"Crissie Wright"

http://beaufortartist.blogspot.com/2009/09/model-of-crissie-wright.htmlOn January 7, 1886, the Philadelphia schooner Crissie Wright, on her way from Baltimore to Savannah, was forced to beach herself three miles east of Beaufort during the bitter winter of 1886. Six of the crew drowned and froze to death. Two of the crew were lost at sea and three were buried in a common grave in Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground.

 In The Story of the Methodist in the Port of Beaufort, 1941, Amy Muse wrote,

“…..that winter so cold that no one remembered its like before or has acknowledged its equal since. The winter when the Crissie Wright foundered on Shackelford Banks, the crew lashed to the rigging and freezing while men who would rescue them could only signal helplessly from our shore unable to put out a boat in the storm.

"The Nellie B. Dey, Mr. Dey's fish boat, finally brought the victims in to the wharf at the foot of Turner Street. But one man was revived; the others were laid out in the sample room of Mr. Billy Dill's hotel on the southwest corner of Front and Turner Streets and Mr. Jurney buried them in the graveyard back of the Church.

“'Miss Daisy' Hatsell tells of standing in the cold of the upper piazza of her home on Queen Street watching as the men were borne to the cemetery on improvised biers, and “Miss Lutie” Jones tells of the feeling of awe that came over her when as a child she ran in to the cemetery and saw so many graves open at the same time. None of the men were from Beaufort, but it was an incident that would have stirred any people and to a people as compassionate by nature as those in Beaufort, it left such an impression that voices are hushed to-day as the story is retold. A small compensation for the tragedy was the establishment of the Cape Lookout Life-Saving Station in 1887 which is said to have been a direct result of the event.”


On Saturday, May 26, 2007, the following article was published 
in The Courier Post, Cherry Hill, New Jersey:

"Only One Survived Sinking of Jersey-built Schooner in 1886"

The coast off North Carolina is called the Graveyard of the Atlantic, thanks to thousands of ships and lives lost to the sea during the past 300 years. One of those ships, the schooner Crissie Wright, was lost to the sea in January 1886. It had its roots in South Jersey.

The "New Jersey Patriot" newspaper of Bridgeton reported in its Jan. 16, 1874, edition that a fine three-mast schooner was being built at the Blew and Phillips shipyard in Bridgeton.

The Crissie Wright was launched July 11, 1874, according to the "New Jersey Patriot," which described the schooner as a staunch and graceful vessel.
My interest in the fate and history of the Crissie Wright is personal, coming from an entry in our family Bible that lists the death of my Great Grandfather Phillip H. Rickards on Jan. 10, 1886. He froze to death aboard the Crissie Wright, along with five other crew members, including Capt. Thomas P. Clark of Berlin, buried in the Berlin Cemetery.

The Crissie Wright set sail from Baltimore on Dec. 31, 1885, with 500 tons of phosphate headed for Savannah, Ga. After making her way through the Chesapeake Bay, the ship entered the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. On or about Jan. 7, the Crissie Wright was off the coast of North Carolina when a winter squall turned into a violent storm.

Treacherous Weather

Capt. Clark decided not to risk the Diamond Shoals in the threatening weather -- high winds and a drastic drop in temperature. Capt. Clark ordered the ship to head for a safe harbor in Beaufort, N.C. But when galelike winds caused the main mast brace to part, Capt. Clark was compelled to beach the vessel about 6 miles west of Cape Lookout Light and 3 miles east of Beaufort Bar.

One sailor drowned in an attempt to get to shore, and another was knocked overboard and lost by the breaking of the mizzenmast. Days later, a body was found with a rope tied around his waist, with both hands missing, and his head scalped.

The Crissie Wright -- helpless on the west end of Shackleford Banks, where it lay broadside -- was breached by every incoming icy wave. Howling winds and snow and sleet covered the rigging and deck with ice, making footing most treacherous.

The crew of the Crissie Wright was without food or heat for three days and was unable to reach the mainland. They wrapped themselves in the main sail in an attempt to ward off the freezing gales.

Rescuers Thwarted

The residents of nearby Diamond City, whalers and fishermen, gathered on the beach and built large fires to signal crew members they knew of their plight. In an attempt to rescue the crew, residents carried and dragged their boats over the dunes and tried repeatedly to launch their small boats. But the force of the storm and power of the incoming waves repelled each attempt. Horrified residents stood helpless when they witnessed two of the crew going overboard.

From a newspaper clipping saved in our family Bible is a telegraph from Morehead City dated Jan. 11, 1886, stating: "ONLY ONE SURVIVOR Six of Crew of Crissie Wright Drowned or Frozen To Death. The steamer Nellie B. Dey of Beaufort, reached her today, and Captain Dudley boarded her and brought off the bodies of the four frozen men. The sole survivor is named Charles Tayt of Buffalo. Although badly frost-bitten, is expected to survive. He related how, in an attempt to keep his shipmates awake, he continuously kicked and beat them, but one by one fell into eternal sleep." CLICK TO ENLARGE IMAGES.

 A Common Grave

The frozen bodies were taken to Beaufort, and three shipmates were interred in a common grave in the Old Burying Grounds in Historic Beaufort. Capt. Clark's body was returned home to Berlin. He is buried in Berlin Cemetery.

To this day, the wreck of the Crissie Wright has remained part of the legend and folklore of the town of Beaufort. The grave of the sailors is part of the historical tour of the Old Burying Grounds.

A painting in the Beaufort Post Office by Russian painter Simka Simkovich depicts the townspeople's attempt to rescue the stranded seamen. Numerous stories have been written, often taking artistic liberties with the facts. A poem by Benji Taylor, "Life on the Banks," tells the story of the wreck. Beaufort also has a Crissie Wright Masonic Lodge. 

Of the thousands of ships that have gone down off the coast, the Crissie Wright captured the imagination and hearts of the folks of Beaufort.

"Cold as the night the Crissie Wright came ashore" was a way natives of Beaufort once described extreme cold weather. It is said this tragedy led to the establishment of the Cape Lookout Lifesaving Station in 1887.

More Information Sought

In an attempt to uncover as much related history of the Crissie Wright as I could, I contacted the N.C. Underwater Archaeology Department, which forwarded all the information on file, including a copy of the official accident report.

The ship was valued at $20,000, and cargo was valued at $30,000 -- all a total loss, the report says. Capt. Thomas P. Clark, master of the vessel, was the only crew member named.

Dave Moore, curator of nautical archaeology at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, says there are tentative plans to search for the remains of the Crissie Wright.

The name of the ship apparently came from the family of one of the investors.

While Capt. Clark was the principal owner, other investors were Bartlet and Shepherd, Jacob E. Ridgeway, M.A. Davis and Charles Wright.

In the "History of Berlin," Charles Wright is listed as a businessman, and his wife and daughter are both named Christine. Capt. Clark, a widower, was survived by his 15-year-old daughter, Sallie. Ironically, Charles Wright's son Walter Wright married Clark's daughter Sallie. Christine Wright -- "Crissie" -- became Sallie's mother-in-law.

My Great Grandfather Phillip H. Rickards was born in Cedar Neck, Del., in 1835, one of nine sons of Capt. Lemuel W Rickards, from a family of mariners. His body lies in a common grave with his mates at the Old Burying Grounds in Beaufort. I plan a visit to the gravesite to pay homage to his memory.
C.G. "Rick" Rickards

YE OLD INLET INN - Beaufort, North Carolina
This photograph was taken in 1933 by Rick Rickards' grandfather when he visited his father's (Phillip Rickards) Crissie Wright mass-grave site at the Old Burying Ground. Rick's grandmother is sitting on the steps. Below is an advertisement most likely picked up by Rick's grandfather.

Photos provided by C.G. "Rick" Rickards


Salt Works

Rebel Salt Works - Early Civil War
Morehead City, North Carolina
North Carolina Collection
Univ. of NC Library at Chapel Hill

In April 1775, the British Parliament cut off all supplies coming to America. This included the salt that was so vital for the preservation of foods etc. On Apr. 23, 1776, the Provincial Congress at Halifax, N.C. chose Robert Williams, William Thompson of Carteret Co. and Waightstall Avery and Richard Blackledge of New Bern as Commissioners to produce salt. Up until this time salt had been shipped in. 

Robert Williams had sailed from London in 1763 and became a merchant in New Bern, N.C. In 1765 he came to Beaufort and built a Salt Works on 10 acres on the east end of Front St. This is now the Davis property and it is still listed as the "Salt Works Property" on the Tax lists. Williams had traveled to many countries, having come from a wealthy family. He had studied the salt evaporation process in France, Spain and Portugal and possibly China. The early Chinese records show they extracted salt from the sea water by evaporation. They valued salt next to gold. He tells in his letters of watching the process in France, Spain and Portugal and he had become very learned in the process. 

In a letter to James Coor he states "I shall not wait for Blackledge and Avery" and proceeded to build the Salt Works as it was already May and the season lasted only to August. In a letter to Cornelius Harnet he mentions how some of the other Commissioners don't seem to be concerned about getting started because of the short season. He goes into detail about how the salt could be put into cone shaped piles until it is taken away and even the weather does not hurt it even when exposed for up to three years. He also says he expects between 10-25 bushel a day from the 18 marsh beds in hot dry weather. He says "if there is no salt it will require but little force to subdue and starve the Province, which next spring must and will fall, of course, and tumble down itself, like an old house in a calm." 

Land was purchased from Arthur Mabsob on Gallant's Point. It contained 10 acres and 40 poles or 82 poles front and 20 poles back. At one point his partner mentions he got 1 peck of salt from 32 gallons of water. (Above information from The Heritage of Carteret County North Carolina, Vol. 1-1982, published by The Carteret Historical Research Association, Beaufort, NC) 

Entrepreneurs Otway Burns and Dr. James Manney Sr. also were heavily involved in saltworks. Zachariah Harker developed a salt works on his third of Harkers Island in 1776.

The above MARKER is located in Beaufort on Turner Street
between Broad and Ann.

December 1862 - Fort Macon

Fort Macon - Christmas Day 1862
drawing by James Wells Champney
NC Archives and History

Below are excerpts of Fort Macon and Beaufort history written in 1862 by Sergeant Ephraim Stearns, of Co. G, 45th Reg. Mass. Vols. Hopefully his writing and the attached images will allow you to imagine what Christmas might have been like in this area at that time.

“…our company was drawn up in heavy marching order, camp equipage packed, and marched to Newbern where we took train for Morehead City, thence by boat across the bay, to Fort Macon. We landed at the wharf, marched up the narrow railroad track leading to the fort, through the entrance and on to the parade ground where we were dismissed.
Fort Macon is situated at the extreme end of a peninsula commanding the entrance to Beaufort Harbor, with the ocean on one side and the sound on the other. The upper end of the peninsular was not occupied by our troops, but was neutral territory. The Fort had been captured with all its armament some months before from the Confederates.
After being dismissed on the parade ground, the men were assigned to quarters in the fort. Each non-commissioned officer with a detail of privates had a casemate which was to be their abiding place for the winter. After living in barracks we found the casemates very comfortable and homelike with large open fire places where we burned logs of wood. At night, when the candles were extinguished at taps, we piled the fire places high with wood and by that light made merry with story and joke.

We soon settled down into garrison life, and formed many pleasant acquaintances with the men of the regular artillery who were with us in the fort. We were drilled as heavy artillery, our men serving at the guns side by side with the regulars, so that we speedily became fairly proficient in handling the heavy ordnance. The drill at the guns was interesting, and had the charm of novelty. Target practice with the heavy columbiads and thirty-two pounders, firing solid shot, gave us an opportunity to show how proficient we were in handling the heavy guns and how well we had learned our lesson from the regulars. Our infantry drill was not neglected as we had regular drills in a field outside the fort.

The soldiers from the camp across the bay used to visit us at the fort. One day a party rowed over and had to stay over night as the wind and waves were so strong they could not return. We took them in and made them comfortable for the night. During the evening a man in our company who was always ready to talk on any subject, had monopolized the conversation until some of our visitors showed by their expression that they thought him a little out of his head. We were used to him and paid little attention. At last one of our men lost patience and said: "For God's sake write it, if you keep your mouth shut they will never know you are a fool." Needless to add he subsided and kept quiet for the rest of the night.

There was a picket post some two miles up the island which was a favorite post for the guard. It was an independent command of a corporal and three privates, so the duties were not onerous. The tour of duty was for twenty-four hours. The guard quarters were an old wooden building with a bunk for the guard not on post, to lie on. I distinctly remember an old frying pan which we used in cooking salt pork and hard tack, quite an appetizing meal to us. Time used to hang heavily on our hands. We could not play cards as one of the four soldiers had to be on guard.

Beyond this picket post, the land was covered with stunted trees and bushes, and sparsely inhabited. A few of our men one day strolled beyond the picket lines and came to an old house occupied by white people. As usual, in North Carolina, there were many black pigs running wild. Naturally one of those pigs suggested fresh roast pork, and one was speedily captured without attracting attention. The transition of that pig to the table through the agency of the cook was soon accomplished. All went merrily until the owner of the pig appeared at the fort and demanded payment. The lieutenant called upon the company to pool in money enough to pay for the pig. All parties were satisfied.
…After going off guard we had the next day in which to clean up and rest, being excused from all regular duty. On these occasions we always had an opportunity to go over to Beaufort.  

Beaufort before the war was quite a summer resort. It had an old seaside hotel which was used by the Federals as a hospital. There was an old darkey by the name of "Cuff," a name familiar to those of you who read this and belonged to the company, a good happy old fellow who came across the bay every morning to take over any of the soldiers who wanted to go to Beaufort. 

There wasn't a great deal to do there, a few houses and stores, and an old hotel [Atlantic], where we used to get those famous dinners for fifty cents. I hardly think the landlord made much on us as we had unbounded appetites, and came away from his tables well satisfied. There was a piano in the parlor, and some of us would go in there, and the writer played accompaniments to the old army songs, and what a good time we did have singing them.

The expedition against Charleston was fitted out in the harbor of Beaufort. The war vessels and the transports for the troops rendezvoused there for about a month before sailing. We had an interesting time watching the preparations. The fleet consisted of monitors, gunboats, and transports. The troops were drawn largely from our department, and boarded the ships there. When they sailed from Beaufort Harbor, it was one of the sights never to be forgotten, the gunboats leading, followed by the monitors and transports. The start was made late in the afternoon, and as they sailed away south, they made a beautiful marine picture."