New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The Cruise of the “Rechab”

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The following story of the pilot-schooner Rechab was written by W.K. Reynolds, and appeared in The New Brunswick Magazine, Volume 2, Number 2, Saint John, N.B., 1899. The story is about the schooner in general, but focuses largely upon a cruise in search of hidden treasure. If we believe the story of treasure in general, then it might still have been embellished.

“Rechab” is a biblical name.

St John Harbour 1898

The Saint John Harbour about 1898

The McCord Museum


The Cruise of the Rechab

The pilot schooner Rechab, of St. John, had many a lively cruise in the days when wooden ships were plenty and the Bay of Fundy was one of their great resorts. In the quarter of a century of the Rechab’s career, from the day in June, 1845, when she was launched, to that wild night in October, 1869, when she was broken to pieces by the force of the Saxby gale, in Bliss harbor, down the Bay, those who sailed in her could tell many a tale of adventure and of many a time of deadly peril. For the Rechab was one of the famous pilot boats of half a century ago, and some of the famous pilots sailed in her. It has already been told how the Rechab and some of her crew figured at the time of the wreck of the ship England, and there were other incidents which have made the name of the pilot boat remembered by the old timers down to the present day.

There were several noted pilot boats during the forties and fifties. In 1847, those to the front were the Rechab, Grace Darling, Cygnet, and Charles Stewart, and of these pictures adorned the four sides of the first gas lamp put up at Reed’s Point in that year, on the spot where the three-lamp signal was placed in the following year and remains, with some modern improvements to the present time. The Rechab and the Grace Darling were both fast boats, and there was a good deal of rivalry between them. In the autumn of 1848 they had a race for a stake of three hundred dollars, the course being from St. John harbor down the Bay of Fundy, around The Wolves and back, a distance of some 80 English miles. The boats were evenly matched, and kept each other well in sight over the whole course. On the return the Rechab had a slight lead, but there was very little between them as they came into the harbor. Darkness had then set in, but there were excited crowds along the shore in the vicinity of Sand Point, and many boats were around the racers. As luck would have it, the Grace Darling got into a run of the current which carried her ahead at the last moment, and she reached the Beacon Light just in advance of her competitor, amid the cheers of the Carleton crowd. Her crew, of course, claimed the money, but the Rechab’s crew refused to pay it over, alleging that, under the cover of the darkness, the Algerines—as they called the Carleton boatmen—had taken a line from the Grace Darling and towed her ahead. On the following day, the Grace Darling lay at anchor off Reed’s Point, flying all the colors that could be crowded upon her. Moored astern was a six-oared boat, the Pert, that had never been beaten; astern of this was a four-oared boat, the Hazard, that was also a champion, and astern again were two other fast row boats. All this was meant as a challenge that the pilot boat was able to beat her rival with sails or oars, in any kind of a rig. It was a day of triumph for the Grace Darling, but this was all she made out of it, for the bet never was paid.

The great and remarkable cruise of the Rechab, however, was when she went on a secret expedition to the West Indies, in the autumn of the year 1850. The moving spirit of this extraordinary undertaking was a certain Captain Delaney, an Englishman, and in after years a well-known shipmaster of this port. Delaney was a very smart seaman, even for those days when a captain was supposed to know how to do anything, from rigging a ship before she sailed to managing the business of the owners in the foreign port. He was a first class sailor, a good navigator and thoroughly informed on all matters relating to his calling. Delaney had been sailing out of the port of Halifax before coming to St. John, and on a certain voyage one of his crew, an old sailor, had taken sick and died. This sailor had led an adventurous life, and in his last illness he revealed to Captain Delaney the fact that, years before, he had been one of the crew of a pirate which had its cruising ground among the West India Islands. Further than this, he told a curious yarn about a large quantity of treasure which the pirates had buried on a certain barren and uninhabited island, and which was still there awaiting a claimant. Why he had never secured it for himself is not now to be explained, but he gave the captain the bearings from certain landmarks, by which anybody could find it who went there properly equipped for the work. Having thus eased his mind, he expired, and his body was duly committed to the deep.

Captain Delaney seems to have had implicit faith in the statements of the deceased mariner, and he resolved to possess himself of the treasure at the first convenient opportunity. It may have been with this idea that he gave up his command on a trans-Atlantic ship and got charge of a schooner trading to the West Indies, but at any rate, in July, 1850, he succeeded Captain Stephen H. Fought as master of the good schooner Olive Branch, 58 tons, and went to Turk’s Islands with a cargo of boards, shipped by Robert Rankin & Co. While on this voyage, as it afterwards appeared, he made an attempt to locate the pirates’ treasure, but not having the right kind of men with him, and having excited the suspicions of people on the neighboring islands, he abandoned his attempt and returned to St. John, more than ever determined to go back and secure the gold. The Olive Branch reached St. John on the 28th of September, after which, having settled his accounts with the owners, Captain Delaney gave up his command of the schooner and began to look around for suitable men to form an expedition to go expressly in search of the rich legacy which the reformed pirate had bequeathed to him.

He had no trouble in finding both a vessel and a crew. The pilots who owned and sailed the Rechab were much impressed with the narrative of Captain Delaney, and were as eager as he was to secure a fortune at the cost of only a little time and labor. A satisfactory arrangement having been made as to the shares of the wealth to be allotted to the respective parties to the venture, the Rechab was fitted and provisioned for the voyage, but so well was the secret kept that no one outside of those most interested had any intimation of the undertaking.

The expedition was under the direction of Captain Delaney, and the others of the party were Price Thomas, Edward Murray, John Murray, John Haviland and William Donaghey, all well-known branch pilots; Charles Daley and Samuel Rutherford, apprentices; a sailor named Redwing who had not been connected with the Rechab, and who acted as cook, and Christopher Smiler, printer and publisher. The last named might be called the scientist of the expedition. He is still a very well-remembered citizen, who for years published the Temperance Telegraph newspaper in St. John, and was a leading spirit among the total abstinence organizations. He had abundant faith in the existence of buried treasure, and was active in his efforts to find it. His particular usefulness to the Rechab party was that he owned a divining rod, and was one of those in whose hands that mysterious implement was supposed to work. A good deal of Mr. Smiler’s time, before and after this, was spent in looking for pirates’ treasure in the vicinity of St. John, but there is no record that his efforts were in any instance crowned with even a moderate degree of success.

Price Thomas went as master of the Rechab, and took a clearance for Jamaica, in ballast. There is no record of this clearance in the St. John custom house, for the reason that, in order to keep the matter a profound secret, Captain Thomas got a clearance at one of the outports, so that none of the men who used to know everything that was going on in pilot circles had the slightest hint of the Rechab’s projected cruise. Even the apprentices, Daley and Rutherford, had no idea where they were going or what was the object of the voyage. During the middle of October, the Rechab went quietly out of the harbor of St. John at midnight, as if on an ordinary pilot cruise down the Bay, and thus was begun the search for the pirates’ buried millions.

The Rechab was a staunch and speedy boat of 41 tons, and well fitted for pilot work but, after she had got out of the Bay, John Murray began to have doubts whether she was just the kind of a craft in which he would want to go to the West Indies at that season. Besides, he had begun to ask himself if he was not bound on a fool’s errand in any case, and so he decided to leave the boat while he had a chance. He was accordingly put ashore at Moosapeak and returned to St. John. The rest of the crew had a fine run of thirteen days and arrived at their destination safe and well. It was a crowd thoroughly bent on business, and there was no liquor whatever on board of the boat.

In the vicinity of Turk’s Islands, somewhere about one hundred miles north of the island of Haiti, in the neighborhood of 21° north latitude and 71° west longitude, was the particular island to which the Rechab was bound. It was known as Sand Cay, and was about eight miles south of the better known Salt Cay, on the Turk’s Islands Bank. It was an uninhabited heap of sand, partially covered with a growth of stunted bushes, and was some five miles long with an average width of about a mile and a half. The surface around, for the most part, was low and flat, but towards the centre was a hill on which had formerly stood a stone tower, the resorting place of the pirates. The Rechab party found only the ruins of this tower, but this was sufficient for them, as it was from this point that the bearings were to be taken, according to the directions of the repentant pirate who died on Captain Delaney’s ship. Having decided on the right place to start the work, operations were begun.

Digging in the sand was not hard labor, of its kind, and the crowd went to work with a will. The weather was against them, however, and they labored under many difficulties. Nearly every night brought a heavy rain, frequently with thunder and lightning, and the wind would blow on shore so hard that the energies of the crew were required to handle the pilot boat and keep her off. By working day and night, however, they soon had a very large hole excavated, perhaps ten feet in diameter, and so deep that it was necessary to hoist out the sand by means of a tub operated by block and tackle. This tub had iron hoops, and one night it was struck by lightning while in mid-air, nearly frightening the wits out of the party. The lightning was so vivid at times that one could have seen to pick a pin off the ground, and some of the party, with overwrought nerves, were ready to see almost anything. One night, after a particularly dazzling flash, Smiler declared in an awed whisper that he had seen a strange sailor, with a sou’wester hat and a blue shirt, sitting down close at hand. Price Thomas was down in the hole digging at this time, and when he came up he was hot, tired and a trifle mad at his fruitless labor.

“Where is that fellow with the sou’wester and the blue shirt?” he asked. “If he is around now I wish he would tell us whether there is any money here or not.”

This daring speech horrified some of the others, and there was a general belief that, even if the money had been there, it would now certainly [have moved] to another part of the island.

Under the direction of Smiler’s divining rod, attempts to find the treasure were made in various parts of the island, one being close to the old castle. The rod would point very definitely to this place or that, and after the digging had gone on for a day or two the rod would point to another place. In this way some ten days and nights were consumed, but all the investigations were equally barren of results. All hands worked hard and amid many discomforts. Tired as they might be, they could not lie down on the island to sleep, for fear of the lizards and centipedes with which the sand abounded, and their home was therefore aboard the Rechab. Then, too, a lookout had to be kept lest some intruding craft would bear down upon them and discover their scheme of wealth. The boarding officer at Salt Cay, Mr. J.W. Baker, who is still living there, heard of the strange craft at Sand Cay, and went in his boat to investigate. When he was sighted in the distance, the Rechab raised her anchor and sailed to the westward. Mr. Baker and his men landed, saw the holes that had been dug, and returned home satisfied that there was no occasion for official interference in the matter.

Captain Delaney at last became convinced that the expedition was a failure so far as getting pirates’ treasure was concerned. Whether there had been money there and someone else had secured it, or whether the reformed pirate had merely told him a fairy story to beguile his last hours, will never certainly be known. At all events, the tired, sunburned and disappointed crew of the Rechab ceased their arduous labors during the second week in November. Then the vessel went to Salt Cay, got a supply of water, and on the 14th of November sailed for St. John, carrying only ordinary ballast, instead of a hold half filled with gold and precious stones.

The return voyage occupied sixteen days, and was without special incident. The Rechab arrived at St. John after dark, on Sunday, the first of December, 1850. So quietly was the whole expedition undertaken and completed that the newspapers of the time have not the slightest reference to what must be considered a very extraordinary cruise. The facts I have obtained have been secured in part from Pilot Daley, the only survivor of the crew, and in part from others who have heard more or less about the affair. These have been corroborated by information which Mr. S.W. Kain, of the St. John customs, has obtained from the Commissioner of Customs at Turk’s Islands, and I have verified the dates by a search of the shipping lists of the time.

While the Rechab was coming up the Bay, homeward bound, a vessel was going down the Bay which in its appearance and antiquity savored more of the days when pirates roved the seas than anything the party had seen in the West Indies. This was the barque William and Ann, bound across the sea with a cargo of lumber. This vessel had been built on the Thames in 1759, had carried General Wolfe to Quebec, and was for half a century a bomb ship in the British navy, after which it was for forty years a Greenland whaler. After nearly upwards of ninety-one years of service it was still sound and seaworthy.

The Rechab, some years later, was sold by the pilots and became a coaster between St. John and St. Andrews. On the night of the Saxby gale, October 4th, 1869, she was driven from one side of Bliss Harbor to the other and was knocked to pieces. Of the party that went to said Sand Cay in her, only Charles Daley remains. Several of the others met tragic deaths in the pursuit of their hazardous calling. Pilot John Haviland took a ship out of the Bay, left it at Little River, in his boat, and was never heard of afterwards. Pilot Donaghey was also drowned at Little River, being knocked overboard from the pilot boat Richard Simonds. Redwing was drowned from a vessel in St. John harbor, off the Beacon Light. Price Thomas took the ship Eleanor out of the Bay and was carried across in her to England. While he was in London he was taken ill and died. Captain Delaney was in time master of several well-known St. John ships, such as the Middleton and the Athenais of the famous Black Ball Line, and finally died at sea. And so ends the story of the strange cruise of the Rechab.


Written by johnwood1946

December 3, 2014 at 10:01 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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