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.