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Amelia a Standout Among Shipwrecks

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Apr 17, 2019

Over the past several weeks I have been following a series of interviews given by William A. Crane, a  former Manahawkin coroner and Ocean County clerk, about local shipwrecks. In 1884 he told about the Baptist Church cemetery, saying, “I remember the wreck of the Powhatan from Bremen. She struck fast just opposite this place and went down with three hundred aboard. Of this number, 28 were buried in this yard by Isaac W. Peckworth, Justice of the Peace, some at Tuckerton and others at Waretown, West Creek and Barnegat. Some of the bodies were afterwards removed by friends. Twelve bodies were removed by R.F. Randolph and two by myself as Coroner; they being bodies of sailors belonging to the schooner Mary B. Snee, for New York, wrecked March 4, 1868. The villages mentioned also helped to bury the bodies of sailors who lost their lives in wrecks.”

A year later, he remembered that between March 28 and April 10, 1864, seven ships had grounded on a stretch of beach near Surf City in a series of nor’easters that battered the coast. As local volunteers rescued the crews, most ships carried routine cargoes except one, the Hannah.

The New York Herald reported, “… our marine columns last week recorded the wreck of Spaulding & Rogers brig Hannah, near Barnegat, with twenty-eight artists, twenty horses, the portable amphitheatre, and the properties and wardrobe of the Ocean Circus, on its return from a two years’ cruise in South America and the West Indies. No (human) lives and only two of the least valuable horses were lost but the brig, amphitheatre and costumes were a total wreck, with most of the private wardrobes of the artists and numerous curiosities carefully garnered as mementoes of the long tour. These travelled performers have just reached the city, and are exciting a sensation among their professional brethren.”

Having a circus land on the LBI beach wasn’t what Crane remembered best, however. It was a ship that had sailed from South America. The Herald reported on April 12, “BARK AMELIA, Capt. John Jenkins, from Demerara for New York, with a cargo of brandy, molasses, old iron, copper and lead, consigned to C.H. DeSouza, 122 Broad Street, went ashore on Long Beach, New Jersey, about 15 miles S of Barnegat Light, about 5½ o’clock on Sunday morning, 10th inst. The captain and crew, with two passengers, were all landed in safety. The bark lies broadside on the beach, and had not made any water up to 8 AM of 10th. She may be got off if the weather remains favorable. Some boa constrictors and monkeys, which were on board, were probably landed yesterday, 11th.”

Still, having this circus plus monkeys and snakes on the beach didn’t make a lasting impression on Crane. What he did remember was “During the night of the 9th and the morning of the 10th of April in the year I speak of the Bark Amelia came ashore. I have good reasons to remember that night and morning. One of the passengers was a Portuguese gentleman who had two boys with him. This gentleman, whose name was De Suza, was married to a Brooklyn lady who taught school in Demerara. His brother, C.A. De Suza, had a business office in 122 Broad Street, New York, and died in London in August, 1864, his death being reported in the New York papers of the 11th of August, 1864. If you have a mind to listen to a tale of the sea that is deeply touching to me, I will tell you a short story concerning one of these lads.”

This was a time when individuals solved problems and didn’t wait for government action. Crane continued, “This gentleman who was on the bark when it was wrecked asked me if he could get over to New York at once, as he wanted to go to his brother who was part owner of the bark. One of the boys he said was his son, and the other he was taking to school in the city. I told him I would take them to the city or send them. After some little delay he said, as nearly as I can recollect, ‘I will leave my boy here in charge of the captain, and will take it as a great favor if you send him on when he is ready to come.’ This was on Sunday night, as far as I remember, and the next day we went to New York and saw his brother.”

His mission complete, Crane returned to LBI.

“When I returned the bark was a total wreck. The crew went on but Captain Jenkins was taken sick and I conveyed him and the boy to my own home, where he remained until he recovered, when he went to the city. The boy, who said his name was Johnny De Suza, did not want to go with him, having taken a liking to my wife (and) children, and with some reluctance Captain Jenkins suffered him to remain, intending to send for him in a few days.”

But as time passed, “Johnny soon made himself thoroughly at home in my house, and in a very short time we all regarded him with as much affection as if he were one of the family. He was fourteen years of age, bright, frank and fearless as a lion. He told me that his mother was dead, that his brothers and sisters lived with their grandmother and that his father married again. The children in the village became much attached to the lad and he grew to be a universal favorite.”

Eventually a decision had to be made.

“His father at length came for him, stating that he was going to return to Demerara for some time, but at my solicitation he induced to let Johnny remain, and said on leaving that Johnny was in good hands. He then went away. His brother, who was part owner of the bark, had died in the meantime, and De Suza settled the business up. I wrote to Johnny’s father afterward but received no reply and subsequently heard that he was dead.”

Crane decided to take action.

‘I sent Johnny to school with my own children, where he made rapid progress. He soon developed a taste for the sea, and I found after a time I could trust him with the management of a boat. He had also a taste for working with horses, and could be trusted sometimes on long journeys which it was inconvenient for me undertake. The liking for being on the sea became a passion with the lad.”

Eventually there came a point in time “when I moved from the farm which I then held to the village. Johnny thought he would take a trip out to sea with a near neighbor of ours, who was trading out of New York to Virginia. He said when he should arrive in port again, he would come to his home, as he called our house, see the family and return for another trip. He went on several of these trips and on his return we were all delighted to see him. He was a man now, but with a boy’s enthusiasm and affection.”

Unfortunately, all stories about shipwreck survivors don’t have happy endings.

“On one of his trips from the South to Boston he fell sick and was taken to the Chelsea hospital, where the poor fellow died. We heard nothing of his sickness till we heard of his death. You may imagine the shock it was to us. It was a sorrowful day for us all when the sad news came, and if he had been my own son, I could not have felt the blow more keenly. I wrote to the authorities at Chelsea for his effects, but received a letter stating that they could only be delivered to a relative. I intend shortly to have the poor boy’s remains removed to the village. He will be the first to be buried in this sailors’ last resting place.”

It’s easy to see why of all the wrecks during the storms of 1864 Crane would best remember the wreck of the Amelia. To us this is just another name on the long list. To him it was one that changed his life. If you visit the Old Baptist Church cemetery, you’ll see the plot set aside for shipwreck victims, but it is not known whether Johnny made it home or is still alone in far-off Massachusetts.

Next Week: The women rise again.


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