Ghost Ship Sea Bird

Nearly Forgotten History on the Coast Series

Ghost Ship Sea Bird

Easton Beach, Rhode Island ca 1750

by m/v Dyad

The Ghost Ship of Rhode Island

North America's first reported ghost ship was s/v Sea Bird who was found undamaged and unoccupied in 1750. What took place aboard still remains a mystery.

Sea Bird, owned by Isaac Steel, was a 300 ton merchant brig under the command of Captain John Durham* who was returning to Newport after voyaging to Honduras. On the morning Sea Bird was due home, she was spotted drifting ashore then gently grounded herself unharmed on Easton Beach, Rhode Island.

The ship's cat and friendly dog greeted the witnesses who boarded the vessel. There was no crew onboard. They found coffee boiling on the stove and breakfast laid out. The smell of fresh tobacco smoke lingered. Untouched coinage was in plain view in the captain's quarters. There was no sign of foul play. The longboat was missing but the skiff was still secured on its chocks.

The ship was found to be in good shape with its instruments and cargo intact. Captain Durham was well seasoned and competent. His last ship's entry was "Branton [Brenton] Reef sighted;" which is only a few miles outside of Newport.

A fishing boat had returned to port two hours earlier stating they hailed Sea Bird from a distance, and Captain Durham had waved back.

Sea Bird's crew had disappeared suddenly and unexpectedly during daylight hours in fair weather. None of the men were ever seen or heard from again, nor did the longboat ever wash ashore. To this day no one knows what happened or why.

Over time, the story of Sea Bird became shrouded in confusion. Richly embellished fictional accounts were written in 1859 and 1885. Subsequent writers pushed the date of the incident forward 100 years by mistaking fiction as fact.

After the cargo was removed and transported to Newport, Sea Bird was...

Version A) swept off the beach in a storm leaving no debris and was never seen again.

Version B) was sold to Henry Collins (1699-1765), renamed Beach Bird then continued making successful voyages.

B is backed historically. Or perhaps Sea Bird really did willfully leave on her own to search for her lost crew. What do you think?

*or variously Huxham or Husham

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