"The high point of the schooner development was attained in the building of Mohawk in 1875 and Ambassadress (nicknamed 'the Astor House') two years later; the underlying motive in each case seemingly being the great American idea of 'the biggest thing on earth' and 'licking all creation.'" (Traditions & Memories of American Yachting (omnibus edition), Camden, Maine, 1981) This is how William P. Stephens described the creation of Ambassadress and went on to say that Ambassadress was one of those big schooners built "merely to uphold the social positions of their owners" and, whether this was fair criticism or not, her owner was certainly one of those men at the very pinnacle of New York society.
Commissioned by no lesser person than William Astor and intended solely for cruising rather than competitive racing, Ambassadress was designed and built by David Carll in his yard at City Island, New York, in 1877. Carll already had a reputation for building those big centerboard schooners which dominated the coastal trade on the eastern seaboard so was an obvious choice for Astor's new yacht which Francis Herreshoff later described as "the largest [centerboard schooner] of them all." As modeled, she measured 146 feet and 2 inches in length (overall) with a 28 feet and 2 inch beam and an 11 feet draft, and her two masts soared 93 feet (main) and 91 feet (mizzen) respectively. With every sail set, she sported 21,125 square feet of canvas and she was constructed from a bewildering variety of indigenous American woods, notable Ohio and Connecticut white oaks, chestnut and Long Island locust. As befitted her owner's wealth, her appointments were luxurious in the extreme and a contemporary report described her lavish interior thus:
"The main saloon is reached by a broad mahogany stairway, and is one of the most elegant apartments that can possibly be provided on shipboard. Its dimensions are 22 by 24 feet and it is furnished in walnut, maple, mahogany and cherry; furniture of a very elaborate description in the way of sofas, lounges, chairs, sideboard, etc., in blue upholstery adorn the room. The carpet is Wilton; the mainmast from floor to ceiling is paneled with mirrors; the smoking room, aft of the saloon, is 11 by 17 feet, finished in maple and oak." This is followed by detailed descriptions of the other apartments, including the owner's stateroom, 17 by 14 feet, and the report concludes: "The judgment exhibited in the furnishing of this fine craft is most excellent, nothing violating the standard of good taste; the ornamentation, upholstery, furniture and carpeting all blending in proper contrast and effect."
Arguably less well-known than some of her famous racing contemporaries, the fabulous Ambassadress was nevertheless one of the most sumptuous American yachts ever launched and one which Buttersworth was asked to paint on at least one other occasion.