Terror on the Sea-Flower

I only recently learned about the incident I’m about to write about.  It surprised me that something like this is hard to find information on (even using a Google search you have to dig down a bit to find any real information).

At any rate, the story of the sloop Sea-Flower is one of ineptitude, suffering and even cannibalism.  The American-Irish Historical Society put out a book called The Recorder, the first volume of which details the Sea-Flower‘s fateful voyage.

Early on in the voyage undertaken in 1741 Captain (and minority owner of the Sea-Flower) Ebenezer Clark died and the second in command fell ill.  “Thus,” The Recorder says, “began a reign of suffering, wretchedness and misery that has seldom been surpassed in the annals of ocean voyages.”

The trip took longer than was anticipated, partly due to being held up by problems with the Sea-Flower herself.  At some point, drinking water and food ran out, leaving the 106 passengers (indentured servants headed for the New World) desperate for sustenance. Many people died of starvation.

The emigrants from Ireland, the poor souls contracted to be indentured servants for five to seven years in order to pay for this passage to the New World, began to eat the bodies of the deceased.  They were cutting up a seventh when a man-of-war, the Success, pulled up alongside and fed what The Recorder called “well-nigh crazed survivors.”

The survivors were found to be near death and in need of attentive care.  A group of selectmen in Boston arranged for them to be cared for in a hospital on Rainsford’s Island until the majority owner of the Sea-Flower, Joseph Thompson of Connecticut, arrived to pick up the boat’s papers.

The nightmare voyage lasted from July 10th, 1741 to October 31 of the same year.

The Sea-Flower‘s role in history was not finished with this scene.  Another sloop of that name would take part in the important attack on the fort at Louisbourg in 1745.  Admittedly, I’m not sure yet if they were one and the same ship.  The Sea-Flower that took part in the Louisbourg battle was owned by a Jonathan Sayward.  It is possible that Sea-Flower was simply a popular name, as another sloop of that name appears in records between 1714 and 1717.


Edwin Stanton – Tyrant or Hero? Part 1

Surprisingly little in-depth work has been written about Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, during the post-war period.  Stanton, for those of you who don’t know about him, successfully ran the war effort from the Cabinet-level, working tirelessly day and night to help the military fight the war.  He was certainly not perfect, but it seems Edwin Stanton has gotten a bad reputation over the years, partly due to his handling of officers during the American Civil War and his status as the defender of the administration.

At times he worked tirelessly to root out those officers he felt were sympathetic to the Confederacy, which apparently made him no shortage of enemies.  Virtually all of his associates it seemed had referred to Stanton as a tyrant at some point in their lives, and it is true that his natural inclination was to control.

Edwin Stanton, however, may have been something other than a tyrant.  He may have been an American hero.

His endless source of energy that kept him working all night kept the wheels of the Union war effort going.  Edwin Stanton was a key player, along with General Ulysses S. Grant, in bringing the war to a successful conclusion for the North.

Stanton’s true heroic nature would emerge in the years following the end of the Civil War, especially in the hours after Lincoln’s assassination.  During that tumultuous night of terror and confusion, it was Edwin Stanton who held the United States together in the face of possible guerrilla fighting.  As Jay Winik in his excellent book April 1865 points out, at no point was it certain that the South would stay defeated.  There was always a lingering fear that officers like Nathan Bedford Forrest and other raiders would drag out the war.  And without a President to lead the United States, and Jefferson Davis still at large, there was no telling what could happen.

Edwin Stanton stood firm in the face of all of this.  On April 14th, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was murdered by John Wilkes Booth.  Booth had originally planned to decapitate the entire U.S. government by taking out Secretary of State William Seward, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and yes, even Edwin Stanton.  Stanton was saved by a malfunctioning doorbell that hadn’t been fixed.  The conspirators’ failure to kill Stanton would doom their effort to destroy the Union leadership.

Edwin Stanton learned about Lincoln’s assassination while he was checking up on the injured Seward, and went immediately to the building where Lincoln was being placed across from Ford’s Theater.  Washington, D.C. was abuzz with rumors that the Confederates were regrouping, and Stanton relentlessly sent out a steady stream of memos and letters to Vice President Johnson, General Grant, and other officials.  In this moment, Stanton truly was a tyrant, and by acting so saved the Union.

Edwin Stanton

Edwin Stanton

Stanton ordered Ulysses S. Grant back to Washington and put the military on alert.  He paved the way for a smooth transition of power to Vice President Andrew Johnson, getting all the Cabinet members to agree to stay on or resign as Andrew Johnson saw fit.

Henry L. Dawes noted that “After Lincoln’s death the government had no other head than Stanton.”

Coming out of the assassination crisis, Edwin Stanton emerged as the strongest figure in American politics.  Stanton’s famed stubbornness and demanding nature would come back to haunt him as he would once again be called on to defend the nation in his battles against President Andrew Johnson and his Reconstruction policies.

One of the books I would highly recommend (despite its obvious bias) is Edwin McMasters Stanton: The Autocrat of Rebellion, Emancipation, and Reconstruction by Frank Abial Flower.  It was written in 1905 and actually is available FREE from Google Books, right here.

Recommended Reading:

  1. Flower, Frank Abial.   Edwin McMasters Stanton: The Autocrat of Rebellion, Emancipation, and                 Reconstruction. Akron, Ohio: Saalfield Publishing Company, 1905.
  2. Thomas, Benjamin P. and Harold M. Hyman. Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln’s Secretary of War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.

Color Photos of Russia From World War I Era

Newsweek ran a story recently about some pictures taken by a Russian photographer from 1907-1915.  Traveling through Russia, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii had devised his own method for taking color photographs that included taking a picture with three colored plates.  If you’re interested more in the methodology and the story behind it, I highly recommend taking a peek at Newsweek.com, it also contains the rest of the photo gallery. Prokudin-Gorskii’s photos can also be found at the US Library of Congress (which originally purchased these photos but had to wait until this decade to digitally restore them).  Their collection is named “The Empire That Was Russia.”

I love stories like this, and once you take a look at these pictures I think you will, too.  The black and white photos we’re used to are nice and everything, but when you see Prokudin-Gorskii’s images in full color (it looks like these pictures were taken yesterday) it will really hit home that these were real people living through some amazing events.  Here’s one of the pictures, just to whet your whistle:

The Emir of Bukhara

The Emir of Bukhara

I know nothing about this particular Emir, but boy, he sure looks a little slow in that picture, doesn’t he?

Another Fantastic Civil War Veteran Video

This is one of my favorite videos of Civil War Veterans.  It’s a montage of clips from the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivers a speech and unveils the veterans monument.  Something about seeing these people on video makes the Civil War seem not so long ago.  It really brings home that these were real people, not just paintings or stories told in history books.