Mary Celeste: One Hundred Forty Second Anniversary of the Sailing of the Ship in November 1872

by DerdriuMarriner

Ghost ships assume one of two forms. They can be abandoned by the living or haunted by the dead. The most famous phantom is the Atlantic’s derelict, yawing Mary Celeste of 1872.

Numbers define cyber-century life, what with:
• accounts;
• bills;
• code;
• deadlines;
• grades;
• paychecks;
• scores;
• taxes.

They nevertheless do not belong just to technological times. They dominate previous epochs. For example, investigations into the nineteenth-century sailing boat Mary Celeste’s mysterious abandonment and strange condition draw upon such numbers as:
• dates of the merchant brigantine’s building, comings and goings, mishaps, repairs, termination;
• tallies of the ocean-plying ship’s expenses and revenues, upkeep and worth;
• values of the sea vessel’s commercial cargo and insurance policies.

Inventors, researchers and theorists expect numbers to be self-generating in:
• business;
• computing;
• engineering;
• finances;
• mathematics;
• physics.

Human nature and natural forces never stop connecting the dots in regard to:
• above-mentioned domains;
• Mary Celeste.

Nautical birthplace: Amazon, first large vessel built in Spencer's Island shipyards, was later renamed Mary Celeste

Spencer's Island lighthouse, located along Minas Channel, was built in 1904, near Mary Celeste's nautical birthplace.
Spencer's Island, Parrsboro Shore, Cumberland County, northwestern Nova Scotia, eastern Canada
Spencer's Island, Parrsboro Shore, Cumberland County, northwestern Nova Scotia, eastern Canada


Mary Celeste’s story did not begin with:

  • Exiting New York’s East River Pier 50 and Staten Island anchorage on November 5 and 7, 1872 respectively;
  • Heading from Portugal westward to the Azores on December 4, 1872;
  • Reaching Gibraltar on December 13, 1872;
  • Sailing to Genoa, Italy on March 10, 1873;
  • Stopping at Boston, Massachusetts on September 1, 1873.

The back-story had northwest Nova Scotia beginnings with Joshua Dewis’s shipbuilding on a crescent-shaped beach near Spencers Island town mill on Minas Channel’s northern shore, fall 1860 – May 1861. Construction led to:

  • Financing with eight co-shareholders (including maritime Captain Robert McLellan, relatives Jacob and Isaac Spicer);
  • Launching as the Amazon on May 18, 1861;
  • Registering at Parrsboro for cargo-carrying.


Remains of old wharf near Parrsboro are reminders of Parrsboro Shore, Mary Celeste's nautical birthplace, as shipbuilding center in northwestern Nova Scotia.

Parrsboro, Cumberland County, northwestern Nova Scotia, eastern Canada
Parrsboro, Cumberland County, northwestern Nova Scotia, eastern Canada


The Amazon impressed contractors with:

  • Billeted bowsprit;
  • Hydrodynamic hull unmarred by overlapping planks;
  • Local construction from beech, birch, pine, spruce trees on the Spicer brothers’ 2,500-acre (1,011.71-hectare) timber farm;
  • Rot-fighting shipboards packed with rock salt;
  • Schooner-like mainmast with triangular fore-and-aft sails;
  • Single deck;
  • Square-rigged foremast;
  • Squared-off stern.

It lay claim to:

  • 99.3-foot (30.27-meter) by 25.3-foot (30.27-meter) keel dimensions;
  • 12-foot (3.66-meter) draft;
  • 25-foot (7.62-meter) beam;
  • 200-ton gross tonnage.

Maritime registries put the brigantine Amazon in the sailing ship category of half or hermaphrodite brig for:

  • Devoting little cubic footage to deck quarters and most to cargo space;
  • Lacking even one square sail on the mainmast;
  • Not fitting into the more popular barkentine and schooner classifications;
  • Requiring smaller crews.


"Amazon of Parrsboro - J.N. Parker Commander - entering Marseille November 1861":

painting commissioned by Captain John "Jack" Nutting Parker, Amazon's second commander
Mary Celeste as Amazon
Mary Celeste as Amazon


But troubles arose with the Amazon’s maiden voyage of June 1861. Captain McLellan caught cold and died of pneumonia the first week out. Captain John "Jack" Nutting Parker (1824-September 26, 1868) delivered the contracted Five Islands-cut timber to London, England only after delays respectively preceding and succeeding the delivery by:

  • Hitting Eastport, Maine’s harbor weirs (fish-catching stakes) when heading eastward;
  • Ramming and sinking a brig -- in the Strait of Dover -- en route between the English Channel and the North Sea.

Captain Parker faced no similar problems during the subsequent two years of:

  • Sailing the Caribbean and Mediterranean;
  • Shipping coal, corn, fruits, lumber.

He left to master another ship. Troubles returned when shareholder William Thompson’s four-year captaincy ended in November 1867.


Hindered by gale during attempts to pick up loads of coal from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia mining town, Mary Celeste, as Amazon, grounded on rocky shores.

Glace Bay North Breakwater Lighthouse, eastern Cape Breton Regional Municipality, northeastern Nova Scotia, eastern Canada
Glace Bay North Breakwater Lighthouse, eastern Cape Breton Regional Municipality, northeastern Nova Scotia, eastern Canada


Captain Thompson delivered Baltimore-loaded corn to Halifax. The Amazon grounded on Big Glace Bay’s rocky shores during gale-hindered attempts to pick up coal loads. It had new registries as seaworthy subsequent to sales:

  • At Cape Breton Island on November 9, 1867;
  • Through a New York customhouse broker as the American-reflagged Mary Celeste.

The rechristening happened pursuant to the above-mentioned purchase by Richard W. Haines in November 1868 for $1,750, about one-third of the Amazon’s launch-value. The Mary Celeste necessitated $9,000+ in loans to replace:

  • Bottom;
  • Keel;
  • Rigging;
  • Sails, spars, stern.

Creditors seized the Mary Celeste for auctioned sale in October 1869. The new owner was New York City-based J.H. Winchester & Co., Ship Owners and Commission Merchants.


undated portrait of Benjamin Spooner Briggs:

Mary Celeste's captain was descended from seagoing family of "Those who go down to the sea in ships, Who do business on great waters" (Psalm 107:23).
Benjamin Briggs


Three years after the Mary Celeste’s forced sale, Simpson Hart of New Bedford, Massachusetts approved a loan to Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs of Wareham, Massachusetts. The money ended up on the desk of James Henry Winchester, as:

  • Acquaintance and occasional employer of Captain Briggs and his brother, Oliver Everson Briggs;
  • Majority shareholder in the Mary Celeste;
  • Owner of New York City’s major shipping company.

It gave Captain Briggs a shareholding captaincy in the Mary Celeste’s imminent transatlantic transport of 1,701 barrels of alcohol for the New York City-based German merchants Meissner, Ackersman, and Company. The cargo was:

  • Assigned 50+% of the hold’s otherwise uncontracted cargo space;
  • Deliverable to Genoa, Italy by December 6, 1872;
  • Valued at $36,000+.


Sarah Briggs with her son Arthur, who did not accompany his parents and sister on their last voyage.

Sarah Briggs with her son Arthur


Captain Briggs arranged transatlantic passage for:

  • First cousin and wife, Sarah Elizabeth Cobb;
  • Two-year-old daughter Sophia Matilda.

The couple’s oldest child -- school-aged, seven-year-old son Arthur -- boarded with the captain’s mother, Sophia Cobb Briggs, at Rose Cottage, the family home built in 1844 by Captain Nathan Briggs (February 24, 1799 - June 28, 1870) in Marion, Massachusetts. The Mary Celeste had room aplenty, what

Sarah Matilda Briggs

Sarah Matilda Briggs

with stripping down to waterlines for:

  • Building and recaulking;
  • Expanding drafts and lengths by 4 feet (1.22 meters) each;
  • Getting copper-sheathed undersides, 40-foot (12.19-meter) boom, five foremast-balanced yardarms, two 75-foot (22.86-meter) masts;
  • Having additional windows cut and old ones filled in;
  • Holding 3,500 barrels;
  • Increasing gross tonnage by 75 tons.

But the above-mentioned refit looked different one month later.


Staten Island and the Narrows: ca. 1833-1855 oil on canvas by Thomas Chambers (1808-1869)
Brooklyn Museum
Brooklyn Museum



The last known sighting of the Mary Celeste’s occupants happened in New York. The New York Times identified the brigantines Mary Celeste, Osprey, and Pedro as departing on November 5, 1872. Northeasters nevertheless made the channel crossing impossible. Captain Briggs ordered the Mary Celeste anchored off Staten Island for two days. New York harbor pilot Burnett received $40.00 ($760.00+ in 2014) from Captain Briggs on November 7th for guiding the brigantine through shortcuts across shallows east of the main channel. The next known observation -- by Dei Gratia’s captain and crew on December 4, 1872 -- recorded an unoccupied Mary Celeste yawing west of Portugal. What happened in-between remains one of the greatest, most haunting maritime mysteries of all time.


Dei Gratia: puzzling encounter with Mary Celeste on December 4, 1872

Dei Gratia was laid down as a Canadian brigantine in 1871 at Bear River, Nova Scotia and was wrecked during a southeasterly storm on December 27, 1907, at Dale, Pembrokeshire, West Wales.
Dei Gratia from painting by Giuseppe Coli at Messina, Sicily, in April 1873



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Mary Celeste's abandonment issues: two sails were set; one was hanging; one was lowered; two were ripped away; the remainder were furled.

black-and-white closeup of tricolor engraving by Rudolph Ruzicka (June 29, 1883-July 20, 1978)
black-and-white closeup of tricolor engraving by Rudolph Ruzicka (June 29, 1883-July 20, 1978)

Sources Consulted


Ambler, Eric; and Innes, Hammond. 1959. The Wreck of the Mary Deare. Blaustein-Baroda Production Company.

Blumberg, Jess. November 2007. “Abandoned Ship: The Mary Celeste.” Smithsonian History. Retrieved November 7, 2014.

  • Available at:

Brookesmith, Peter. 1989. Appearances and Disappearances: Strange Comings and Goings from the Bermuda Triangle to the Mary Celeste. Secaucus, NJ: Chartwell Books.

Collins, Paul. “Ghost Ship.” Articles > Culturebox > 2011/12. Retrieved November 7, 2014.

  • Available at:

Cussler, Clive; and Dirgo, Craig. 2004. The Sea Hunters II. New York, NY: Berkley Books.

Fay, Charles Edey. 1942. Mary Celeste: The Odyssey of an Abandoned Ship. Salem MA: Peabody Museum.

  • Available via HathiTrust at:$b557001

Ganeri, Anita. 2012. Lost in the Bermuda Triangle and Other Mysteries. New York, NY: Rosen Central.

Hicks, Brian. 2004. Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew. New York, NY: Ballantine Book, Random House Publishing Company.

Innes, Hammond. 1956. The Wreck of the Mary Deare: A Story of the Sea. New York, NY: Alfred Knopf.

Jack, Albert. 2009. Loch Ness Monsters and Raining Frogs: The World’s Most Puzzling Mysteries Solved. New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks.

Land, Jon. 2013. The Tenth Circle: A Blaine McCracken Novel. New York, NY: Open Road Integrated Media.

Lee, Adrian. 20 May 2006. “Solved: The Mystery of the Mary Celeste.” UCL News. London, England: University College London. Retrieved November 7, 2014.

  • Available at:

Martin, Valerie. 2014. The Ghost of the Mary Celeste. New York, NY: Nan A. Talese / Doubleday, Random House LLC.

“Mary Celeste.” Expeditions. Scottsdale, AZ: National Underwater & Marine Agency. Retrieved November 7, 2014.

  • Available at:

Matthews, Rupert. 2010. Unexplained. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Parker, William Frederick. 1910. Daniel McNeill Parker, M.D.: His Ancestry and A Memoir of His Life: Daniel McNeill and His descendants. Toronto: William Briggs.

  • Available via Internet Archive at:

“The True Story of the Mary Celeste.” Smithsonian Web > Show. Retrieved November 7, 2014.

  • Available at:

Watt, Jim. 1995. “Mary Celeste – Fact Not Fiction.” Mary Retrieved November 7, 2014.

  • Available at:

Williams, Capt. David. “Mary Celeste Was Abandoned During a Seaquake!” Retrieved November 7, 2014.

  • Available at:

Yolen Jane. 1999. The Mary Celeste: An Unsolved Mystery from History. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.



Brighton, East Sussex, South East England: December 23, 2005
Brighton, East Sussex, South East England: December 23, 2005
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

The Mary Celeste: An Unsolved Mystery from History by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemper

The Mary Celeste was discovered adrift on the open sea by another ship in 1872 -- with no sign of captain or crew. What happened?
Mary Celeste-themed books

Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew by Brian Hicks

On December 4th, 1872, a 100-foot brigantine was discovered drifting through the North Atlantic without a soul on board. Not a sign of struggle, not a shred of damage, no ransacked cargo—and not a trace of the captain, his wife and daughter, or the crew.
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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved.
Updated: 08/02/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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