The strange story of
the bark ELIZABETH
Related story on Long
Island Genealogy - Memories Of An Heroic Woman
The bark ELIZABETH was wrecked in a summer storm at Point O’Woods on July
19, 1850 at four a.m. At this time the only life-saving apparatus
was located at the Fire Island Light, maintained by the Benevolent Life-Savers
of N.Y. and manned by volunteers.
The ELIZABETH, a 530 ton sailing vessel, sailed from Leghorn, Italy on
May 17, 1850 carrying cargo, five passengers and a crew of 14. In
the cargo there was a large amount of rough cut marble, a large marble
statue of George C. Calhoun, silks, liquers, oils, soap and other miscellaneous
cargo. The ship was newly built and the down east Captain was Seth Hasty.
He had brought his wife Catherine along on the trip to Italy.
The passengers consisted of Count Giovanni Ossoli, his wife Margaret Fuller
and their two-year-old son Angelino, a young Italian girl named Celeste
Paolini, who acted as nursemaid for Nino as the young boy was called, and
a Mr. Horace Sumner.
Margaret Fuller was a famous writer and feminist. She was one of
the few women admitted to the exclusive circle of writers that included
Holmes, Thoreau and Emerson.
She had gone abroad to serve as a nurse with the troops of Garibaldi in
the Italian campaign for Independence. While in Italy she fell in
love with the younger Count Ossoli who was himself a national hero.
It was to escape the press, who hounded them, that they were taking a sailing
ship instead of one of the new steamships.
After a week at sea the Captain fell ill and soon died of smallpox.
The ship was at this time anchored off of Gibraltar. The British
refused to let a Doctor on board and quarantined the ship. After
a week with no one showing signs of the disease the ELIZABETH set sail
for New York with the first mate, Mr. Bangs acting as Captain. Two days
later the two-year-old Nino came down with the deadly disease.
After nine days of
nursing by the parents the boy was on the way to recovery. July 18th
found the ELIZABETH approaching New York. The Captain asked those
aboard to pack their bags, as they would be docking in the morning.
The wind built up to gale force. He, being inexperienced, underestimated
their speed and by 2:30 a.m. they were being driven on to the coast of
Long Island. At 3:30 a.m. on July 19th the vessel struck the bar
five miles east of the Fire Island light. The second wave picked
the ship up and slammed it broadside to the bar. The force of the
blow drove the cargo of marble through the ship’s side flooding the hold.
The waves were sweeping the deck, which separated the crew from the passenger’s
area. The crewmen brought the passengers one by one to the forecastle.
Through the rain in the gray dawn, the beach could be made out with figures
moving about, beachcombers looking for debris from the wreck. When
it became obvious that no one was making any attempt to help from shore,
it was decided that someone would have to swim the 200 yards and go for
help. The ship’s boats were smashed. A sailor took a life jacket
and jumped over the side. He was seen to make shore. Another
sailor followed with a spar. Horace Sumner following their
example jumped in with a plank and was seen to disappear. After this
tragic event, the rest decided to settle down and wait for rescue.
Carts arrived on the beach, but were used to load the exotic cargo washing
ashore. Finally the Francis metallic lifeboat arrived along with
a line throwing mortar. The men were unable to launch the heavy boat
into the mountainous seas. They made several attempts to fire a line
aboard, but were unable to do so against the gale force winds. For
another two hours the lifesavers and the people on the wreck looked at
Capt. Bangs had the men fasten ropes to planks. The plan was to have
a passenger on the plank and have it propelled by a swimming sailor, but
the passengers balked. Finally Mrs. Hasty and a crewman jumped in
together to prove to the others that it could be done. After a long
struggle in which the plank turned over twice they were dragged half-conscious
from the surf. They had been carried by the current a long way down
the beach. It was not known if those aboard saw them leave the surf.
The Captain continued to argue with the passengers trying to convince them
that the plank ride was their best chance for survival. The passengers
would not listen to him. Finally, exasperated, he shouted, “Save
yourselves!” and jumped over the side followed by most of the crew.
Four of the crew stayed aboard. By three p.m. the ship was breaking
up. A large wave broke on the ship springing what was left of the
mast. It went down tearing up the deck and throwing everyone into
the surf. The bodies of Nino and the ship’s steward washed up on
shore a short time later. Two of the sailors managed to swim to shore.
The bodies of Ossoli and Margaret disappeared. All told, there were eight
Margaret had written to friends expressing her fears of a sea voyage and
of drowning. She stated that if they were wrecked, she hoped that
they would all go together.
An interview was given to the Providence, R.I. Journal on January 12, 1908,
many years after the wreck by Capt. Arthur Dominy, Superintendent of fourth
District (Long Island), U.S. Life-Saving Service. Dominy, a life
long resident of Fire Island was an eyewitness to the wreck, undoubtedly
as a volunteer lifesaver. Providence had been the hometown of Margaret
Fuller. He told the following story.
brothers arrived in New York and consulted with Horace Greeley, who told
them that he would stay in touch with Fire Island and if the bodies showed
up he would see to it that they were properly cared for.
The word had spread amongst the Fire Island fishermen that Greeley was
on the lookout for the bodies. When two bodies were found, they were
not in good shape to be identified. The fisherman who found them
put them in his sailboat and went to New York. He went to the editor
telling him his story. “Impossible,” said the journalist. “It
has been too long since the wreck to identify any bodies.” The boatman
did his best, but in vain, to convince Mr. Greeley of the truth of his
message. He was told that a physician had stated positively, that the body,
which lay in the little sailboat, was that of a woman. Margaret was
the only woman that had been lost at sea in the area. The man’s gold
teeth identified him as a rich gentleman, for no seaman of that day could
afford gold fillings for his teeth.
The boatman returned to his craft wondering what to do next. If the
police discovered human remains aboard it would entail long and unpleasant
explanations and perhaps a wait. As he cast off and drifted down
the river, the thought occurred to him to simply find a quiet spot on the
beach and bury them in the sand. He went ashore at Coney Island and
back a little way from the beach, in the sand hills he buried them under
the cover of darkness. Dominy asked the man if he could find the
spot again and was told that it was impossible for the area had few landmarks.
Most everything, that came ashore, was stolen by land sharks and pirates,
even the clothes of the poor sailors who were wandering around half naked.
About $15,000 worth of silk was stolen as the dead were being buried.
The little boy was buried in an empty trunk. His body was later reclaimed
by relatives and taken for a proper burial.
The ill-fated ship had come
ashore opposite the house of Smith Oakes. He along with Daniel Jones,
Fredrick Rogers, William T. Hawkins, Daniel Neman, and Selah Wood were
arrested for the crime of plundering the ELIZABETH and its passengers.
High bail was set and they were held over for the grand jury.
At the wreck site the U.S. Revenue Cutter Mohawk stood by as the first
effort were made to recover the statue. After many tries, the statue
was finally recovered in November. Only one arm was broken.
It was successfully repaired. It was eventually unveiled at the capitol
building in Columbia, South Carolina and later destroyed when Union troops
under General Sherman burned the building on February 17, 1865.
When the summer resort was founded at Point o' Woods nearly 50 years later,
a bronze plaque affixed to a block of granite was erected to the memory
of Margaret. It lasted about 10 years before it washed into the sea.
Fuller, Chap XIX
Suffolk Democrat 1850: 7/26,
8/9, 8/16, 10/1
Long Islander 1850: 7/26,
8/2, 8/11, 8/16, 10/4, 10/11, 11/8
The Smithtown Star 1966:
Islip Town Bulletin 1977:
The Providence (R.I.) Sunday
Journal 1908: 1/12
Harry B. Squire Collection
at the Suffolk Cy Hist. Society
Many more L.I. shipwreck
stories can be found in WRECKS & RESCUES by Van
available in some bookstores
or from the author at 631-878-1591.