Journalism Alumnus Publishes “The Era of the Clipper Ships,” a History and Tribute to His Own Ancestry

Donald Gunn Ross III ’93 (Journalism) has had an interest in American maritime history since he first learned he was related to naval officers and ship builders dating back to the 18th century. His new book, “The Era of the Clipper Ships,” pays homage to that heritage through meticulous research and through more sentimental touches — the image used for the cover of the book, for instance, is of a painting that once hung on the wall in Ross’s childhood house.

Clipper ShipThe book is the culminating achievement of a project that began more than 20 years ago. Ross had transferred to SUNY New Paltz after two years at Ulster County Community College. “I’d been around here all my life, so it was a perfectly natural transition,” he said. He worked closely with journalism professor emeritus Robert Miraldi and other professors in the journalism department, but never lost his fascination with American history.

Ross traced his own lineage back to Donald McKay, a shipbuilder who by the mid-19th century had earned a reputation for manufacturing the swiftest clipper ships anyone had ever seen.

“There were other good builders, but his ships were famous for being the fastest,” said Ross, noting that McKay’s ships were among the first that could make the journey around Cape Horn in less than 90 days.

Upon graduation Ross began sporadic work on a book considering McKay’s life and the history of the 19th century American merchant marine, and more than two decades later that labor of love has finally made it to publication.