Little Bits of History

Ghost Ship

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 5, 2014
Mary Celeste

Mary Celeste

December 5, 1872: The Mary Celeste is found adrift. The ship, a British merchant brigantine was laid down in 1860 and launched the next year. The original name for the ship was Amazon and she was owned by eight local investors headed by Joshua Dewis and William Henry Bigalow. She was registered in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia and operated from there until 1867 when she ran aground and was salvaged and then sold to American owners. After being repaired, she was rechristened Mary Celeste by James Winchester. She was sailed out of New York City and after her rebuild was 107 feet long and 26.6 feet at the beam with a depth of 16.2 feet. A second deck was added in the rebuild as well increasing her tonnage to 282 gross tons.

On November 5, 1872 1,701 barrels of commercial alcohol were loaded onto the ship from the East River dock in New York City. Benjamin Briggs was the captain bringing the alcohol to Italy. Cargo was insured for $35,000 and the ship and cargo together were insured for $46,000. Mary Celeste set sail from Staten Island and headed for Genoa. The ship was crewed by one Dane, two Americans and four Germans. Everyone spoke fluent English and the crew were considered to be experienced and trustworthy and the captain had spent most of his life at sea, able to contend with what the ocean could throw his way. Also aboard were Sarah Briggs, the captain’s wife who often sailed with him and their two year old daughter, Sophia.

The evening before sailing, Briggs met up with David Morehouse, a friend of his who was captaining a ship along the same route. They could not sail together as the cargo for Morehouse’s ship was not ready. Morehouse set sail on the Dei Gratia on November 15 and made his way to Italy without trouble. There had been some wild weather in the Atlantic in October, but November’s weather had been relatively calm. On this day, around 1 PM, the helmsman from the Dei Gratia sited a ship about five miles distant. They were about 600 miles west of Portugal. The Dei Gratia moved closer and discovered the ship to be the Mary Celeste. The ship was under sail, but moving erratically and was observed from close distance for two hours before crew from the Dei Gratia boarded her.

No one was aboard. All papers except for the captain’s log book were missing. There was water in the hold, but the ship was not sinking and was still seaworthy. The only lifeboat the ship had held was gone as were the sextant and marine chronometer. The cargo was intact but when they were opened upon delivery, nine were found empty. There was a six month supply of food and fresh water aboard the ship as well. It appeared the ship had been abandoned in a hurry and piracy did not seem to be an issue. None of the people aboard the ship were ever seen again. They ship went on to sail for several more years until she was intentionally sunk off Haiti in 1885.

I accordingly minutely and carefully examined the whole of the hull of the said vessel and the stern keel, stern post and rudder thereof.

They did not nor did any or either of them exhibit any trace of damage or injury or any other appearances whatsoever indicating that the said vessel had had any collision or had struck upon any rock or shoal or had met with any accident or casualty.

The hull Stern, [sic] keel Sternpost and rudder of the said vessel were thoroughly in good order and condition.

The said vessel was coppered the copper was in good condition and order and I am of opinion that if she had met with any such accident or casualty I shld. have been able to discover and shld. have discovered some marks or traces thereof but I was not able to discover and did not discover any. – all from the Affidavit of Ricardo Portunato

Also on this day: Off Into the Wild Blue Yonder – In 1945, five US Air Force planes are lost and a rescue plane also goes missing.
Twenty-One – In 1933, Prohibition was repealed.
Going, Going, Gone – In 1766, Christie’s Auction House was formed.
Yelling “Fire” in a Crowded Theater – In 1876, a fire at the Brooklyn Theater killed over 300.

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2 Responses

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  1. susanannejohnson said, on December 6, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    Wow! Fascinating!


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