Shipwrecks Along the Florida Coast
The steamship Gen. Sherman, Capt. Blanchard, which left New York for this port, on Saturday, the 15th inst., arrived at her wharf yesterday. She passed through one of the heaviest gales of the season, but – staunch and well built and ably officered as she is – she stood the tempest nobly. One of the passengers, an old sea captain, kept a diary during the voyage, from which we are permitted to make the following extracts:
NEW YORK, Saturday, Oct. 15, 5 P.M. – The shout of “all on board” is heard, and five minutes later we are steaming down New York harbour. The German dramatic troupe and other passengers are on board. The Gen. Sherman is commanded by the courteous Capt. Blanchard, well known to many of our citizens as the former commander of the popular steamship Star of the Union, and more recently of the United States. Next morning we are in company with a fleet of steamers, several steaming in our direction, while others pass rapidly by and are lost in the distance. Among those going South we recognize the steamship DeSoto. Two days later we sight a steamer to the eastward, and as she draws nearer we again recognize the DeSoto, and again she disappears ahead.
Morning of the 20th. – As we come on deck we find it blowing a fresh gale. Jupiter Inlet Light-House, coast of Florida, is in sight. Ship making good progress along the coast. About 10 A.M. we see a vessel high and dry upon the beach. As we draw nearer we see a flag flying, and we make out her name the Marion; she is a brigantine of 300 or 400 tons burden. From the tents on shore and stripped appearance of the mast, we judge she has been several days upon the beach, and her crew seem anxiously waiting for the arrival of the wreckers to remove them from their isolated position. At 12 A.M. the gale is rapidly increasing, and the order to batten down the hatches and sky-lights is speedily executed, and the ship rapidly prepared, under her efficient officers, Messrs. Richdale and Hand, to meet the dangers of the now increasing gale. At 2 P.M. the ship is hove to, and an hour or two after the violence of the wind has become terrific. The sea is blown over the ship, enveloping her as it were in a sheet of water. Pieces of woodwork are torn off and hurled away with terrible force. Crew clinging here and there, vainly endeavouring to execute orders which the violence of the wind makes impossible to understand and as impossible to execute.
The scenes in the cabin at this time will be effaced from the memory of those who witnessed them. Men and women clinging to anything that would hold them. Tables and seats, loose from their fastenings, were hurled first to one side then the other. The briny element forced in around the skylights and the deadlights, forced through every possible crevice, came in showers into the cabin, and rolling around added to the terrors of the scene. Discomforts were all forgotten, and only prayers were heard for the staying of the tempest. From 4 till 8 P.M., the violence of the wind and fury of the waters cannot be described. The ship behaved nobly, but all felt that nothing made by human hands could long withstand the violence of such a wind and sea. Fortunately it was of short duration. A cry the engines were broken gave us such a shock of terror, as we hope never again to experience. We rushed into the engine-room, and found our able chief engineer, Mr. Johnson, holding on at his post, and his ready reply to our question, “what is wrong?” “All is right here as yet,” gave us renewed courage, though our only hope was in an abatement of the tempest. At 8 P.M. the wind suddenly shifted to the N.W., and at once began to decline, and morning broke upon a rapidly abating sea, which, before noon, looked as if it had never been disturbed. We looked over the ship in the morning, and were really astonished to find how little she had suffered. Rails were broken, skylights torn away, and pilot house somewhat damaged. These were the only visible signs of the tempest in the ship.
But as we approach the coast of Florida we begin to see at once the effect along the shore. There lies a large schooner high on the beach. Her crew seem to have escaped ashore. Her torn sails and rigging are floating about. We did not lose sight of this schooner until we saw another vessel, which proved to be a large, fine looking ship or bark. Main and mizzen masts are gone. She appears to have been driven hard on to the beach, and the sails are hanging in fragments from her only remaining mast.
Florida light-house came now in sight. Another wreck lies directly opposite this one, apparently another large schooner. She is bilged and sunk to her decks; as she struck the reef her main mast fell, and catching against the foremast, still hangs in that position. We fear few of her crew escaped death. Another schooner on shore in sight – this one apparently small – perhaps one of the wreckers’ vessels. And now we have got another in view; as we pass on, she turns out to be a large ship, of 1000 tons or more. Her sails are also hanging in tatters from the yards, and her crew are looking over the side as if wondering how they came there. We see a steamer behind, and we are all wondering if it can be the DeSoto; later in the day we find, sure enough, it is our old companion, and as she runs along by close to us we discover she has more outward signs of damage than ourselves, and from the beds and bedding hung out to dry, we judge the elements have not treated her cabins any better than they have ours.
Another large vessel in sight – mizzen mast only standing. There are several wrecker’s vessels just in shore of her, ready, we presume, to commence their operations in the morning. Darkness now comes on, covering the reef from our view. Carysfort Light is near us, and from this point, we see no more of the reef, but we feel convinced there are many more unfortunates. Next morning we pass pieces of freshly torn and painted wood.
With strong winds from southeast across the Gulf of Mexico, we arrived safely at Southwest Pass.
We publish elsewhere a card of thanks to the officers of the Gen. Sherman from the passengers.
- The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) 26 Oct 1870
Marsanne Petty conducts historical research about 19th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]gmail.com.