The Dutch schooner Regina Maris [source: Wiki Commons]
Today, when we say "schooner", we have a cliché in mind: a sailing ship having fore-and-aft gaff and staysails only. Some schooners with square topsails are called "topsail schooners". The difference to a "barquentine" is that the schooners aft mast is taller than the fore mast, in contrary to the barquentine.
The term "Schooner" in this spelling comes from Dutch, like many seamens´ words. Many speculations had been done, but the origin is very simple: in Dutch, "schoon", pronounced "shoon" for English tongues, who say "skooners" instead, means "beautiful", and that was said about a group pf small coast vessels with 2 masts (the latter was the tallest), used for yachting. Indeed, our modern yacht rigging stems from that.
Their appearence is reported since 1700, and many variations have been built. Through the ages, schooners served as merchant cargo ships, navy partol vessels, slave ships, ferries, and so forth. Schooners of 2,3,4 or even 7 masts were built. The reason for their easy rigging was obvious: it need only a few sailormen and few spare parts (cutting costs always is an issue in trading), and they could sail much closer to the wind than squarerigged sailing ships.
A symbiosis of the schooner and the clipper is the "Baltimore Clipper", its hull very slim and fast, and its masts inclined aft dramatically, up to 30 degrees! Those were predominantly used in the U.S. coasts.
Today, we can say that the schooners are by far the most nomerous sailing ship type in the world. They were even more between 1800 and 1950, there must have been thousands of them.
Sources and Books
Some books can be recommended: