Schooner’s crew massacred off Cape Fear

“On the morning of October 10, 1905, thirty miles off Cape Fear, gunfire erupted in the engine room of the schooner Harry A. Berwin, bound to Philadelphia from Mobile, Alabama. The gunman, a black sailor, methodically shot all of the ship’s white crew members and calmly threw the dead and dying men overboard. Then he ordered the surviving members of the crew to sail the ship toward Cape Fear.

“The violence aboard the Berwin was the most notable act of shipboard violence committed by blacks upon whites in American maritime history….”

— From “Washed Down in Blood: Murder on the Schooner Harry A. Berwin” by Vann Newkirk in  the North Carolina Historical Review (January 2014)

And that’s just the beginning! The story [digitally available at Pardon Power] also comes to include Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft; H.B. Warner, the actor who played the drunken druggist in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and — in a very loosely adapted 1958 movie version — James Mason, Dorothy Dandridge and Broderick Crawford.


A Cape Fear mystery that piqued Mark Twain’s interest

“In the summer of 1877, Mark Twain became fascinated by the case of a real life Flying Dutchman, a Bermuda-based schooner seen drifting helplessly, seaweed-encrusted and sails drooping, in the Gulf Stream waters off Cape Fear, North Carolina. The Jonas Smith had been sold piecemeal for scrap and then taken out to sea one last time by her owner. No one knew what had become of the captain or her 13-man crew, said to be bound for Savannah, Georgia.

“The ship’s star-crossed journey set Twain to thinking about his own life of travel. ‘I have heard of a good many dismal pleasure trips, but this case leads the list,’ he wrote to the editor of the hometown Hartford Courant. ‘And if ever the tired old tramp is found, I should like to be there to see him in his sorrowful  rags & his venerable beard of grass and seaweed, & hear those ancient mariners tell the story of their mysterious wanderings through he solemn solitudes of the ocean….’ ”

– From “American Vandal: Mark Twain Abroad” by Roy Morris (2015)