Sea Stories in Stone
Benjamin Fenley (1826-1854) - Eastern cemetery, Portland
President Polkís annual address to Congress, December 5th, 1848, officially confirmed the wide spread rumors of incredible California gold strikes. By the end of 1849, an 35,000 fortune hunters sailed into San Franciscoís harbor. Many had made the voyage on Maine-built ships.
The tiny port of Blue Hill, Maine, built only one Gold Rush vessel. Launched two months earlier as a schooner, the 132 ton brig Quadratus sailed for San Francisco in November, 1849. Her conversion to square sails had been necessary to safely carry her cargo of lumber, as well as her crew and six passengers, around Cape Horn (one of the seasí most challenging and dangerous routes) to the gold fields of California in 165 days. She never sailed back to Maine. Returned to her original rigging, the schooner Quadratus entered the coastal trade and carried cargoes of coal, lumber and produce (mostly between Oregon and California) until she wrecked at Coos Bay off of Oregon in June, 1856.
Meanwhile, Benjamin Fenley, a 24 year old resident of Portland, traveled to the Bath Customs House to apply for his Seamanís Protection Certificate on August 14, 1849. Had Benjamin caught the gold rush fever that was sweeping the nation that fateful year? Unfortunately, we do not know how or when he traveled west, but within one week of his application date, no less than three brigs sailed from Bath bound for San Francisco.
By 1854, he was 28 years old and captain of the schooner Quadratus. His death at sea, while on passage to San Francisco in September of that year, is memorialized on a badly eroded gravestone next to his motherís marker in Portlandís Eastern Cemetery.
Sources: NARA records; US Census: 1850;,San Francisco: Port of Gold, The Old WestBath Registrations and Enrollments; The Key to the Goodman Encyclopedia, MMM Captain's Index; Eastern Cememtery recrords; Huntington Library
NEXT: Hiram Sinnett (1826-1860)
|Return to Sea Stories in Stone Main Page||Return to Boneyard Art Home|