Schooner Bessie A. White – Hide & Seek Beneath the Sands of Fire Island

Bessie A. White – 1922 & Today

Last Wednesday, we posted about the wreck of a wooden ship uncovered by Superstorm Sandy beneath the dunes of Fire Island, east of Davis Park.  The remains are thought to be the Bessie A. White, more than 90 years old, said Paula Valentine, public affairs specialist for the park. The Bessie A. White was a four masted Canadian schooner carrying a cargo of coal.  This apparently is not the first time that the wreck of the schooner has made an appearance from beneath the sands.  The schooner was also exposed by the late October nor’easter which brought the North American blizzard of 2005. Previously the schooner had been uncovered by another nor-easter in the mid 1980s.

According to the Brookhaven and South Haven web site, the Bessie A. White was “more than 200 feet long with a displacement of 2000 tons. She had left Newport News, Virginia for St. Johns, Newfoundland with 950 tons of soft coal for a gas works. She was only three years old and was owned by Charles T. White & Son of St. Johns.

On February 6, 1922, at 4:30 am, she fetched up on the bottom a half-mile west of Smith’s Point. The grounding opened her seams and she quickly filled with 8 to 10 feet of water. In darkness and fog, the crew waited for daylight. The Smith Point Coast Guard Station was closed for economy reasons, and the distress signals were not visible to either the Bellport station four miles to the west, or the Forge River station four miles east. At day-break, the crew launched two boats and escaped to shore — one overturned in the surf and crushed Seaman Rynburgh. Upon the arrival of the Coast Guard, first aid was administered to Rynburgh who was then transported by Arthur Hulse and the Captain to hospital in Brooklyn. All crew and the ship’s cat surveyed.

The Captain was Leslie T. Merriam of Spencer Island, Nova Scotia. First Mate was Harry McNally of St. Johns, New Brunswick; Second Mate was B. F. Porter of Spencer Island. Also on board was the captain’s son, Spencer, and a crew of 10.

The salvage rights were purchased by Foster Sills and Harry Paine of Patchogue. The masts and rigging were salvaged as the wreck was pushed closer to shore by wind and waves. They and their crew worked for about a week to salvage as much as possible before the sea claimed the remaining salvageable material.”

Other sources list the Bessie White as running aground in 1919.

Thanks for Christina Sun for contributing to this post.

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11 Responses to Schooner Bessie A. White – Hide & Seek Beneath the Sands of Fire Island

  1. james bixler says:

    i was wondering how long was this schooner i do research on sunken ships and i know it carried coal

  2. Rick Spilman says:

    The only information that I have is that the schooner was over 200′ long.

  3. Dennis Logan says:

    According to my father, who grew up in Patchogue, one of the masts was relocated to Patchogue and used as a flag pole near what was Patchogue High School on South Ocean Avenue. The flag pole fell during the Hurricane of 1938 and somehow, during my childhood, became a parking barrier in the parking lot at the corner of Rider Avenue and Smith Street. The wreck, near Skunk Hollow, was exposed during my teen years and I can remember my siblings and I checking every steel pin to see if any were loose enough to remove. My father has photos of us on the wreck when it was exposed.

  4. Kelly Sieben says:

    The article says the ship was 3-masted, but the picture shows a ship with 4 masts. What am I missing?

  5. Rick Spilman says:

    Well that is one of the stupidest typos I have made recently. Thanks for catching it. You would think by now I could count to four.

  6. Emily says:

    Thank you for sharing Rick. Leslie Merriam was my great great grandfather. Love learning about my family’s seafaring past.

  7. Cinnamon Neumeyer says:

    Thanks Rick and also to my cousin Emily. I am also a great granddaughter of Leslie Merriam. It was wonderful to read the story!

  8. Pat Merriam says:

    Captain Leslie was my grandfather. Thank you for this information.

  9. Could any of the Capt. Merriam family help me identify the Captain Merriam who lived in Advocate Harbour in the early 1970s, was then retired and had previously Captained the motor ferry Bluenose across the Bay of Fundy. I had the pleasure of having dinner at his house with his wife and hound dog, about 1972. A memorable experience to have met this family. More stories to offer if any connections.

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