The Ithaca Daily News, Monday, January 4, 1897.
THE COMMODORE SUNK.
Filibuster Steamer and Her Cargo at the Bottom of the Sea.
ALL ON BOARD WERE SAVED.
The Overloaded Vessel Began to Leak, and Her Pumps Refused to Work—
A Rumor to the Effect That There Was Treachery on Board.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Jan. 4, 1897—The filibuster steamer Commodore, which has landed successfully in Cuba several large consignments of arms and munitions of war for the patriots, has gone to the bottom off Mosquito Inlet, on the coast of Florida.
The Commodore left Jacksonville on Thursday night, having been cleared by the customs authorities to carry a cargo of arms and ammunition to the port of Nuevitas, Cuba.
Yesterday she was found stuck in the mud three miles below the city. She was pulled off the shoal by the United States revenue cutter Boutwell, which conveyed her safely across St. John’s bar.
It seems that the Commodore was overloaded at the start, mainly with coal, and that she came near capsizing while crossing St. John’s bar.
Yesterday Captain Murphy was astounded to discover the hold full of water. He immediately set the crew to work bailing with buckets and started up the steam pumps, but to no purpose.
Left to Her Doom.
The water rapidly gained and finally extinguished the fires while the vessel was yet a long distance from the shore. It was then imperative that the men should take to the boats, which they did, leaving the ill fated Commodore to her doom.
The Commodore’s papers show that Captain Edward Murphy is master of the vessel, and that Frank P. Grain is first mate, Felix de los Rios second mate, James Redding chief engineer, Ed B. Ritter assistant engineer.
The crew is as follows: Franco Blanco, C. B. Montgomery, Paul E. F. Rojo, Julio Rodbar, Ramon Hernandez, J. Hernandez, William Higgins, Jose Fernandez, Murray Nobles, Manuel Gonzales, Miguel Fernandez, Jose Alvarez, Buenafestusa Singy, Emelio Masquis, Joseph Dehancy, Gravier Marbury, Modesto Leon, Santiago Diaz, Luis Surra, P. D. Pernercousi, W. A. G. Smith, R. A. Delgado and Stephen Crane, the novelist.
The first boat to land was one containing Delgado, Paul Rojo, Franco Blanco and nine others, who reached New Smyrna in safety and immediately wired to Jackssonville requesting the dispatch of the Three Friends to assist the Commodore, which they hoped might still be afloat. The owners of the Three Friends here wired to the secretary of the treasury asking permission to send their boat to the rescue, but received no reply.
All on Board Saved [early report].
Later in the day another telegram was received stating that Captain Murphy, with Stephen Crane and 14 other men, who had taken to the other boat, had landed safely at Ormond, 20 miles above New Smyrna, and that the Commodore was a total loss.
This information, which is incontrovertible, has greatly disheartened the Cubans in this city, who had hoped great things for their cause from the result of this expedition.
The point at which the Commodore went down is said to be about 15 miles off the coast of Florida, approximately 100 miles below the St. John’s bar.
There seems to have been no difficulty in saving the lives of all on board. It is said that Captain Murphy had been warned by rivermen before leaving Jacksonville that the Commodore could not stand the heavy cargo of coal with which she was loaded, being old and constructed of wood, but that he paid no attention to these warnings.
There are vague rumors afloat of treachery, but these can be traced to no substantial foundation.
Seven of the Crew Perished.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Jan. 5, 1897—Captain Edward Murphy, commander of the lost steamer Commodore; Stephen Crane, the novelist; C. B. Montgomery, cook, and William Higgins, an oiler, with four Cubans, arrived here from Daytona.
From the survivors it is learned that the men of the Commodore left the ship in four boat loads. Twelve Cubans embarked in the first, four more in the second, seven Americans in the third, and four, including Captain Murphy, Crane, Higgins and Montgomery, in the fourth. The first three were lifeboats, the last a 10- oared dingy.
The men in the third boat lingered in the neighborhood of the sinking steamer and for some reason the small boat foundered and sank.
The men were ordered to swim back to the steamer, where they improvised a raft. This the captain attempted to tow to shore, 14 miles away. Just as they started it was observed that a negro on the raft was drawing himself along the tow line to the dingy. The captain realized that this meant death to all, and he ordered the raft cast adrift.
He shouted to the men to return to the vessel, which they attempted to do, but when near the Commodore it gave a lurch, sank, and the men on the raft were drawn down in the vortex and did not rise again. They were James Redigan, engineer; E. B. Ritter, assistant engineer; Frank Grain, mate; W. A. G. Smith, fireman; Modesto Leon, Cuban pilot and guide, and Jonas Franklin and Murray Nobles, two colored firemen.
The sinking of the Commodore was the subject of Stephen Crane’s short story “The Open Boat,” which was published in 1897. Stephen Crane, author of “The Red Badge of Courage,” was a war correspondent employed by the Bacheller newspaper syndicate when he boarded the Commodore on New Year’s Eve, 1896. The ship sank on January 2, 1897.