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Buried In A Paupers Grave In Manahawkin
There are graves in the cemetery at the Baptist Church in Manahawkin that hold an unknown number of dead, without names, buried in a pauper’s fashion. They washed ashore near Beach Haven on April 16, 1854 when the emigrant ship Powhattan, filled with Germans coming to the United States, broke apart on the shoals.
Built in 1836-1837 in Baltimore, Maryland with W. Graham listed as the owner and D. Griffith as the Captain, the Powhattan was a transport ship of 598 tons gross. The packet ship Powhattan made trips across the Atlantic from England, France, and the Netherlands to the ports of Baltimore and New York.
About the first of March 1854, the Powhattan left Le Havre, France bound for New York City with approximately 200 German emigrants and under the command of Captain James Meyers with a crew of 25. At the end of its journey, the Powhattan encountered a hurricane strength winter storm, one of the worst in recorded history, that drove it ashore on April 15, 1854 on the Barnegat Shoals off the present day Surf City. The weather was so bad that a lifesaving station six miles away was unable to send help.
By the morning of the 16th, a small crowd had gathered on shore watching the tragedy unfold. In late afternoon, the bow of the Powhattan breached, and the ship broke in two. Bodies began to wash ashore, some of the victims as far south as Atlantic City. In Beach Haven, the local wreckmaster, Edward Jennings, who managed the local hotel known as the Mansion of Health, began the task of assembling the bodies and accounting for the valuables.
Mansion of Health
When the storm subsided and the local coroner arrived, he noted that none of the bodies possessed any money or valuables. This was considered highly unusual because immigrants brought their lifesavings with them normally held in money belts to start a new life in the new world. Suspicion fell on Jennings, but he upheld his innocence.
Fifty-four victims were buried in a mass grave at Smithville Methodist Church; forty-five were buried in Absecon; and approximately 140 were buried in the Baptist Cemetery in Manahawkin. Several months later, another storm exposed a trove of cut open and empty money belts by a cedar tree stump. Jennings fled Ocean County to avoid prosecution and died several years later in a bar-room brawl in San Francisco.
Monument in Manahawkin
The wreck of the Powhattan is one of the worst New Jersey shipwrecks in terms of loss of life, and is the basis for untold number of ghost stories. The Mansion of Health stayed open for another year before stories of apparitions forced its closure. Vacant, it burned in 1874. In 1904, the State of New Jersey erected a monument in the Manahawkin cemetery remembering the victims of the Powhattan tragedy.
From your “Running Realtor” Andrew Gonzales…
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