Friday, August 21, 2009

Brother Johnathan, the rest of the story.

From wikipedia: "The Brother Jonathan was a paddle steamer that crashed on an uncharted rock near Point St. George, off the coast of Crescent City, California, on July 30, 1865. The ship was carrying 244 passengers and crew with a large shipment of gold. Only 19 survived the wreck, making it the deadliest shipwreck to that time on the Pacific Coast of the United States.

As many of you already know, the name Brother Johnathan was the symbol of American Patriotism up until the Civil War, when "Uncle Sam" became more popular. The Symbol goes as far back as the war of rebellion. When considering matters concerning the United States, George Washington would often say; "We need to consult Brother Jonathan". Which meant; "We need to keep the needs of The United States in mind". The name Uncle Sam took over from Brother Jonathan during the Civil War. The steam ship "S. S. Brother Johnathan" was a patriotic name, as surely as if the ship had been named the "S. S. Uncle Sam ". The patriotic ship was one of the more famous ships on the north-west coast of America.

The Brother Jonathan was built in 1851 to supply the Gold Fields of California in the San Francisco bay area. It was first used from New York to Panama, where passengers were dropped off to make their way across the Isthmus, and catch another ship up the coast to San Francisco. It was the fastest ship on the route, from it's very first voyage. Cornelius Vanderbilt bought the ship to replace one that was lost from his shipping company. He brought the ship to California to ship people to San Francisco, on the Pacific side of the New York to San Francisco route. The ship was brought to California by bringing it around the very treacherous Horn of South America. Many ships were lost in the unpredictable, and rough, ocean waters off the Horn. So, it was a big risk to move the ship to San Francisco. When Vanderbilt lost his contract to transport people and freight across the Isthmus, he sold the ship to Captain John Wright. Captain Wright renamed the ship "The Commodore" for a short time.

By 1861 the ship had fallen into great disrepair. It was bought by the California Steam Navigation Company it was renamed, once again, "Brother Jonathan". It was completely refitted, and it was used to haul supplies and passengers to the Fraser Canyon Gold discovery, north of Vancouver B.C.. The side-wheel paddler steam ship was the fastest ship on the north coast, and was quite popular because of it's speed.

The fate of the ship is well known along the coast of California. It was the subject of one of the most tragic and deadly shipwrecks in the history of north coast shipping. The ship left San Francisco in a terrible storm and made it's way as far as Crescent City were it entered the harbor on a Sunday morning to rest out the storm for the day. That afternoon the ship headed out of the Crescent City harbor to head north to Vancouver After battling the storm to about the border of Oregon, the Captain decided to head back to Crescent City. On the return trip the ill fated Brother Jonathan hit an "uncharted" rock. The rocks off Crescent City were well known for their treachery, and most ship Captains gave them a wide berth. Why did the Captain of the Brother Jonathan cut so close to the rocks? Was he unaware how close he was? Or was he taking a chance by cutting the rocks close to get back to safe harbor?

The wreck of the ship was watched from shore. Due to the rough seas and the fact that the lifeboats were difficult to deploy, only one lifeboat with eleven crew members, five women and three children managed to escape the wreck and make it safely to Crescent City.

If you want the complete gore of the story, Google Steam Ship Brother Jonathan, and take your pick.

From Wikipedia: "Divers and ships began searching for the sunken treasure two weeks after the July 30, 1865, disaster. Crates of gold coins had been loaded on the vessel, including the annual treaty payments in gold for Indian tribes, Wells Fargo shipments consigned for Portland and Vancouver (B.C.) and gold carried on board by the passengers. A large ship’s safe safeguarded valuable jewelry, more gold coins, and gold bars. The gold alone was valued at $50 million dollars in today’s dollars. Despite the attempts of numerous salvors, for over 125 years, the ship’s treasure of gold and artifacts remained one of the Pacific’s great secrets."

The interesting thing about the wreck is that it was carried by the strong currents for two miles under the sea. The wreck of the Brother Jonathon has recently been found, and identified by it's paddle wheels. Much of the gold coin was recently found, but the gold bars supposedly haven't been found. As you might guess, lawsuits over who owned the gold flared like wild fire. Most of the suits were found in favor of the salvors but the State of California claimed that they had Historic Artifact Rights over the gold. After discovering that the Lawyers were going to end up with all of the money, the salvors cut a deal with California to give them twenty percent of the value of the gold, thus ending the lawsuits.

They supposedly never found the gold bars that were the lions share of the ships loot. The gold coins were worth way more than the coin alone would be, because of their historic value. The gold bar had little added value because of the fact that they were just plain gold bars. The way I figure it, if it had been me, after seeing what a fight they had to put up with to gain legal ownership of the coin, I would have just kept the gold bars and not even mentioned that I had them. Hmmm...

Either that is what happened, or there is forty Million dollars worth of gold bar, just a few miles off the coast of Crescent City. Hmmm...

I wonder what the rest of the story is?


Robin Shelley said...

Oh, I hoped you would include this wreck. Thanks.

Ben said...

Ernie... A great post. I had no Idea that the wreck had been found.