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Happy to Be Here: Giving their all for a tall ship

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Three bold and determined men are pursuing a dream like no other. They want to establish a floating history museum on the Delaware River.

Samuel Siegel, Joshua Kasperowicz and Robert Piazza, lovers of sailing and of history, call themselves the Schooner Pursuit Historical Society. Their historical focus is on privateers, the licensed pirates who roamed the local waterways in the Revolutionary War pillaging enemy ships and making swift getaways in their sleek schooners.

Their dream was well on its way when they purchased the Schooner Pursuit. She was a beauty – with a 65-foot-long hull and a 45-foot bowsprit that made her 110 feet long. She was a tall ship, with a 72-foot foremast and 78-foot mainmast, the perfect setting for the local visionaries’ museum. Her frame was made of White Oak, her outer planking was Philippine Mahogany, and her interior woodwork was cypress, handcrafted by luthiers.

Her hull was built at the Tiffany Yacht Works in Burgess, Va., on the Chesapeake Bay, and she was finished at Mystic Seaport, Conn., where she began her life as a weekend charter and teaching vessel named Voyager in 1978.

By 2009 the schooner had fallen into disrepair – a second owner had neglected maintenance. The three adventurers found her in St. Augustine, Fla. They purchased her in 2016. By that time, the wooden ship had deteriorated more but with promised financial backing, Siegel, Kasperowicz and Piazza thought they could restore her.

“She faced damage from the elements while we were trying to raise funds to repair her, get her home to the Delaware River, and return her to seaworthy and operational conditions,” Siegel said. “We ran out of funds and crowdfunding eventually fell short so we had to let her go. March 18, 2019 was our final goodbye to her, and in early August, she was scuttled by the marina that she had called home for over five years.”

Disappointed but undeterred, the three set about joining local events as reenactors. They bought a replica flie, a canvas shelter, and gathered artifacts that would have been found in the daily life of privateers and they teach. “We cover things like the timeline of privateer events and things of importance to sailors of the time,” Siegel said.

They carry black powder small arms, the kind we see in pirate movies, and demonstrate their use. They organize games popular in the 1800s, and they demonstrate cooking as it was done at sea. “And we do some purely entertaining” skits for the public and kids. Most of our interactions with the public we do in our 18th-century personas as if we were in that time period.”

They are not just a reenactment group, the schooner historians say. “While there are a great many Revolutionary War reenactments, not many are by water, so we cross over into the pirate realm of reenacting as well as various eras from the 15th century up to World War II.”

On Memorial Day weekend the society expected to be at the three-century old Morgan Log House in Kulpsville. but with the closing of public events during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place directive, the Schooner Society’s activities have been canceled.

An exhibit at the historic Hope Lodge in Fort Washington was cut short in mid-March. A timeline on privateers of the Revolutionary War was the centerpiece of that exhibit. Siegel has been researching the actions of the privateers during that was and he hopes to publish it soon.

The founders of the society and crew for the ship have interesting tales to tell.

Siegel, who lives in Quakertown, served in the Air Force as a crew chief on KC-135 Stratotankers assigned to Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. He attended the University of North Dakota, specializing in forensic psychology. He moved to Bucks County in 2004, joined Revolutionary War reenactors in 2014. He is executive director of the 501(c)3 Schooner Pursuit Historical Society and is captain of the Pursuit.

Piazza lives in Bristol. He started his career as a Navy fleet marine force hospital corpsman, went to medical school while in the Navy, served in the Gulf War from Desert Shield / Desert Storm until his retirement in 2013. He works as a board-certified emergency and trauma physician. As a hobby, he studies historical medicine and surgery. He also serves on the society’s board of directors and is the ship’s surgeon.

Kasperowicz lives on the Delaware riverside in Bensalem. He works as a historical interpreter at Washington Crossing Historic Park and serves as the Schooner Society’s assistant executive director. He is first mate of the Pursuit.

The group is making efforts to expand membership and raise funds to purchase another schooner. “Our first focus is on our mission to create a living history museum in the Philadelphia region of the Delaware River,” Siegel said. “Our plan is to then broaden the scope to the majority of the Eastern Seaboard. Currently, our efforts are on historical outreach to the community as well as efforts to find and fund a new ship to open the museum.” The group envisions eventually moving between Bristol in warm weather and St. Augustine in winter months.

The society has purchased a boat, a whaler in need of attention that’s waiting for transportation from Massachusetts to Bucks County. That will be the first demonstration boat.

The crew and volunteers are available for public and private functions for a nominal fee, and they will bring their flie gratis to charitable fundraising for various causes.

A few events scheduled for fall and the society is hoping they will be open.

On Sept. 19, Paoli Battlefield Heritage Day/Reenactment in Malvern; Oct. 10 and 11, Van Horne House Privateer Days, Bridgewater, N.J.; Oct. 17, Washington Crossing Market Faire, Washington Crossing, Pa.; Nov. 7, Hope Lodge Whitemarsh Encampment, Fort Washington.

Read more about the Schooner Pursuit Historical Society at sphsociety.org.

“We have an ‘On this day in history...’ online post that comes out on days when something pertaining to the privateer timeline,” Siegel said.


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