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02 December 2016

Oliver & Mary Prince Perished in 1837 Wreck of Steam Ship "Home"

Pictured here is a portion of lot 7 in block 2 of the Magnolia Ridge Section of Rose Hill Cemetery.  The broken column tombstone was placed for a brother and sister – Harry (d. 1874) and Mary Raymond (1847-1877) Green.

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The tablet to the right was placed for the siblings' grandparents, Oliver Hillhouse Prince and his wife Mary R.  A lot could be written about Oliver.  He lead the planning commission that laid out the city of Macon about 1822.  He was a well-respected lawyer who compiled a couple of "Laws of Georgia" digests.  He liked to write humorous literature.

What I am drawing your attention to today, however, is how Oliver and his wife died.  They perished in the wreck of the Steam Ship "HOME" Monday, October 9, 1837.  It happened off the coast of North Carolina.  The couple was returning from a trip to Massachusetts, probably Boston, where Oliver was submitting work for the second Laws of Georgia digest.  An account of the harrowing, deadly event was published in newspapers up and down the east coast.  The following is from an article in New York's Commercial Advertiser dated Monday, 23 October 1837, referencing the Charleston Courier (South Carolina) from the Thursday before:

The gale commenced on Sunday afternoon, and the captain was anxious to double Cape Hatteras, with the intention of anchoring under its lee.  About 4 o'clock on Monday, however, the boat commenced leaking so much as to render it necessary for all hands and the passengers to go to the pumps, and to bail, which was continued without intermission until she grounded.  The water gained upon them so fast, that at about eight o'clock, the fire was extinguished, and the engine of course was stopped in its operations -- a sail was then hoisted, but was immediately blown away.  Another was bent, and with this assistance, the boat slowly progressed toward the shore.

At 11 o'clock at night, the Home grounded, about 100 yards from the shore.  The ladies had been all requested to go forward, as the place where they were most likely to reach the shore, bearing nearest the beach, but a heavy struck her there, and swept nearly half of them into the sea, and they were drowned.  One boat was stove at this time.  Another small boat was launched, with two or three persons in it, but capsized.  The long boat was then put overboard, filled with persons, 25 in number, it is supposed, but did not get 15 feet from the side of the steamer before she upset, and it is the belief of our informant that not one of the individuals in her reached the shore.  The sea was breaking over the boat at this time with tremendous force, and pieces of her were breaking off at times, and floating toward the shore, on some of which persons were clinging.  One lady, with a child in her arms, was in the act of mounting the stairs to the upper deck, when the smoke stack fell, and doubtless killed her and her child on the spot.  Some few of the ladies were lashed to the boat...

The hull of the boat broke into three pieces, and the shore was completely strewed with portions of the wreck, baggage, &c. for five or six miles in extent, the next morning...[Full article available at GenealogyBank's Newspaper Archive.]

Even more articles described an unseaworthy boat and an intoxicated captain.

I assumed the tablet placed in the Green family burial lot for Oliver and Mary was a cenotaph.  Surely, they were lost at sea? Well, maybe not.  I was surprised to find the following declaration in a biographical sketch of Oliver H. Prince printed in the 17 December 1913 Macon Telegraph (emphasis mine):

On the return trip to Savannah, the Home, the steamer on which [Oliver] and his wife were passengers, was wrecked off the coast of North Carolina.  He, with other male passengers, was in the hold of the steamer trying to bail out the water, when the vessel sank and his body went down with itHis wife was washed ashore and was identified and buried near Wilmington, N.C., and afterward brought to Macon and now rests in Rose Hill cemetery, over whom is a monument erected by their children to her and her husband…[Full article available at GenealogyBank's Newspaper Archive.]

According to cemetery records, Dr. James Mercer Green (father of Harry and Mary Green) bought the lot in Rose Hill in April of 1852.  That would suggest Mary R. Prince was exhumed from her grave in North Carolina almost fifteen years after the sinking of Steam Ship Home.  I'll admit to being skeptical.  Anyone have information to share?

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