Sunday, April 22, 2012

Schooner Crissie Wright ~ 11 January 1886

Beaufort, NC Post Office Mural Portraying Crissie Wright
by Simka Simkhovitch (1939)
Found at Havelock News

It is said that Crissie Wright was a beautiful ship, an 800-ton, three masted "tern" schooner launched July 11, 1874, in Bridgeton, NJ. She set sail from Baltimore on December 31, 1885, with a load of guano on her way to Savannah, GA.

She entered the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the Chesapeake Bay and was off the treacherous coast of North Carolina on January 11, when the weather quickly turned. A coming winter storm would soon become deadly for her crew.

According to legend (there are no known official investigations of the shipwreck), the Crissie Wright lost her rudder and the schooner’s captain, Thomas Clark, took refuge in the Cape Lookout bight, anchoring off Shackleford Banks to wait out the coming storm. The weather turned so quickly however, that no crew member could get off the ship before the temperature dropped below 20 degrees. Except for the ship’s cook, all crew members drowned or froze to death in the bitterly cold gale that blew the night.

According to Sally Moore, author of They Watched the Crissie Wright Go Down, the ship ran aground near Moore’s Landing just off Shackleford Banks:

"As the men struggled to repair a damaged rudder while waiting for high tide to float them free of the sandbar, a fierce northeast gale blew in, dropping the temperature from near 70 degrees to below freezing in less than an hour. The crew, already soaked from working on the rudder, scrambled on board and sought what refuge they could find, some wrapping themselves in the mainsail and lashing themselves to one another. As the night went on and the conditions worsened, the men became unconscious, some falling into the icy water as frustrated would-be rescuers watched from the beach. Finally, at 4:30 the next afternoon, the weather broke and rescuers were able to reach the battered ship."

According to writings from Our Shared Past by Grayden and Mary Paul, after boarding the battered remains of the Crissie Wright, the rescuers from the bankers village of Wades Shore "saw a big bulge in the jib sail where they discovered four men wrapped together in the canvass. Three of them were frozen stiff, but the man underneath, covered by the other three, showed some signs of life. This was the ship’s cook, Robert Johnson, the lone survivor." He died a scant year later, never having recovered from his ordeal.

To this day, Beaufort natives still use the expression "cold as the night the Crissie Wright came ashore."

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