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Shipwrecks

Brother Jonathan was a paddle steamer that crashed on an uncharted rock near Point St. George, off the coast of Crescent City, California, on 30 July 1865. The ship was carrying 244 passengers and crew with a large shipment of Gold. Only 19 survived the wreck, making it the deadliest shipwreck up to that time on the Pacific Coast of the United States. Although accounts vary, inspection of the passenger and crew list supports the number of 244 passenger and crew lost with 19 people surviving. She was named after Brother Jonathan, a character personifying the United States before the creation of Uncle Sam.

The ship was commissioned by Edward Mills, a New Yorker who tried to operate a shipping business during the California Gold Rush. When built in 1851, she was 220 feet long and 36 ft wide. Her route was from New York to Chagres, Panama, and on her first journey set a record for the then-fastest round-trip — 31 days. Passengers would cross the Isthmus of Panama and make their way north to California via another ship.

In 1852 the ship was purchased by Cornelius Vanderbilt, who operated a competing line, to replace one of his ships that had wrecked. Vanderbilt had Brother Jonathan sail around Cape Horn and used her on the Pacific side of the route. Vanderbilt also had the steamer rebuilt to accommodate more passengers.