Thursday, August 18, 2011

Did Wesley Stevens go down with the ship?

    Will wonders ever cease?  I love researching this family:  Descendants of Phineas Stevens.....
1. First, on Aug 16th a descendant of Wesley Stevens, my new 4th cousin-once removed,  George of Wisconsin, connected with me through a comment made on this blog and we exchanged first e-mails. I’m waiting with bated breath to hear more from George.

2. Second, after listening to Webinars and reading blogs this week I was inspired to do more searching of newspapers. It was in the New York City newspaper “Weekly Herald” dated 18 Apr 1857 at  there listing deaths in California,  I found that the cause of Mary Pember Stevens’ death at Shasta California was from consumption (tuberculosis).  The news had been reported in California, brought south by ship and overland by train at Panama, then up north by ship to be published in New York City. [It turns out that “Shasta” is a ghost town turned into a California State Historic Park, located “ Six miles west of Redding a row of old, half-ruined, brick buildings remind passing motorists that Shasta City, the lusty "Queen City" of California's northern mining district, once stood on this site. These ruins and some of the nearby roads, cottages, and cemeteries are all silent but eloquent vestiges of the intense activity that was centered here during the California gold rush."]
Shasta California, Main Street - 1850's
3. And on Aug 18th I found at a copy of “The Buffalo Courier” from NY, dated Thur Oct 19, 1857. It was a notice put in the paper by Phineas Stevens who said his brother, Wesley Stevens, may have been on the ill-fated side-wheel steamship “ SS Central America” which sunk during a hurricane off the Carolina coast Sep 12, 1857 carrying 477 passengers, 101 crew and 1.5 million dollars in California gold. See below:
“INFORMATION WANTED --   Mr. Phineas Stevens, route agent on the Buffalo and Erie Railroad, says he fears that his brother, Wesley Stevens, was on board the ill-fated Central America, when she was lost.  Among the list of those known to be on board, and supposed to be lost, was the name, “W.Stevens.”  Mr. S. says that his brother always wrote his name “W. Stevens” that he had previously written that he should start for home about that time, and that his two children would accompany him.  The children, one of whom is (tw?)o years of age, and the other six, if saved, would be too young to give any information as to the whereabouts of their relations.  If this should catch the eye of any one who can give any information on the subject, they will confer a favor to Mr. Stevens, by imparting the same by letter to (him?) at Westfield, Chautauque county.”
SS Central America from a lithograph in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated
 Newspaper,  October 3, 1857 . The Captain,Wm Herndon,
 went down with the ship and Herndon, Virginia, is named after him.
The loss of this gold help plunge the US into economic depression
 (The Panic of 1857)  The SS Central America
 shipwreck was salvaged in 1987 and the gold recovered.
This newpaper notice agrees with other data that Wesley and Phineas Stevens of Westfield, NY were brothers, and that Wesley had two children, one born about 1855, and the other about 1851. In 1853 his wife Mary and one child had met him in Sacramento. I don’t know her route to California, but it was a one-way trip. Appropriately, the notice of Phineas doesn’t include mention of a wife (Mary died of consumption few months earlier, on 28 Feb 1857). I don’t know how or when Wesley and children returned to New York, but this is a clue that they had thought of going by ship from San Francisco, overland at Panama, and by ship to NY.  Wesley Stevens initially sailed to California on the Clipper Bark Kremlin around Cape Horn joining the gold rush from New York to San Francisco in 1851. Five years later, and pondering the return to New York, it must have shaken Wesley to hear that the the SS Central America sank, a ship he might have sailed on from Panama back to New York. 
But how should he return home? 

 I found out from Cousin George that another child had been born in Shasta, California, 21 Dec 1856, just two months before his wife died there.  He must have been desperate to return to New York.  How could he take an infant on the horrible journey, and which route should he take?  He decided to "give away" his infant daughter, Mary/Maud Stevens to another family, and take the older children with him.  I imagine he feared the worst, but  probably booked a passage to Panama and traversed the isthmas by train, to continue up to New York on the same route as the ill-fated SS Central America.  (It wasn’t until 1869 that the first transcontinental railroad would be completed, so despite the dangers, he may have still felt that going by ship was safer than overland.) Was overland cheaper or safer? I don’t know, but by sea the trip was faster.
It turns out that the sinking of the SS Central America was as big of news as the Titanic sinking years later. I continued to read the papers at and it appears that one of the 425 lost souls was a Mr. Stevens described only as a young man who used to be partner in a store with Mr. Richard Carman, of Carmansville. [a village on Manhattan’s west side, NY City]. Not my Wesley Stevens.  Phineas would learn that his brother was evidently still in California. If Wesley's son Daniel Phineas Stevens had drowned, my new 4th cousin, George, would not have been born!   The next place I see Wesley is in the 1860 census, despite the misspellings, he was evidently living back in Chautauqua County, New York, with his two children, living with his niece and working as a clerk.
1860 Census New York  Chautauqua Co.; Clymer Twp;French Creek PO 2 Aug 1860
J. B. Murry    22 clerk           b. VT        [J. Bunday Murray-dw]
Olive M. "      23  b. NY; b.abt 1837; [Olive Marie Steward -dau of Wesley's sister Caroline Stevens Stewart-dw]
Wm Stevens  37 clerk           b. NY       [same age as Wesley – so "Wm" probably a typo-dw]
D.P.      "          9 male child   b. NY       [could be Daniel Phineas Stevens-dw]
Caroline C.      5 female child b. NY      [could be "Carrie" but should be born in California-dw]
What next in this Stevens saga?

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