Monday, March 28, 2011

Brother Jonathan Cemetery

Del Norte County August 22, 1993

On the morning of July 30, 1865, the sidewheeler Brother Jonathan set out from Crescent City’s harbor with 244 people on board on their way from San Francisco for Portland, Oregon. Dignitaries, a Madame and her entourage, women and children, and a traveling circus were on board, along with freshly minted gold coin for military payroll that today is worth many millions. Facing the high winds of an approaching storm, they could not make headway and Captain DeWitt ordered the ship about, and to return to Crescent City, but the rocks of St. George Reef breached the hull and she submerged, drifted, and sank 275 feet to the ocean floor with only one lifeboat and 19 people surviving the tragedy

What went wrong? It’s hard to tell, for almost every fact regarding this ‘treasure ship’ is conflicted; it either was or wasn’t overloaded, the ship had or didn’t have structural repair issues, the crew had or hadn’t been drinking, and the seas were or weren’t too severe, In wanting to bring this story to music, what’s a historical songwriter to do?

Unbeknownst to this contributor, at the very time this landmark was visited, an expedition was underway to find the wreck of the Brother Jonathan, and after nearly 130 years of searching, Don Knight and his group called Deep Sea Research proved successful just weeks later. A second dive in 1996 brought up some gold, to which California brought suit….a case that went to the US Supreme Court which ultimately ruled unanimously in DSR’s favor. Some of the booty was auctioned off, some went to the state in settlement and some is at the museum in Crescent City, but it is estimated that 80% still lies in Davy’s locker. Though crates of gold and a large safe containing jewels and gold bars remain, the state is not issuing permits.

Capt. DeWitt

After the Brother Jonathan went down, the federal government enacted changes regarding lifeboats, and set about putting a lighthouse on St. George Reef, six miles out to sea. The lighthouse construction was finally completed in 1892.  

‘Brother Jonathan’ was originally a fictional character born of the Revolutionary War and drawn in newsprint as the character to personify the United States. Like ‘Yankee Doodle’, ‘Brother Jonathan’ was a swiping term used by British and loyalists that the revolutionaries would later embrace. Around 1815 the character of Uncle Sam began to take over and never looked back. Sam was real life, hard working, good values war vet Samuel Wilson, who was supplying meat to the army during the war of 1812. On those boxes he’d stamp ‘US’, which he’d claim to friends stood for ‘Uncle Sam’ and the rest as they say, it history.          

170 of the 225 who perished washed ashore and some have ultimately been laid to rest at this site.

NO. 541 BROTHER JONATHAN CEMETERY - This memorial is dedicated to those who lost their lives in the wreck of the Pacific Mail steamer Brother Jonathan at point St. George's Reef, July 30, 1865.
Location: Located in park at Brother Johnathan Vista Point, SE corner 9th St and
Pebble Beach Dr
, Crescent City

Google maps: 41.750792,-124.2112

1 comment:

  1. Song commemorating the Wreck of the Brother Jonathan