampshire.
Built to be rowed up the Merrimack River, sometimes with cotton or other supplies for the mills, but generally loaded with salt hay, these shallow gundalows were later fitted with a short mast, low enough to go under Plum Island river bridge, and rigged with a single lateen sail, whose yard was weighted with iron at the lower end to counterbalance the sail and make it easy to hoist. 1866.–“When favoring breezes deigned to blow the square sail of the gundelow.” — Whittier, Snow-bound [From: From “Shipping & craft in silhouette; drawing and text by Charles G. Davis, 1929, page 57, Hathi Trust]
“Gundalows were in use on the river from very early times. They were large, flat-bottomed boats form 30 to 40 feet long and about 10 or 12 foot beam, sometimes square ended like a scow, and sometimes sharp at the bow like a boat. They drew very little water and would carry from 3 to 8 tons of hay. They were propelled by a pair of long oars, or sweeps, near the bow, or by poles, and were steered by an oar over the stern. There was a short deck after for the use of the steersman and another forward. Some of them were equipped with a sail which sometimes helped along and all of them carried a 20-foot gang plank over which men poled the hay aboard and which held the boat away from the bank and prevented it getting aground if the tide was running out. A tow line could be used in coming up the river [in certain areas] but it was customary to row or push. Either loaded or empty, they are unwieldy, and the crews take advantage of the tide as much as possible, even if it meant a long wait.” From Old Time anecdotes of the North River and the South Shore, by Joseph Foster Merritt, 1928
The earliest use of the term gunadlow that I could find was published in the Pennsylvania Packet newspaper of 2 January 1775, referring to a letter written at Portsmouth, New Hampshire dated 16 December 1774, regarding a rumor spread in Boston that British troops were on their way to seize powder from Fort William and Mary in New Castle, NH. The letter describes that the 97 barrels of powder were put “on board the gundalows, brought it up to town, and went off with it to some distance in the country.“
What is a gundalow? (from The Gundalow Company who still builds them)
Visitor’s ABCs: Gundalow (from Hampton NH’s Lane Library)