The unfortunate deaths of relatives have introduced me to many different historical events. In 1862 steam ship travel was a common way for people to travel. There were records held and bragged about for fastest and safest steam ship travel and citizens happily signed on. Elizabeth J Burgess Adams and her infant, very distant cousins of mine, were booked on the S. S. Golden Gate, on a return trip from visiting Elizabeth’s friends. Her return trip would eventually have taken her to her home in Galena, Illinois. She was 24 years old and had not been married to Cyrus Adams for very long.
The steamer left Monday, July 21, 1862, from San Francisco carrying 338 passengers and crew, plus $1.4 million in gold and was bound for Panama. This disaster would take place at the height of the Civil War. The Golden Gate held the record for that trip from 1851 -1855, traveling from San Francisco to Panama, 11 days and four hours. Not only was it the fastest trip, it held the safest record.
Six days into the 11 day trip, as the passengers were sitting down to dinner at 4:45 and a fire was discovered in the engines and aft galley. The ship was ordered to make a run for the shore and 100 passengers were ordered up on deck. Several lifeboats were launched and passengers had started jumping off the boat, with and without life preservers. At 5:15 they were still 3-4 miles off shore.
By 5:30 the ship had run aground 300 yards from shore in heavy surf. The captains were the last to leave the ship. A few survivors clung to the ship, some were tossed onto the shore by the pounding waves.
Of the 338 people that boarded the steamer, 213 would perish in waves, caught in fire or following the wreck, trapped in the elements for 2 days. One life boat would drift away, found August 18th and returned to San Fransico by a passing steamer. Bodies from the tragedy were still being buried, washed ashore a year following the event.
I haven’t found the reason for Elizabeth’s death, I would hope that she was on the life boat that floated for 4 weeks before being found. It would seem that she would be one of the first saved, seeing as she had an infant with her.
Six months later $800,000 in gold would be salvaged from the wreckage. Parts of the wreckage could still be seen. From eye witness accounts another $200,000 was taken from the wreckage by resident Mexicans.