To the average landlubber, the merchant ships that crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1800 seem little different from their counterparts two centuries beforehand. By detailing how these ships were built and operated, though, Philip Reid
shows in his book The Merchant Ship in the British Atlantic, 1600-1800
(Brill, 2020), how these vessels underwent considerable adaptation over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries in response to evolving technologies and the demands of their industry. As Reid explains, the first ships dispatched by the English across the Atlantic at the start of the period were sturdy galleons known for their versatility. These vessels, however, proved less profitable than their Dutch counterparts, which were less sturdy but far more capacious. Over time, British shipbuilders adapted to the Dutch example, with evolution occurring slowly though changes introduced at a variety of different points in the design and construction process. Nevertheless, continuities persisted, as shipbuilders and their operators often found themselves at the limits of what was possible given the intended purposes of the vessels and the boundaries of what was possible with the nautical technology of the era.