Thar She Blows

We recently uncovered a single-item collection with this intriguing title: “Sailor’s Journal, 30 March-24 April 1847” (#5219-z). Although not completely unheard of, this is a bit of a strange one in that it’s totally unattributed.

19 April 1847: Entry from an unknown sailor's journal.
19 April 1847: Entry from an unknown sailor

Normally, our collections are tied to a definite creator (a person, or perhaps an organization), but here we have an example of one of our collections whose connection to its creator has been lost. The question of who penned this journal is only a part of the overall mystery of this 161 year old item. Why did the entries end on the 24th of April? Are the numerous empty pages that follow this last entry merely because he lost interest in maintaining a journal? If not, what happened to him? Here’s what we do know about it…

The writer was a sailor on the Memphis during its passage from New York to New Orleans between 30 March and 24 April 1847. The journal provides a daily record of the weather conditions at sea, the speed and position of the ship, the wildlife sighted around the ship, and other vessels encountered during the voyage. The sailor mentioned passing Cape Hatteras, Cape Florida, and Key West.

In one passage of the journal, April 19th, the sailor notes the damage that a hurricane had inflicted on Key West the previous year.

“…passed Key West a place belonging to the U.S. and used as a navel depot, was partly destroyed by the Water last year a blow from the South demolishing the lighthouse, also passed at 10 o’clock a.m. Sand Key light House on [Island] which was blow down in a tornado last year, part of the Is[land] is washed away and they have erected a liberty Pole in the Center of the Isl’d to show the spot on which it once stood. The U.S have now a Light ship placed, at Key West, also a substitute for the Light House, destroy’d.”

Any guesses on the author of this journal? Does anyone know anything about this hurricane that hit Key West in 1847? Know anything more about this lighthouse that was destroyed?  Of course, digging into the journal itself would be the best place to look for clues.  As always, it’s here in the SHC (carefully preserved) and we’d love to have you in to take a look at it!