Friday, August 26, 2005


Shipwreck anniversary commemorated


Keys News
By Mandy B Olen
August 25,2005

KEY WEST — August hurricanes have proven disastrous to mariners since the earliest vessels braved the deceptively calm summertime waters in the Caribbean area.

On Aug. 27, 1856, a fierce storm overtook a 137-foot merchant ship from New York and deposited it onto the reef about 15 miles from Key West, off the Saddlebunch Keys.

The crew of the Isaac Allerton survived the wreck and were rescued the next day by wreckers from Key West who came to salvage whatever cargo could be saved from the ship and the ocean bottom.

The ship's captain, R.B. Baldwin, told the wreckers that the ship's rudder was torn off when it hit the reef and it had sunk in 5 fathoms, or 30 feet of water, according to a summary of the wreck written by Key West Shipwreck Historeum staff.

Although not filled with gold coins and emeralds like another well-known shipwreck off Key West, Nuestra Senora de Atocha, the Isaac Allerton was important to the economy of 19th century Key West.

Judge William Marvin awarded $43,000 in cargo from the Isaac Allerton to local wreckers in exchange for their part in rescuing the crew and salvaging the items on board.

Marvin's salvage award was the largest ever in Key West, with most shipwrecks yielding about $1,000 in salvage, said Clinton Curry, general manager of the Key West Shipwreck Historeum, which houses many of the remaining artifacts from the Isaac Allerton.

The ship carried candles, lamp oil, liniments, linens and other household items along with large slabs of marble that were to be used in New Orleans, where workers were building the New Orleans Custom House. Some of it was raised and eventually made it to its destination on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico, Curry said, but some still remains under piles of silt on the ocean floor.

Curry has traced his family history back through about six generations, and the name John Curry, Clinton Curry's fifth great-grandfather, is listed on a placard 200 of the nearly 400 wreckers who salvaged the Isaac Allerton.

"And when these guys weren't wrecking, they were fishing or sponging," he said, although 1856 was a busy year for wreckers, with 71 shipwrecks.

This weekend marks the 149th anniversary of the wreck. The ship hit the reef about 1:30 a.m. Aug. 27 and the crew abandoned the Isaac Allerton the following morning.

To commemorate the anniversary, the Key West Shipwreck Historeum at Mallor y Square is offering free admission this weekend to all Monroe County residents from 9:40 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.


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