[I originally wrote this a few months ago as a post on Facebook, but thought I’d share it here as well, with minor edits. I’m sorry…]
In November of 1854, my young immigrant ancestors, John and Julia Keating, were nearing the end of an already extended and arduous journey when their storm-driven ship hit a sandbar near the tip of Long Island Sound and began to break apart. This was the second time their vessel had taken on water during the trip, but this incident proved the final nail in the ship’s coffin. They swam to shore and were tragically but briefly separated, washing up on different parts of the beach, not knowing whether the other had survived. They were reunited when John finally found Julia sitting on the steps of a local church, staring outwards at the storm wracked sea.
After a few years stay in Stamford with family, they settled in western Maryland and the family has since spread from there. Two of their children later chronicled the events of that fateful night in letters to their nieces and nephews.
The section of the East Coast where the wreck occurred is geographically known as the New York Bight. This shallow indentation in the coastline stretches from Martauk Point on Long Island to New York City and then around to Cape May in New Jersey. Both Long Island Sound and the shoals of Cape May were well-known for tearing out the bottoms of unwary ships heading toward the harbors of New York.
Although I’ve never found a passenger list or a family history that provides the name of the ship, the only recorded wreck from that period that matches the events and locations written of in old family letters is the Vierge Marie. She was an old Belgian three-masted vessel that had already made many trips between Europe and the United States.
Given the tribulations my ancestors faced on that trip, both underway and at its fateful conclusion, as well as that final decision to abandon ship for the uncertain safety of a lee shore, I can only assume that their Barque was worse than their Bight.
I think I’ve discovered my family’s new motto.