In 1860, the Joshua Dewis Shipyard, located on Spencer’s Island, Nova Scotia, began construction of a two-masted brigantine ship.
On May 18, 1861, the brigantine was launched with the name Amazon.
On June 10, 1861, the Amazon was officially registered at Parrsboro. The ship was described being 99.3 feet long, 25.5 feet wide and had a depth of 11.7 feet, with a gross tonnage of 198.42. Dewis and eight others were listed as the owners of Amazon. Among the nine listed owners was Robert McLellan, the Amazon’s first captain. Upon registration, the Amazon made its maiden voyage to Five Islands where it picked up a load of lumber bound for England. However, the trip to England never happened when Captain McLellan became ill, forcing the ship to return to Nova Scotia.
On June 19, 1861, Captain McLellan died from his sudden and mysterious illness.
On June 20, 1861, John Parker became captain of the Amazon and sailed the ship with the load of lumber on to England. In the English Channel, the Amazon accidentally rammed and sunk another ship. Afterwards, the Amazon saw service in the West Indies and France.
In October 1867, the Amazon was caught in a storm and ran aground at Cape Breton Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia. The ship was considered too damaged to salvage by the owners and abandoned.
On October 15, 1867, Alexander McBean acquired the Amazon and sold it as wreckage to Richard Haines of New York. Haines refurbished the ship and registered it with a new name, Mary Celeste, partially due to the bad history of the ship.
In October 1869, the Mary Celeste was repossessed by Haines’ creditors and then sold to a consortium of new owners. The new owners refurbished the Mary Celeste, increasing its length, width, depth and tonnage. One of the new owners was Benjamin Briggs, who became the new captain of the Mary Celeste.
On November 7, 1872, the Mary Celeste left New York harbor bound for Genoa, Italy. On board was Captain Briggs, his wife, his 2-year-old daughter and eight crew members. The brigantine was carrying 1,700 barrels of industrial alcohol.
On this day, December 4, 1872, another brigantine, the Dei Gratia, spotted the Mary Celeste about 400 miles away from the Azores. Captain David Morehouse of the Dei Gratia, sent a small boarding party to check out the Mary Celeste, since they could not see any sign of her crew.
The boarding party found all the cargo still safely stored below deck. There was enough food and water to supply the crew for 6 months. The only thing missing was everyone on board and the lifeboat. All of the personal possessions of Captain Briggs and crew were still on board the Mary Celeste. There were several feet of sea water sloshing around in the bottom of the ship and one of the hatches over the cargo was open, as if to vent the highly damaging fumes produced by the barrels of alcohol. Three members of Dei Gratia crew managed to sail the Mary Celeste into harbor where Morehouse filed a salvage claim.
However, some officials believed that Morehouse and his crew were responsible for the disappearance of Captain Briggs, his family and crew. No evidence was ever found to warrant the suspicions, but the inquiry board only awarded Morehouse 10% of what the salvage value was worth.
There have been numerous theories about what happened to Briggs and the crew of the Mary Celeste. Some believe it could have been a water spout, some believe that the crew took to the lifeboat while the alcoholic fumes dissipated and somehow the lifeboat was separated from the Mary Celeste. Others believed it was pirates, but again no proof has ever been found. One professor built a replica and simulated an explosion of the alcohol fumes to explain what happened, but there was no evidence of damage or charring on the Mary Celeste.
What happened to Captain Briggs, his family and crew remains a mystery and the ship is listed as one of the most famous ghost ships in maritime history. Adding to the mystery of the Mary Celeste was the 1884 short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle titled J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement. Doyle’s story did not match all of the facts, but it served to highly popularize the legend and mystery of the Mary Celeste.
In 1913, another fictitious account of the Mary Celeste was published in a popular magazine. The account was supposedly that of Adel Fosdyk, a survivor from the ghost ship, but this account was nothing more than another piece of fiction.
Other works of fiction have been published and even put to film, all trying to explain the mystery, but to this day, there is no answer as to what really happened to everyone on board as they were never heard from after disappearing from the ship.
Sources for the above includes: Abandoned Ship: The Mary Celeste; The Mystery of the Mary Celeste; What Happened to the Mary Celeste?; The Mary Celeste: Fact Not Fiction; Solved: The Mystery of the Mary Celeste; The Mystery of the Mary Celeste… Solved?; Ghost Ship; Ghost Ship – Mary Celeste