DANGER – BROTHER JONATHAN POINT – DANGER – December 14, 2016
Please avoid Brother Jonathan Point completely as the foundation of the area has been compromised in this storm. City staff are currently overwhelmed with numerous storm issues and will address Brother Jonathan Point as soon as possible.
Per City Hall, “Thank you for your help in avoiding this area and sharing this information.”
Brother Jonathan Point is located at the end of 9th Street, in Crescent City and is named for the Brother Jonathan ship.
The Brother Jonathan was a paddle steamer that sunk when it struck an uncharted rock near Point St. George on July 30, 1985. The ship was carrying 244 passengers and crew. Of that, only 19 survived. The cargo; gold.
Because of the gale force conditions, the ship sank 8 miles off the coast of Crescent City. Passengers were so seasick, they remained in their quarter. There were plenty of lifeboats to accommodate all the passengers but only three were able to be deployed. The first capsized and the second smashed into the ships side. As a result of this disaster, new laws were written to cover the ability of lifeboats to be released from a sinking ship. One of the survivors was Dr. Anson G. Henry, Abraham Lincoln’s physician and closest friend.
What is interesting is that she was originally commissioned by a New Yorker trying to create a shipping business to handle the California Gold Rush. That was 1851. By 1852, Conelius Vanderbilt purchased her and had her outfitted to carry more passengers. Vanderbilt bought her to replace one of his ships that was wrecked and used the Brother Jonathan to ferry passengers through the isthmus of Nicaragua. He had an exclusive contract with the Nicaraguan government, but when it was canceled in 1856 he then sold the ship to Captain John Wright and renamed Commodore.
By 1861 she was sold again and had to be retrofitted. The California Steam Navigation Company restored her name back to the Brother Jonathan transporting gold prospectors along the California coast primarily to the Salmon River Gold Rush. It gained a reputation for being the fastest vessel at sea making the trip from San Francisco to Vancouver in 69 hours each way.
Heading out to sea, everything went well on the for a while after leaving San Francisco Bay until it hit gale winds. Early Sunday morning, July 30th, the steamer anchored in Crescent City harbor on the first leg of its trip to Portland and Victoria, B.C. But by that afternoon, the ship went into stormy conditions and the Captain decided to turn around and head back to Crescent City. Instead it hit a rock which tore a large hole in it’s hull.
Large crates of gold coins went down with the ship. Valued at $50 million in today’s dollars. Two weeks after the shipwreck, divers and ships began looking for the sunken treasure. It took 125 years before any salvors were successful.
In 1993, Deep Sea Research (DSR) found the ship through the use of a min-sub and starting bringing up artifacts. By 1996, gold coins were brought up; primarily $20 double eagles. And then the litigation began between the State of California and DSR. California wanted the treasure. It took until 1998 for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of the salvors because federal laws prevailed. The legal battle didn’t end there. California kept the fight up at the Supreme Court and that ended in a settlement of 20% for the State.
The Historical Society in Crescent City had their volunteers work with numismatists hired by DSR in learning how to refurbish and maintain artifacts from the Brother Jonathan. Many of these artifacts can be seen at the Del Norte County Historical Society Museum located at 577 H Steet, in Crescent City. The Museum is open to the public May through September from 10 AM to 4 PM, Monday through Saturday. October through April the Museum is open Mondays and Saturdays from 10 AM to 4 PM.
The Brother Jonathan Park located between 8th and 9th streets and bordered by Pebble Beach Drive contains a playground for kids. Until further notice, park away from the beach/cliff area.