Sunday, February 12, 2012

Schooner M. & E. Henderson ~ 30 November 1879

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1880:

At 5 a.m. the schooner M. & E. Henderson of Philadelphia, bound from Bull River, SC for Baltimore, laden with phosphate rock, and having a crew of seven men, struck on the bar at the north point of New Inlet, NC and went to pieces within an hour. Three of her crew were saved.
     Four lives were lost at the wreck of the three-masted schooner, M. and E. Henderson, on the coast of North Carolina, about a mile and a half south of Station No. 17 (6th District). The circumstances attending this disaster were singular. It appears from the evidence taken, that on the 30th of November, 1879, patrolman Tillett, who had the morning watch on the beat south, returned to the house a few minutes after five o’clock in the morning, lit a fire in the stove and called the cook, then went upstairs, and looking with the marine glass from the south window, perceived, at some distance in the clear moonlight which lay upon the beach, a man whom he at first thought was a fisherman. Presently noticing that the man was without a hat, it at once occurred to him that he might have been washed ashore from a wreck. He immediately aroused the keeper and crew, and starting out in advance, soon came up to a haggard and dripping figure, a sailor, tottering along very much exhausted, and only able to feebly articulate, “captain drowned—masts gone.” The patrolman’s surmise had proved correct, and this man was one of the three survivors from the crew, 7 in number, of the schooner M. and E. Henderson, which, as was subsequently ascertained to be probable, had struck and gone almost immediately to pieces within an hour before.

The survivor come upon by patrolman Tillett was at once conducted to the station and put in charge of the cook, and the keeper and crew started for the beach. They had gone about a mile and a quarter south of the station when they came upon a great strew of debris from the wreck, and saw, at the same time, some part of the vessel rising and falling upon the sea in the moonlight, about 300 yards from shore. Continuing on three-quarters of a mile further, searching for bodies among the fragments of wreck stuff with which the beach was strewn, they arrived at New Inlet, where they met some fishermen who reported having found one of the sailors floating in the channel, whom they had rescued and taken to their camp on Jack's Shoal, a small island back in the inlet. They were now looking for others, and were joined in the search by the life saving crew, except the keeper and two of his men who boated over to the camp on Jack's Shoal where they found the sailor rescued by the fishermen. In crossing the inlet to the camp they saw what appeared to be a sitting figure upon the beach behind them, and the keeper upon reaching the island sent back the two men to discover what this object was. They found it to be another sailor, the third survivor. He was quite insensible, but although far gone, still breathing, and no time was lost in conveying him to the camp, where restoratives from the station medicine chest gradually revived him. The man first found, nearly dead when taken from the water by the fishermen, having been given hot coffee and rubbed and wrapped in bedclothes by them, was already so far restored as to be out of danger.
     Of the four men lost from this vessel, the bodies of two only were recovered. The first came ashore on the 16th of December, and was that of the master, Silas Swain. The hair and face were gone from the skull. The body was identified by certain marks upon it, and also by articles found in the clothing. On the 29th of December following, another body, much decomposed, came ashore and was buried, like the other, by one of the station keepers. This body could not be identified.
     The names of the four men drowned, as reported to this office, are Silas Swain (the captain), Hess and Prentice (probably the two mates), and William (which would seem to be the first name of the cook). The names of the ship's company, excepting the captains, were unknown to the owners, and were obtained from the survivors in the imperfect form given, these three men being Spanish negroes or mulattoes, crudely speaking English. Their names are reported respectively as Abram Annight, Samuel Manilla, and Sanders Manilla. They constituted the crew, and this circumstance combined with their survival as a body when their officers all perished, and considered in connection with their race or breed, gave rise to the belief, held particularly by some of the owners, that they had murdered the officers and run the vessel ashore. This suspicion of foul play subsequently caused their arrest and imprisonment in Baltimore, but after a long detention they were released, no evidence of criminality having appeared.
     The cause of the loss of the vessel remains mysterious. She had been seen at sunset working along the coast in a northerly direction, and had attracted attention by her nearness to the shore. As the disaster involved loss of life, it was made, as is usual in such cases, the subject of special investigation, in the course of which the fact was established that the patrolman had left New Inlet on his return beat a little before four and reached the station a little after five o'clock, encountering no wreck upon his way. It is certain, therefore, that the vessel must have grounded on the bar where she went to pieces about the time when the patrolman reached the station, a mile and a half distant, and it is equally certain that she must have been almost immediately demolished by the surf, since a short time after the patrolman's return to the station she was found in pieces on the beach, the rottenness of her fragments also showing that a vessel in such a condition of unsoundness, heavily laden beside with phosphate rock and pinioned on a bar, could not have held together under the blows of the breakers. Although the surf was heavy and a stiff breeze blew, it was a clear, moonlight night, and how a vessel could have stranded when the atmosphere was lit to the horizon is unaccountable, except upon the supposition that she was navigated with the grossest carelessness or purposely run ashore. The unintelligible English spoken by the three survivors made it impossible for the life saving crew to obtain from them any explanation of the disaster.

"The cause of the loss of the vessel remains mysterious."

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