Sea Stories in Stone
Jacob Johnson Jun. (1819-1852) - Pine Grove, Brunswick
Crew Member on a Doomed Voyage
Jacob Johnson, Jun., was born in April, 1819, possibly the son of Jacob and Isabella Johnson of Brunswick.
Jacob Johnson Jun.
Who perished with 41 other
persons in Columbia River,
Oregon, on the night of
Jan. 31, 1852,
by the wrecking of the
Steamer General Warren.
Age 32 yrs, 9 mos.
The steamer General Warren had been built for the Portland Steam Packet Co. and operated on the Bangor line. She was "Artistically furnished", and eventually went West for the Gold Rush her "windows shuttered, and fuel piled in wherever it could be stowed".
On January 28, 1852, the General Warren departed Portland, Oregon, with 52 passengers and a load of grain bound for San Francisco. Once at sea she was badly damaged by gale-force winds and attempted to return to the Columbia River. The steamer foundered in the storm for three days until, despite heroic rescue efforts, Purser Jacob Johnson Jun. died with 41 others as the steamer wrecked in the Columbia River near Astoria. In October 1854, the steamer's stern frame washed up 60 miles from the wreck site.
Lewis & Dreyden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest gives the following stirring account of the wreck:
While en route from Portland[, Oregon] to San Francisco the General Warren passed out of the river late in the afternoon, January 28th, in charge of [pilot schooner] Capt. George Flavel, who left her soon after crossing the bar, and she stood out to sea with a stiff breeze blowing from the south. Toward midnight the foretopmast was carried away, and the Captain determined to return to the Columbia. She was deeply loaded with grain which had scattered in the hold and choked the pumps, so that water was slowly gaining from a leak caused by her overloaded condition. She sighted the Columbia River in the morning, but was unable to communicte with the pilot boat until afternoon, and it was three or four o'clock before Pilot Flavel came aboard. He objected to taking the steamer in, stating that it was too late, and with a strong ebb tide running, unsafe to make the attempt. But as the vessel was leaking, and the passengers were fearful of drifting into worse dangers to the northward, they croweded around him, begged so earnestly, and even taunted him with cowardice, that he finally said: "If you insist on going I will try to take you in, but will not be responsible for what may happen." He then ordered the pilot schooner to accompany the steamer, and at 5:00 P.M. crossed the bar, the wind meanwhile dying out so that the schooner could not follow. The steamer was making water faster than ever and was so unmanageable that it was difficult to control her movements, and with the strong ebb running she made so little headway that Flavel requested the Captain to anchor. Captain Thompson informed him that the steamer could not live in such a sea, and that she must be beached immediately. This statement surprised Flavel, who had not until then realized how thoroughly worthless the old tub was, and he obeyed the Captain's wishes and headed her for Clatsop Spit, beaching her at 7:00 P.M., and in a short time the sea was breaking clear over her. At 9:00 P.M. everything abaft the foremast had been carried away, but as yet no lives were lost. Every one was mustered forward hoping that the wreck would hold together until morning, when they could expect relief from shore. At 3:00 A.M. the steamer was breaking up so rapidly that Captain Thompson was determined, as a last resort, to attempt to launch a boat and send for assistance. Captain Flavel was asked to take charge and volunteers were called for to man her. Most of the people on board preferred to take their chances by remaining on the steamer rather than to rush into what had the appearance of certain death in the breakers, which were then running so high that is seemed impossible for a boat to live. Ten men responded to the call for a crew, by a mere chance cleared the wreck, and a few hours later reached Astoria, where they found the bark George and Martha. Her master, Beard, immediately started for the scene of the disaster with a large whaleboat, but, when they reached the spot where the doomed vessel had been the night before, she had disappeared from view; and the bloated corpses of the unfortunate passengers and crew, which drifted ashore on Clatsop Beach, were the only evidence of the disaster.
Sources: Gravemarker; Pine Grove Inscriptions; Pacific Graveyard, Paddle-Wheel Days in California
NEXT: Isaac Weston Linch (1823-1853)
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