Friday, December 07, 2018

1837 Shipwreck and Robbery

The following letter was written by John Pike, Esq., of Ocracoke, N.C., to James Bergen, Esq., of  New York City – Published in the N.Y. Express

Ocracoke, Nov. 2, 1837

To the Public: -- A statement has been published throughout the United States, from a New York paper, purporting to describe circumstances relating to the wreck of the Home. The libelous slanders it contains have aroused the indignation of every person here, for there never was a more gross and wanton calumny propagated, or a greater imposition practiced upon the public, already extremely excited as to every thing relating to this unfortunate vessel. I became acquainted with Hiram Force at the wreck. His supporters I do not know, but if respectable men they are imposed upon by Force; or if they undertake by their own knowledge to endorse Mr. F’s narration, they are as unworthy of respect as he is, and have perhaps joined him in his frauds. Mr. Force was introduced to my acquaintance on the day after the wreck, under two charges, viz., -- First, for stealing a gold watch and chain from the dead body of the lady of Mr. B.B. Hussey of Charleston, S. C. The second charge was, for claiming and breaking open the trunk of a missing passenger, Mr. L. S. Benedict, and stealing therefrom part of its contents, and destroying papers to cover his villainy. He presented himself to be a gentleman passenger. The fact of stealing the watch from the body was not clearly proved; but one was seen upon the body before he approached it, and immediately after he was seen to have a gold watch, and that on the body was missing. The charge of stealing the clothes and destroying the papers was clearly proved. He could offer no defense, but stated that he was occasionally insane from once having fallen from a cherry tree, and he thought he must have been insane when he committed the larceny. Perhaps his newspaper narration was made under the same influence. At the time of his examination he was completely dressed, with the exception of a hat, in a very fashionable suit of the clothes he had stolen from the trunk, and it came out that Mr. Hiram Force was the barber of the Steamboat Home. His guilt and impostures were so glaringly apparent, that nothing but the multiplicity of business pressing at the moment, and the fact that the nearest gaol was sixty miles from the beach, saved him from a residence in the North Carolina States Prison. Some of the humane persons on the beach urged in his behalf, the miserable condition of the culprit arising from the ship wreck, and induced the magistrate to grant his release upon his giving up all the stolen property and leaving the place forthwith which he consented to do: but whether he gave up- all, is and will be a secret; but this extraordinary gentleman, culprit, barber, quickly decamped for your city to revenge himself.

John Pike

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a chapter from Philip Howard's book, Digging up Uncle Evans, about the 1837 wreck of the Steamboat Home, one of the most horrific wrecks ever on the North Carolina coast. You can read it here:

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