Harrison Drew ~ Salvage Of The Three Sisters

My great granduncle, Harrison Warren Drew, tired of making ship sails in his father’s sail making shop in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Hearing of opportunities in Florida, he moved there and found that even though the grass is greener year round, financial opportunities didn’t match the weather.  Fortunately, he found a wife in Florida and eventually moved their family back to Plymouth.

Early in the year 1870, sixteen men from the Miami River Settlement of Biscayne heard of the grounding of the British Brig, Three Sisters.off the Florida coast. 

The Three Sisters was from Nova Scotia and was carrying a load of white pine lumber destined for Cuba.  She struck the “Florida Reef” near Cape Florida where she was stranded.   Her crew left the ship hoping to find a way to free her before she was destroyed by rough wave action.

A group of sixteen men boarded the stranded ship and removed 120,000 feet of the lumber on took it to a storage site in Biscayne along with the ships papers. 

Drew Harrison Key West Florida Admiralty Record pg 1

The master of the ship struggled to find a way to free his ship.  When he returned to her, she was sitting much higher in the water, although she was still stranded.

Drew Harrison Key West Florida Admiralty Record pg 2

Inquires around town, soon revealed the names of the men who had removed the lumber and its current location.

Drew Harrison Key West Florida Admiralty Record pg 3

The captain went to authorities and reported the “theft” of the majority of his cargo.  I don’t know how salvage laws in 1870 compared to those in force today, but the government allowed the captain and shipping company to file suit against the salvagers.

Drew Harrison Key West Florida Admiralty Record pg 4

Apparently, uncle Harrison received or purchased some of the lumber for use on his farm, although he wasn’t one of the sixteen who removed it from the ship.  He was one of the eighteen men who were named in the restitution suit.

Drew Harrison Key West Florida Admiralty Record pg 6

The men responded that they all lived in or near the Miami River Settlement in Dade County and were exclusively engaged in agricultural or mechanical employment.  They stated that in October 1870, they learned that the Brig had drifted ashore near the beach point by Biscayne Bay.  They went to her separately and found that she was bilged, abandoned and from all appearances had been in this condition for a number of days.  They stated that she was loaded with a very inferior class of lumber.

Drew Harrison Key West Florida Admiralty Record pg 7

Individually and in groups, they took the lumber from the ship, bound it in rafts or floated it ashore in an extremely laborious effort to save it from lass to the ocean.  Their work gave them greater vested interest in it and that they desired salvage rights to it but because there was no tribunal in the entire District to contact they felt under no obligation to award them salvage rights.  

They stated that chartering vessels to freight the lumber to Key West would only incur needless expense.  They went on to say that they saved the lumber from loss and that it was all safely stored except for a small quantity used by several of the men.

The group went on to petition the court asking that the libel suit against them be dropped because they had acted in good faith and didn’t want to “be saddled with useless and destructive costs in freighting their own property to Key West”

Drew Harrison Key West Florida Admiralty Record pg 8

The lumber was sold and the court ordered that after duties, docket fees, marshals bills and clerks bills that four of the men receive 50% of the net sale proceeds, the remainder going to the shipping company.   Only four of the salvagers were mentioned in the order.  Uncle Harrison and the other thirteen men were not mentioned in the final decree, so obviously, charges against them were dropped, although none of them were compensated for their work salvaging the lumber from the ship.

This story from Harrison’s life was lost to time and his family until I discovered the court records.  They add a touch of color and context to the life of a quiet man who tried to live a non-descript life.  

Are you adding similar ‘color’ to the histories you create for members of your own ancestral families? 

Copyright (c) Lee Drew 2011-10-12 12:34:00
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