My 5X great grandfather survived a shipwreck.

His name was James Stankard and he came to America aboard the ship The Faithful Steward, in 1785. He was from Ireland, probably from Derry, though I don't know that for certain. The trip took 52 days; they were bound for the Port of Philadelphia, and as they approached the Indian River inlet on 1 September, the crew found their ship in unexpectedly shallow waters, driving into something beneath the waves called the Mohoba Bank. Apparently this navigational hazard no longer exists, having been scoured away by centuries of currents. As a fierce wind kicked up, they were driven aground. They were only about 150 yards from shore, but the winds and waves worsened to where it might as well be miles away. Later historians have speculated that they were victims of a hurricane. The crew struggled to get the ship free of the bank, even cutting down the main mast in order to lighten the ship's weight and be less vulnerable to the winds. Nothing helped. At some point in the night the crew abandoned ship, managing to make their way to shore in the boats despite the horrible storm. Once there, they deemed the waters too dangerous to return.

The ship carried around 249 immigrant passengers from Ireland, most of them families. People on shore were unable to help as the pounding sea beat the ship into pieces over the course of a few hours. Over a hundred women and children perished, last seen on the deck as it splintered beneath their feet. 68 people survived, including of course, the entire crew. Of the others, most survived by clinging to pieces of the ship for bouyancy, or else were thrown up by chance onto a beach. One large family of thirty or so members lost all of them but three. The parents of a fourteen-year-old girl lashed her to a beam and tied her baby brother onto her back before facing the tide themselves, unhelped. Beaten senseless by the storm, she awoke on the beach with no parents and no baby brother. My own ancestor, James Stankard/Stunkard, was a young man in his prime and was able to save himself. If he tried to save anyone else I don't know, but it sounds like there was little anyone could do but try to keep themselves afloat. Imagine trying to swim in the dark, in the ocean, in a hurricane.

The Faithful Steward was carrying a cargo of coins. Nothing romantic like gold or Spanish doubloons; the new nation of the United States had no mint and still depended on a regular influx of coinage like pennies from Britain. Apparently well into modern times those pennies wash up on a "Coin Beach" a mile or so from where the ship was obliterated. Is it wrong of me to wish for one of those coins as a memento?

Good going, James Stunkard. I'm glad you were a strong swimmer.


genealogy: Cover of the Register for Alameda County 1904 (Default)
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