Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Benjamin Spooner Briggs

Benjamin Spooner Briggs
The Briggs family of Massachusetts had a long maritime connection. Benjamin Spooner Briggs spent most of his life at sea and was an experienced, hardy and able seaman. Because of his fairness and ability, he was respected by those who served under him.

Benjamin worked his way to eventually become a master mariner: He captained the brigantine Sea Foam, and in 1862 became master of the three-masted schooner Forest King. When he took command of the barque Arthur in 1865, he turned over command of the Forest King to his brother, Oliver Briggs, who was a frequent business partner and sailor.

Sophia Briggs

Briggs has been mentioned numerous times in conspiracy theories and fiction regarding the disappearance of the Mary Celeste, including the film The Mystery of the Marie Celeste (1935) starring Bela Lagosi (see it below). A fictionalized version of Captain Briggs was also seen in The Chase, a 1965 episode of Doctor Who, and was the protagonist of the 2006 computer game Limbo of the Lost.

In January 1884, Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle wrote J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement, a fictionalized account of the disappearance of the Mary Celeste which appeared in Cornhill Magazine. Though Doyle changed the spelling of the ship to MARIE Celeste, the story had three effects: It confused people regarding the facts of the case; it refocused attention on this decade-old mystery; and it brought attention to the article's writer.

Monday, July 26, 2010

History of the Mary Celeste

An 1861 painting of the Amazon
by an Unknown Artist
Possibly Honore Pellegrin
The keel of the Amazon was laid in 1860 by the shipbuilders of Joshua Dewis at the village of Spencer's Island, Nova Scotia. Sometime in May 1861 she glided down the ways, receiving her name, which she bore until 1868 when she was renamed Mary Celeste.

She was owned by a group of nine investors from Nova Scotia and was registered on 10 Jun 1861 at nearby Nova Scotia town of Parrsboro, the closest local port of registry. Her official number was 37,671.

In her first register, she was described as "brigantine rigged", having two masts, the foremast being square-rigged, and the mainmast, fore-and-aft or schooner-rigged. In the Atlantic Mutual Vessel Record she was described as a half-brig. She had a billet-head and a square stern. At that time she only had one deck. She was "carvel-built" of native wood such as birch, beech and maple up to light load-line; then spruce to the rails, with pine to finish the cabins. Her measurements were: length 99.3'; breadth 25.5'; depth 11.7'; gross tonnage 198.42 tons.

An Awkward Beginning

The Amazon's first trip began shortly after her registration and ended nine days later. Her first captain, Robert McLellan, son of one of the owners, contracted pneumonia after taking command and died 19 Jun 1861. John Nutting Parker, her next captain, struck a fishing boat and had to steer her back to the shipyard for repairs. At the shipyard, a fire broke out in the middle of the ship. Her first trans-Atlantic crossing was also disastrous for her next captain after she collided with another vessel in the English Channel near Dover, England.

After this awkward beginning, the brigantine had several profitable and uneventful years under her Nova Scotian owners. She travelled to the West Indies, Central America and South America, and transported a wide range of cargoes. In 1867, the ship ran aground during a storm off Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. After she was salvaged, she was sold for $1,750 to Richard Haines of New York, and was repaired at a cost of $8,825.03.

Registration Records

On 31 Dec 1868 she was formally transferred to American registry and her name changed to Mary Celeste. Register No. 485 was issued to Haines, described as "the only owner of the ship of vessel called the Mary Celeste". The new owners' intention was to take her across the Atlantic and make a profit trading with the Adriatic ports.

According to Register No. 339 dated 13 Oct 1869, another change took place in ownership, all of New York. The name of the master given as Walter S. Johnson:
  • James H. Winchester (six-eighths)
  • Sylvester Goodwin (one-eighth)
  • Daniel T. Samson (one-eighth)
On 11 Jan 1870 Register No. 16 was issued at New York with another change in ownership:
  • James H. Winchester (four-eights)
  • Sylvester Goodwin (one-eighth)
  • Daniel T. Samson (one-eighth)
  • Rufus W. Fowler (two-eights - designated as master)
On 29 Oct 1872, less than two weeks before the departure on her fateful passage, Register No. 22 was issued at New York replacing No. 16:
  • James H. Winchester (twelve twenty-fourths)
  • Sylvester Goodwin (two twenty-fourths)
  • Daniel T. Samson (two twenty-fourths)
  • Benjamin S. Briggs (eight twenty-fourths)
The vessel was described as follows: two decks (instead of one as before); two masts as before but her length increased to 103'; her breadth to 25.7'; her depth to 16.2'; and her capacity under tonnage deck to 271.79. According to the inspection record dated Oct 1872, these changes and repairs were noted: three-quarter poop extended over all; several new timbers; new transoms; part new knightheads, stern and stem; new bends and topsides and stern; patched with yellow metal. It was probably at this time that her topsail was divided for easier handling, into an upper and lower topsail. This is how she was rigged when the Dei Gratia found her.

The Crew

The seven-man crew serving under Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs consisted of the following men:

First Mate ~ Albert G. Richardson of Stockton Springs, ME. According to the crew list, signed up at New York, 4 Nov 1872 by H. E. Jenks, Deputy U.S. Shipping Commissioner. Richardson was 28 years of age, 5'8" tall, with light complexion, brown hair and blue eyes; wages $50. He was born in Charleston, ME to Theodore & Elizabeth Richardson and had a brother, Lyman, who was a sea captain. It appears he was not married.

Second Mate ~ Andrew Gilling, age 25, was born in New York and was 5'8"; wages $35. It appears he was not married.

Steward & Cook ~ Edward Wm. Head, age 23, was born in New York and was described as 5'8" tall, with light complexion and hair; wages $40. Captain Winchester said of him that, "The steward was a white man who belonged to Williamsburg, where he was respected by all who knew him, and he had just married when the brig sailed." In the engagement book of the United States Sipping Company, under date 5 Nov 1872, his address is given as 45 Newell Street, Greenpoint (a section of Brooklyn). Wife's name was Emma J.

Four Germans serving as seamen. The address for all in the engagement book appears as 19 Thames St., New York:

Gottlieb Goodschaad (23) ~ 5'8" tall; light hair & complexion; $30 (also listed as Goodschall) 

Arian Martens (35) ~ 5'8" tall, light hair & complexion; $30
Boz Lorenzen (23) ~ 5'9" tall, light hair & complexion; $30Volkert Lorenzen (29) ~ 5'9" tall, light hair & complexion; $30

Reference to the character of the three members of the crew is made in a communication No. 142 dated 4 Apr 1873 from the United States Consul Sprague at Gibraltar to to the Department of State at Washington.

"I beg to enclose a copy of a communication which I have this day received from Prussia, asking for information regarding some of the missing crew of the derelict Mary Celeste. It is somewhat gratifying to learn three out of the five men composing the crew of the Mary Celeste were known to the writer of that communication as being peaceable and first-class sailors, as it further diminishes the possibility that any violence was committed on board of this vessel by her crew."

Following is a copy of the letter mentioned by Consul Sprague:

Dear Sir:

Please excuse me of writing these few lines of information regarding two sailors (brothers) belonging to the American Brig Mary Celeste, their mothers and their wives which to know in which condition he ship has been found, whether the boats were gone or not, whether the log book has been found on board or not, so as to find out on what day they left the ship, and further do they like to know whether any signs of disturbance have been found on board. I know three of the sailors personally and know them to be peaceable and first-class sailors. Please favor us with an answer and let us know your opinion why they left said Brig.

I remain, yours, truly T.A. Nickelsen,
direct Utersum, auf Fohr, Prussia via Hamburg

Note this letter does not refer to any of the sailors by name. In any case, the reference to "two sailors, brothers" likely applies to the Lorenzens, Volkert and Boz. During the testimony given at Gibraltar, mention is made that, "There were four berths in the four-castle with bedding, but only three sea-chests" with the explanation by Mate Deveau that, "often two sailors chum for one chest." It would be natural for the Lorenzen brothers to do this.

Further evidence as to the character of the crews comes from a letter written by Captain Briggs, just two days before his vessel left its East River pier, wherein he states, "We seem to have a very good Mate and Steward," and four days later (7 November) Mrs. Briggs writes to her husband's mother, "Benjamin thinks we have got a pretty peaceable set this time all around, if they continue as they have begun," adding, with characteristic Yankee caution, "Can't tell yet how smart they are."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ship's Slate ~ 19 Oct 1872

Watercolor of the Mary Celeste
provided by Nathan Briggs Hope,
Great Great Nephew of Capt. Benjamin Spooner Briggs
Captain Briggs leaves his home in Marion, MA to supervise the loading of the Mary Celeste and to make final arrangements for the voyage.

Ship's Slate ~ 26-30 Oct 1872

26 Oct 1872 ~ Sarah & Sophia Briggs leave Marion for Fall River. 

27 Oct 1872 ~ On Sunday they arrive at the Fall River Line's North River Pier where they are met by Captain Briggs who conveys them and their baggage across town to the Mary Celeste which is lying at Pier 50 East River. In a letter to her son Arthur on 27 October 1872 Sarah writes, "After awhile, Mother was playing on the melodeon, and she (Sophy) wanted Sarah Jane, her doll, to play too."

30 Oct 1872 ~ The Mary Celeste reports at Pier 50. The Dei Gratia reports at Erie Basin.

Ship's Slate ~ 2-6 Nov 1872

2 Nov 1872 ~ The Mary Celeste completes loading.

New York, Nov. 3d, 1872

My dear Mother:

Its been a long time since I have written you a letter and I should like to give you a real interesting one but I hardly know what to say except that I am well and the rest of us ditto, It is such a long time since I composed other than business epistles.
It seems to me to have been a great while since I left home, but it is only over two weeks but in that time my mind has been filled with business cares and I am again launched away into the busy whirl of business life from which I have so long been laid aside. For a few days it was tedious, perplexing, and very tiresome but now I have got fairly settled down to it and it sets lightly and seems to run more smoothly and my appetite keeps good and I hope I shan't lose any flesh. It seems real homelike since Sarah and Sophia got here, and we enjoy our little quarters.
On Thurs. we had a call from Willis and his wife. Took Sophia and went with them on a ride up to Central Park. Sophia behaved splendid and seem to enjoy the ride as much as any of us. It is the only time they have been away from the vessel. On account of the horse disease the horse cars have not been running on this side of the city, so we have not been able to go and make any calls as we were so far away from anyone to go on foot and to hire a private carriage would at least $10.00 a trip which we didn't feel able to pay and we couldn't carry Sophia and walk a mile or two which we should have had to do to get a ferry for Ivamacs(?) or E-port. It has been very confining for S. but when we get back I hope we can make up for it.
We seem to have a very good mate and steward and I hope I shall have a pleasant voyage. We both have missed Arthur and I believe we should have sent for him if I could of thought of a good place to stow him away. Sophia calls for him occasionally and wants to see him in the Album which by the way is a favorite book of hers.
She knows your picture in both albums and points and says Gamma Bis, She seems real smart, has gotten over her bad cold she had when she came and has a first rate appetite for hash and bread and butter. I think the voyage will do her lots of good. We enjoy our melodeon and have some good sings. I was in hopes that Oli might get in before I left but I'm afraid not now.
We finished loading last night and shall leave on Tuesday morning if we don't get off tomorrow night, the Lord willing. Our vessel is in beautiful trim and I hope we shal have a fine passage but I have never been in her before and cant say how she'll sail. Shall want to write us in about 20 days to Genoa, care of Am. Consul and about 20 days after to Messina care of Am. Consul who will forward it to us if we don't go there.
I wrote to James to pay you and A's board and rent. If he forgets call on hom also for any money that may be necessary for clothes. Please get Eben to see his skates are all right and the holes in his new thick boot heels. I hope he'll keep well as I think if he does he'll be some help as well as company for you. Love to Hannah. Sophie calls Aunt Hannah often. I wish I had a picture so she could remember the countenance as well as the name. Hoping to be with you in the spring with much love

Yrs affly.

[At the top of the fourth page appears the following, "Shall leave Tuesday morning."]

4 Nov 1872Captain Briggs goes to the New York office of the United States Shipping Commissioner and signs the "Articles of Agreement" and the "List of Persons Composing the Crew" of the Mary Celeste.

On this day, an Atlantic Mutual underwriter initials the insurance for J.H. Winchester & Co. for $3,400 on the vessel's freight on charter from New York to Genoa, Italy at the rate of 2-1/2%.

5 Nov 1872, a.m. ~ The Mary Celeste leaves East River pier and anchors off Staten Island.

6 Nov 1872 ~ The Dei Gratia is at Venango Yard.

Ship's Slate ~ 7 Nov 1872

The brigantine Mary Celeste sets sail for Genoa Italy from New York harbor carrying Captain Benjamin S. Briggs, his wife and two-year-old daughter and a crew of eight.

Her cargo included 1,700 barrels of pure American alcohol shipped by Meissner Ackermann & Co., valued at approximately $35,000, the purpose of which was to fortify wine. The value of the freight on the alcohol was $3,400 and the ship herself $14,000.

The vessels cargo was insured in Europe and the hull insurance was carried by American companies. The freight was insured by the Atlantic Mutual Insurance Company of New York, today the only survivor of the American insurers.

Brig Mary Celeste
Off Staten Island, Nov. 7th 1872

Dear Mother Briggs,

Probably you will be a little surprised to receive a letter with this date, but instead of proceeding to sea when we came out Tuesday morning, we anchored about a mile or so from the city, as it was strong head wind , and B. said it looked so thick & nasty ahead we shouldn't gain much if we were beating & banging about. Accordingly we took a fresh departure this morning with wind obliged to anchor. Have kept a sharp look-out for Oliver, but so far have seen nothing of him. It was rather trying to lay in sight of the city for so long & think that most likely we had letters waiting for us there, and be unable to get them. However, we hope no great change has occurred since we did hear and shall look for a goodly supply when we reach G.

Sophy thinks the figure 3 & the letter G. on her blocks is the same thing so I saw her whispering to herself yesterday with the 3 block in her hand -- Gam-gam-gamma. Benj. thinks we have got a pretty peaceable set this time all around if they continue as they have begun. Can't tell yet how smart they are. B. reports a good breeze now, says we are going along nicely.

I should like to be present at Mr. Kingsbury's ordination next week. Hope the people will be united in him, and wish we  might hear of Mrs. K's improved health on arrival. Tell Arthur I make great dependence on the letter I shall get from him, and will try to remember anything that happens on the voyage which he would be pleased to hear.

We had some baked apples (sour) the other night about the size of a new-born infant's head. They tasted extremely well.

Please give our love to Mother & the girls, Aunt Hannah, Arthur and other friends, reserving a share for yourself.

As I have nothing more to say I will follow A. Ward's advice and say it at once.

Your aff'ly

Ship's Slate ~ 15 Nov 1872

David Reed Morehouse
The British frigate Dei Gratia, under the command of Captain David Reed Morehouse, departs on a course across the Atlantic that is roughly parallel with the  the Mary Celeste. Captain Morehouse, who had dined with Briggs a few days before the Mary Celeste left port, is carrying a cargo of 1,735 barrels of petroleum and is bound for Gibraltar.

The Dei Gratia carried a crew of 8 men. Oliver Deveau and John Wright were first and second mates respectively.

Ship's Slate ~ 25 Nov 1872

The last entry on the Mary Celeste's log slate was dated 8 a.m., November 25. It read, "eastern point of St. Mary's bore 6 miles SSW." The correct latitude and logitude of this position, which was not given in the testimony, would be 35°01' N and 25°01' W.

The Dei Gratia found the Mary Celeste at latitude 38°20'N, longitude 17°15'W.

Ship's Slate ~ 4-14 Dec 1872

Sporadic bad weather had been reported in the Atlantic throughout October, although the Dei Gratia encountered none and her journey across the ocean in November was uneventful.

But on 4 Dec 1872, just short of a month after leaving port, (some reports give December 5, owing to a lack of standard time zones in the 19th century), at approximately 13:00, the helmsman of the Dei Gratia, John Johnson, sighted a ship about five miles off their port bow through his spyglass. The position of the Dei Gratia was approximately 38°20' N 17°15' W, some 600 miles west of Portugal.

Johnson’s keen, experienced eyes detected almost at once that there was something strangely wrong with the other vessel. She was yawing slightly, and her sails did not look right, being slightly torn. Johnson alerted his second officer, John Wright, who looked and had the same feelings about her. They informed the captain. As they moved closer, they saw the ship was the Mary Celeste. Captain Morehouse wondered why the Mary Celeste had not already reached Italy, as she had a head start on his own ship.

According to the account given by the crew of the Dei Gratia, they approached to 400 yards from the Mary Celeste and cautiously observed her for two hours. She was under sail, yet sailing erratically on a starboard tack and slowly heading toward the Strait of Gibraltar. They concluded she was drifting after seeing no one at the wheel or even on deck, though the ship was flying no distress signal.

Oliver Deveau
After watching for two hours and getting no reply to hails, Captain Morehouse decided to send some men to investigate. Oliver E. Deveau, Chief Mate, rowed across to the distressed craft with Wright and Johnson. Johnson was left in the boat as the other two hauled themselves over the ship's rails. Over the next hour Deveau and Wright searched the Mary Celeste from stem to stern.

Aside from evidence that she had recently weathered a storm, she bore no clues as to why she had been abandoned: The main staysail was lying loose on the foreward-house, but the fore-sail and upper topsail had been blown from the yards and lost. The jib, fore topmast staysail and the fore lower topsail were set. The remaining sails were furled. Some of the running rigging was fouled, some had been blown away and parts of it were hanging over the sides. The main peak halyard, a stiff rope about 100 yards long used to hoist the outer end of the staff sail, was broken and most of it missing. The wheel was spinning free and the binnacle had been knocked over and broken. The main hatch to below decks was well-battened down and secure, but certain of the hatch covers had apparently been removed and were found discarded near the hatchways.

There was less than a foot of water in the galley and little of the six months' store of provisions had been spoilt. There was ample fresh water. The court record states, "The Galley was in bad state, the stove knocked out of its place, and the cooking utensils were strewn around. The whole ship was a thoroughly wet mess. The captains bed was not fit to sleep in and had to be dried." The only dry clothes found were dry because they were in a watertight seaman's chest. Everything else was wet.

Missing from the ship was the chronometer, sextant, bill of lading, navigation book and a small yawl that had been lashed to the main hatch. A piece of railing running alongside had been removed to launch the boat. Charles Lurd, crew member of the Dei Gratia stated, "We found no boats on board." He could not say how many there should have been but felt sure there had been a boat at the main hatch from the fixing there.

While the cargo had not shifted, 9 barrels were found to be empty when it was finally unloaded in Genoa. Deveau stated he did not see any blood anywhere, although he saw a rusty sword in its sheath (likely iron citrate, the result of having been cleaned with lemon).

The most interesting find was the ship's log: The last entry was dated 24th November, when the Mary Celeste was only just passing the Azores. This meant the ship had sailed itself for over 400 miles on a perfectly-plotted course for the Mediterranean.

Deveau felt he could easily get the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar with a small crew. He had to argue with Captain Morehouse in order to get such a crew: Morehouse feared that sending a crew to pilot the Mary Celeste would result in both ships being undermanned, thus placing both in danger. Deveau prevailed and, on 13 Dec 1872, both the Mary Celeste and Dei Gratia arrived in Gibraltar.



Gibraltar, 14 Dec 1872 ~ The Disaster Clerk of the Atlantic Mutual Insurance Company is handed a copy of a cable from Captain David Reed Morehouse, master of the brigantine Dei Gratia: FOUND FOURTH AND BROUGHT HERE "MARY CELESTE" ABANDONED SEAWORTHY ADMIRALTY IMPOST NOTIFY ALL PARTIES TELEGRAPH OFFER OF SALVAGE.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Possible Time of Abandonment

Example of a Logbook
Based on testimony given and other trustworthy sources, it's possible to trace, with some certainty, the movements of the Mary Celeste from noon, 24 Nov to 8:00 a.m. the following day:

Noon, 24 Nov 1872 -- According to the observation taken at this time and noted on her log, the Mary Celeste is at latitude 35°56' N and longitude 27°20' W. All of the Azores are now astern except San Miguel off to the northeast about 100 miles away and Santa Maria dead ahead about 110 miles directly east. She is moving along at 8 knots until 7:00 p.m. when, with freshening wind, her speed increases to 9 knots.

At 8:00 p.m., her royal and topgallant sails are taken in when the first watch comes on duty. By 9:00 p.m. her speed drops to 8 knots at which she continues to midnight. At this time, the log reads, "Knots, 8: Course, E. by S; Wind, west: M.P. rainy." She would be nearing the end of Santa Maria Island. The official record states that "stormy conditions prevailed over the Azores on November 24 and November 25" so it's likely the crew is having an uncomfortable time of it.

25 Nov 1872 -- According to hourly entries in the log between 1:00 and 4:00 a.m., the Mary Celeste continues at 8 knots. As dawn breaks an entry is made on the log-slate, 'At 5, made the island of S. Mary's, bearing ESE" with a similar entry at 6:00 a.m. With this bearing, the point of land observed by the watch must be Ponta Cabraestante which is the northwestern extremity of Saint Mary's -- at an approximate latitude of 37°0' which is slightly further north than her position at noon the previous day.

Why is Captain Briggs, or whoever was directing the course, taking her to the north of St. Mary's, when all hands know they must pass through the Straight of Gibraltar in order to ready Genoa?
  • It's well known to navigators there are no harbors or safe accommodations here or elsewhere on this island.
  • About 21 miles to the northeast of the island's northeast extremity lies dangerous Dollabarat Shoal on which the sea breaks with great violence in stormy weather -- its barely hidden rocks are not visible when the sea is calm.
  • The present course will take them betwen this shoal and the northeast end of the island. With a shifting wind, a common occurence in these waters, the Mary Celeste's position could become a perilous one.
Why is the Mary Celeste going into a more northerly latitude, when she should be going to the southward?

According to the track noted on her chart, it's 8:00 a.m. and she has skirted the island's north shore. The log slate's final record reads, "At 8, Eastern point bore SSW. 6 miles distant." The eastern point observed by the forenoon watch likely was Ponta Castello, a point on the southeastern shore of the island. This point is surmounted by a detached peak of considerable height and is higher than any other place along the island's eastern shore. In the morning light, it would stand out more prominently than Ponta Matos, the island's northeastern extremity, lying about 5 miles to the northwest and probably nearer to the Mary Celeste.

Possible time of abandonment -- Based on the above, it's possible that on Monday, 25 Nov, at some time after 8:00 a.m., something happened which caused the sudden abandonment of the Mary Celeste. As testified by Deveau, "The men's clothing was left behind; their oilskins, boots, and even their pipes as if they had left in a great hurry or haste." Based on the following considerations, it's reasonable to surmise abandonment took place betwee 8:00 a.m. and noon on 25 November:
  • There was no food left on the cabin table
  • The galley stove was knocked out of place and no cooked food was found
  • The Captain's bed had been slept in, but not made
  • There was no sign of interrupted or finished meal or evidence of preparations for serving a meal
  • There was no log-slate record after 8:00 a.m. on a vessel where records had been systematically kept

Friday, April 23, 2010

Court Notes

18 Dec 1872 -- Five days after the arrival of the Mary Celeste, the first session of the Court was held for the purpose of hearing testimony in connection with the claim for salvage by the owners, officers and crew of the Dei Gratia. Oliver Deveau was the first witness called.

Exhibit. "The log now produced is the one I found on board the Mary Celeste, and which I continued in my journey to Gibraltar. It is in my handwriting from the 5th day of December to the 13th day of December, day of arrival, including the marginal notes of Latitude and Longitude. The figures showing the figure of speed are only guess. I had no log on board to heave, and no log-line. When I made the land, I omitted the entry of supposed speed. The weather came on to blow hard after we had made Cape Spartel on the 11th -- Ceuta Light.

I say that we must have run up the Spanish Coast 30 miles, after leaving Cape Ceuta, or 40 miles: that was after leaving Ceuta at 6 a.m. in sight of land."

Exhibit. The Slate. The Attorney-General reads the entry on the slate log 26 November, "I never used the side of the slate upon which this entry now appears. I left the charts on board the Mary Celeste." To Judge. "I have been master of a brig, myself. I kept the Log on board the Dei Gratia. I have no Master's ticket but a Mate's certificate"

20 Dec 1872 -- The further examination of the witnesses proceeded this day. The witness Oliver Deveau recalled.

Chart Exhibit C. "The chart now produced is the chart I found on board the Mary Celeste with the ship's course marked on it. I used it afterwards myself, for our track here. The words written: 'Mary Celeste, abandoned 5th. December 1872' are in my writing. I put it down merely by guess as the place ewhere I supposed we found the vessel as nearly as I could. The arrows shown on the shart show the way the currents are supposed to run, but they often practically run in a contrary direction. That chart is the chart found in the Mate's cabin."

At the conclusion of Deveau's testimony, John Wright, second mate of the Dei Gratia, was call. His accound agreed, substantially with that given by Deveau. The 20 Dec session of the Court concluded with the testimony of Seaman Charles Lund.

21 Dec 1872 -- The accounts of Seamen Anderson and Johnson were heard. The accounts given by Lund and Anderson were more significant as they assisted Deveau in bringing the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar. Johnson's statement was very brief and generally unimportant as he had not boarded the vessel -- he remained in the small boat alongside while Deveau and Wright were making their examination.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In the News


THE REGISTER, Thursday, October 10, 1912
The Mystery of the Mary Celeste

(Digby Courier)

Capt. Oliver E. Deveau died at his home in
Brighton on Tuesday, the 10th inst, aged 76 years. The deceased was born at Cape St. Mary’s, moving to Brighton when he was a young man. He was an old time sailor, a thorough officer and a man capable of sailing a ship to any part of the world. His last voyage was to Cuba some four or five years ago when he was obliged to leave his ship owing to illness and return home. He is survived by a widow, one son, James Deveau, who holds a responsible position with the telephone company in Springfield, Mass., and two daughters, Mrs. Jessie Melanson, of Plymouth, Mass., and Miss Addie A., at home. The funeral was held from his late home on Friday with interment in the St. Croix cemetery at Plympton. The Courier extends its deepest sympathy to the bereaved ones.

The death of Capt. Deveau recalls to memory the mystery of the brigt. Mary Celeste which has called forth during the past 40 years many columns of newspaper stories, magazine articles and even dime novels. The facts of the strange affair are as follows:

On Nov. 15th, Capt. Oliver E. Deveau sailed from
New York for Gibraltar, chief officer of the brigt. Del Gratia. After a rough passage of 26 days they reached the Western Isles after which the weather became very moderate. On Dec. 4th, in latitude 38 20 N., and longitude 17.15 W., they fell in with another brigantine which was under moderate sail andappeared  to be steering a very peculiar course. They bore down on her and found the strange acting vessel to be the brigt. Mary Celeste, of New York, abandoned. She was boarded and Capt. Deveau was placed in charge. The captain of the Del Gratia furnished him with two men which he styled as captain and cook. These three, working night and day, took the strange vessel to port, reaching Gibraltar Dec. 13th, making the run of 600 miles in nine days in heavy weather, working their 200 ton craft successfully but under great difficulties. She was bound to Genoa, Italy, with $80,000 worth of alcohol.

While all kinds of stories have been imagined as to what became of her original captain and crew and why they abandoned their vessel, the whole affair still remains a mystery.

Capt. Deveau has been interviewed by hundreds of newspaper men during the past forty years. He related the entire story to the editor of the Courier in the cabin of the old tern schr. Xebec of
Bear River more than thirty years ago, when Capt. Deveau was chief officer of that vessel and the editor "a small cabin boy."

It was thought that Capt. Deveau and his men would be well paid for his heroic work in saving the Mary Celeste and her valuable cargo, but the whole affair got involved in litigation and the captain’s share became a small one.

The captain of the strange vessel had his wife and child on board besides his crew of eight men. The sewing machine had been recently used. The captain’s clothing and watch were hanging up in his state room. The vessel’s boat and papers were gone. The entire crew appeared to have left in great haste taking practically nothing with them. Marine men from all parts of the world put forth different ideas as to why the vessel was abandoned, but Capt. Deveau could always explain by referring to some circumstance in connection with the way the vessel was found that they were wrong. Capt. Deveau himself could not account for their strange disappearance, nor could anyone else from that day until the present time, and we very much doubt if the mystery will ever be solved.

BERWICK REGISTER, Wednesday Evening, December 15, 1915
A Mystery Ship

Mr. Clarence Ward, in his Old Times articles in the St. John Globe, unearthed an 1852 newspaper account of a mystery ship that was found off
Gaspe. He says:

The case of the "Marie Celeste," found abandoned in the Mediterranean some years ago, with everything on board in order, even to prepared food on the cabin table, and in pots in the gallery, and every evidence of peaceable occupation by officers and men, carried on without interruption of any kind, boats in place, sails and rigging in good order, but not a sign of officers or crew on board, has ever remained an ocean mystery. One of our city papers of
February 28, 1852, contains an account of a somewhat similar case, occurring off our own shores, except that in this case the vessel had suffered some slight damage.

Miramichi February 23: - The courier from Perce to Restigouche, has informed me that when he left below, there was a large barque in the ice off
Gaspe. The barque had her fore-top-sail and jib set. Two men by means of a small skiff, got on board the barque, and found her laden with red pine. There were sixty bags of bread and twenty barrels of four, also the ship’s papers on board. There appears nothing wrong with her but the loss of her rudder, and part of bow-sprit. A crew of men are going on board, with the intention of working her out of the ice, and taking her to some port in Nova Scotia, or Newfoundland; if they cannot clear her, to remain on board till the warm weather sets in. There was not a soul to be found on board, yet strange to say, none of the boats belonging to the ship were gone, all being in their proper place, so that what has become of the crew remains a mystery.

One Of The Greatest Mysteries Of The Sea

Why was the
Nova Scotia vessel Marie Celeste deserted by her officers and crew in December, 1872?

There is not one word in her log-book or elsewhere to give any reason why the ship should be deserted; and the finding of the vessel some time later, still intact and under sale, but without a soul on board, has given rise to one of the greatest sea mysteries within the memory of living men.

After sailing from
New York early in November, 1872, the Marie Celeste was not sighted by any other vessel until December 5, when the Del Gratia which had left New York on November 15 for Gibraltar, hailed the ship but got no answer. Men climbed on board, to find the vessel deserted. The only living thing was a cat contentedly sleeping on a locker.

The Marie Celeste had sailed about a week earlier than the Del Gratia, also bound for Gibraltar, but when found, about 600 miles from that port, was actually sailing in the opposite direction.

The Marie Celeste – built at
Advocate Harbor, Nova Scotia – was a staunch brigantine of 236 tons burden, and seemed to be in excellent condition when found in mid-Atlantic without a soul on board.

Everything about the deck was in good order. There was not a trace of trouble. Most of her sails were neatly furled, and the ship was sailing off the wind though not steering a steady course.

All the captain’s effects – clothing, books, etc. – were found in the cabin. There was an entry in the log-book dated November 24 and an entry on the log-slate dated November 25, showing that they had sighted the
Island of St. Mary (Azores).

The boarding party did not find the ship’s register or similar papers concerning the ship, but only some letters and account books. The dishes and the remains of a meal were still on the table in the cabin. A dress which the captain’s wife was making for her small daughter, who accompanied them, was found unfinished in the captain’s cabin.

The crew’s clothing was all left in the forecastle – their oilskins, boots and even their pipes, as if they had left in a great hurry. The ashes in the galley’s range were still warm, yet not a living soul was found on board and no ship’s boat was visible anywhere on the ocean. Here, surely, was a mystery if ever there was one.

The Vice-Admiralty Court of Gibraltar investigated the case. Enquiries were made far and wide, while the authorities waited anxiously for word of the missing captain, his wife, daughter and crew. But no word ever came. No word has come to this day. Not one of the missing men was ever seen again.

BERWICK REGISTER, November 23, 1938
The Story of The Mary Celeste

(By C. W. Moffatt in Maritime Advocate and Busy East)

The Story of the Nova Scotia brigantine “Mary Celeste,” one of the mystery ships of the Atlantic, has been written and dramatized but to this day the mystery surrounding her remains unsolved.

The ship was built by Joshua Dewis, of Spencer’s
Island, Cumberland County, and launched in 1860 as the “Amazon.” Seven years later she went ashore on the rugged coast of Cape Breton Island near Port Morien. Refloated and repaired she sailed again only to meet a similar fate on the coast of Maine.

An American syndicate purchased the grounded ship, made her seaworthy and changed her name to the “Mary Celeste.” Taken to
New York she was loaded with alcohol and set sail for Genoa on November 7th, 1872. Her departure was well remembered by the people on the dock at New York that November morning for there stood with them a seventeen-year-old girl who had recently married First Mate Albert G. Richardson, a native of Maine. With tears in her eyes she stood there waving a fond goodbye to her husband of less than a month. On board the “Mary Celeste” Captain Benjamin Briggs stood on the bridge looking out to sea while his wife and young daughter joined the First Mate in waving farewell to the lonely girl on the dock. As the brigantine spread her sails and disappeared from sight the spectators and the young bride on the dock turned away little knowing that they had seen the crew of eight and the Captain’s wife and daughter for the last time.

On December 4th, twenty-eight days later, the Captain of the “Dei Gratia” sighted the “Mary Celeste” off the
Canary Islands. She was drifting in a light breeze with sails set and apparently no one at the wheel. The “Dei Gratia” sent out a boat and the Captain and members of the crew boarded the brigantine. They found everything ship-shape with the exception of a loose hatch-cover which was stained with blood. Near by lay a sword smeared with blood. There was a broken rail, but everything else was in first class condition. In the Captain’s quarters breakfast was on the table untouched. The sextant and chronometer was missing. The ship’s log revealed that the last entry had been made on November 24th at , but offered no solution to the enigma.

The Captain of the “Dei Gratia” was not troubled by the mystery, the seas abound with them, so he took the “Mary Celeste” into
Gibraltar where she was manned by a new crew.

After the ship had docked at
Gibraltar many stories were circulated as to what had happened. Since then many explanations of the mystery have been offered. The most generally accepted belief is that on some morning between the 25th of November and the 4th of December, while the “Mary Celeste” was sailing along quietly and the captain and his family were at breakfast, there was a terrific explosion. This explosion may have resulted from an accumulation of alcoholic fumes in the hold. To account for the blood on the hatch cover and the sword, it is thought that a sailor must have been near the hatch with a sword in his hand when the explosion threw the hatch cover up at him causing the sword to pierce his body. It is further supposed that the suddenness of the explosion created a panic and in a few moments everyone including the Captain and his family were crowded into a single boat and lowered into the sea, the rail having been broken in the rush. As they pulled away from the “Mary Celeste” with great haste expecting she would instantly be blown to the winds by further gas explosions, a stiff breeze sprang up and carried her away. Too late they realized their mistake. They could see her in the distance sailing fast away. With the boat overcrowded and a gale rising, they presumably all met death by drowning.

After she had been manned by a new crew at
Gibraltar and delivered her cargo of alcohol at Genoa the “Mary Celeste” returned to the United States. For the succeeding twelve years she was idle for want of cargo. In 1885 she sailed from Boston, Massachusetts, for Port au Prince and was wrecked off the coast of Haiti. $30,000 cargo insurance is said to have been collected by her owners.

There were eight persons beside the captain’s wife and daughter on board the “Mary Celeste” as she sailed from
New York on her ill-fated voyage. They were: Capt. Benjamin Briggs, his wife and daughter, of Marion, Massachusetts; Mate Albert G. Richardson, a native of Maine; Andrew Gilling and Edward William head, of New York City; Volkert Lorenzen, Arian Harbens, Bos Lorengo and Gottlieb Goodschaad, all of Germany.

Today the only authentic painting of the brigantine “Amazon” or “Mary Celeste” hangs in the
Fort Beausejour Museum, which is located near Sackville, New Brunswick. The question of what took place on board the “Mary Celeste” on that fall day, sixty-six years ago remains unanswered, a dark mystery of the sea.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ancestry of Captain Benjamin Briggs

Benjamin Spooner Briggs was born 24 Apr 1835 in Wareham, Plymouth, MA and died at sea in Nov 1872.  He was the second son of five sons born to Captain Nathan Spooner Briggs and Sophia Matilda Cobb. 

From his letters and sea journals, Captain Briggs appears to have been a poet and philosopher as well as a successful master mariner.

On 9 Sep 1862 in Marion, MA, Benjamin married his cousin Sarah Elizabeth Cobb, daughter of the Reverend Leander Cobb and Julia Ann Scribner. Sarah was born 20 Apr 1841 in Marion, Plymouth, MA, and also died at sea in Nov 1872. As noted in Marion town records, "Benjamin and Sarah had been boy and girl sweethearts. It was a love match, and they always remained devoted to each other."

The newly weds sailed to Europe aboard the schooner Forest King. The year following the birth of their son, Arthur, the family travelled to Marseilles, France, returning home in time for the birth of their daughter Sophia.

Found on U.S. Federal Census:

1870 ~ Marion, Plymouth, MA 
Name: Benj S Briggs
Birth Year: abt 1835
Age in 1870: 35
Birthplace: Massachusetts  
Post Office: Mattapoisett
Household Members: Name Age
Benj S Briggs 35
Sarah E Briggs 29
Arthur Briggs 4

Arthur Briggs
A cenotaph memorializing the family is found in Evergreen Cemetery, Marion, Plymouth Co., MA. The inscription reads, "Capt. Benj S. Briggs born Apr 24, 1835, Sarah E Cobb his wife born Apr 20 1841, Sophia M, their daughter, then 10 mos, born Oct 31, 1870. Lost in Brig Mary Celeste Nov 1872". Evergreen Cemetery (G.R. 13) was established in 1780. It's located on the east side of Mill St (Route 6), north of Converse Road. 

Children of Benjamin Spooner Briggs & Sarah Elizabeth Cobb:
  • Arthur Stanley Briggs was born 20 Sep 1865 at the family home at Rose Cottage in Marion, Plymouth, MA and died in MA on 31 Oct 1931. For awhile he was the ward of his uncle, James Briggs, the only non-seafaring member of the family. Arthur married Margaret Holmes. Margaret was born in MA abt. 1873 They did not have any children.
  • Sophia Matilda Briggs was also born at Rose Cottage on 31 Oct 1870. She died at sea with her parents.
Nathan Spooner Briggs was born in Rochester, Plymouth, MA on 24 Feb 1799. Stuck by lightening and died in Marion, Plymouth, MA on 28 Jun 1870.  He was the son of Benjamin Briggs and Elizabeth Spooner. He married Sophonia Matilda Cobb in Plymouth Co., MA on 23 May 1830. Sophronia was born 28 Oct 1803 in Rochester, Plymouth, MA.

One of his sons, Oliver Briggs, had been planning to make his final voyage before settling down on land. But on 8 Jan 1873 a storm sank his ship, the Julia A. Hallock, in the Bay of Biscay. He managed to survive on wreckage for four days. But two hours before help arrived, he succumbed to the elements.

Found on U.S. Federal Census:

1850 ~ Rochester, Plymouth, MA 
Name: Nathan Briggs
Age: 51
Estimated birth year: abt 1799
Birth Place: Mass
Family Number: 361
Household Members: Name Age
Nathan Briggs 51
Sophia M Briggs 46
Nathan H Briggs 19
Moriah M Briggs 17
Benjamin S Briggs 15
Oliver E Briggs 13
James C Briggs 11
Zenas M Briggs 6

1860 ~ Marion, Plymouth, MA 
Name: Nathan Briggs
Age in 1860: 61
Birth Year: abt 1799
Birthplace: Massachusetts  
Post Office: Marion  
Household Members: Name Age
Sophia M Briggs 56
Benjamin S Briggs 25
Oliver E Briggs 23
James C Briggs 21
Lenas M Briggs 16
Nathan H Gibbs 2
Nathan Briggs 61

1870 ~ Marion, Plymouth, MA 
Name: Nathan Briggs
Birth Year: abt 1799
Age in 1870: 71
Birthplace: Massachusetts   
Post Office: Mattapoisett
Household Members: Name Age
Nathan Briggs 71
Sophia M Briggs 67
Zenas M Briggs 26

Benjamin Briggs was born in Plymouth Co., MA 3 Mar 1755 and died in Bristol Co., MA on 19 Jun 1826. He was the son of Nathan Briggs and Sarah Perry. He married Elizabeth Spooner, daughter of Cornelius Spooner and Elizabeth Young, in Rochester, Plymouth, MA on 9 Nov 1786. Elizabeth was born in Dartmouth, Bristol, MA on 14 Jun 1764 and died 26 Jul 1831.

Nathan Briggs was born in Rochester, Plymouth, MA on 21 Sep 1716 and died in Wareham, Plymouth, MA on 18 Jun 1798 in. He was the son of Samuel Briggs and Lydia Stetson. He married Sarah Perry in Wareham, Plymouth, MA on 28 Feb 1744. Sarah was born in Sandwich, Barnstable, MA on 27 Jan 1718.

Samuel Briggs was born in Sandwich, Barnstable, MA on 12 Dec 1673 and died in Rochester, Plymouth, MA on 6 Nov 1751. He was the son of Samuel Briggs and Bennett Ellis. He married Lydia Stetson in Rochester, Plymouth, MA on 12 April 1708. Lydia was born in Scituate, Plymouth, MA in Jul 1683 and died in Wareham, Plymouth, MA on 21 Apr. 1772.

Samuel Briggs was born in Sandwich, Barnstable, MA in 1645 and died in Rochester, Plymouth, MA on 2 Nov 1688. He was the son of John Briggs and Catherine (Unknown). He married Bennett Ellis. Bennett was born in Sandwich, Barnstable, MA on 27 Feb 1649 and died in Bristol Co., MA on 21 Jan 1702.

John Briggs was born in Thornbury, Gloucestershire, England in 1615 and died in Sandwich, Barnstable, MA on 1 Jun 1641. He married Catherine (Unknown). Catherine was born in England in 1619 and died in Sandwich, Barnstable, MA.