Tuesday, February 09, 2021

The Mary Varney Revisited

 On April 5, 2018 I published this Hatteras Island story (continue reading for an update, below):

On this date in 1856 the bark Mary Varney wrecked and broke apart off shore of Hatteras Island. Although one sailor lost his life in the disaster, legend has it that another crew member made it to shore in an unusual fashion, and never left.

According to one version of the story, the people of Hatteras Island had been suffering that winter from a prolonged period of bitter cold and lack of supplies from the mainland. Shipwrecks, as tragic as they were, often brought much needed supplies (lumber, food, and more) to the bleak shores of the Outer Banks. In April, 1856, one local preacher even prayed, were a shipwreck to happen (and God forbid it would) that a barrel of pork would wash up on the beach to help feed his hungry flock.


As it happened, when the Mary Varney broke apart the people on shore saw a large pork barrel washing in from the stricken vessel, tossed about by the heavy seas. It looked like the preacher's prayer had been answered! A crowd gathered around as the barrel rolled in on a breaker, and crashed against the sandy beach. Almost immediately the top popped off.

To their amazement, Herbert Oden, one of the sailors on board the Mary Varney, climbed out of the barrel. As the ship began to break apart, Oden had emptied the barrel, and climbed in, using it as a makeshift lifeboat. Some claim Herbert Oden was the first of his family to arrive on the Outer Banks. He never left, and the Oden clan continues to call Hatteras Island home!


Yesterday I received this email message: "I'm living in mid-coast Maine. On Sunday I visited the grave of the first family I know of that owned my house. While there I noticed an interesting inscription on the family stone which led me to do some research and eventually to you."

The writer included this report in the Burlington Free Press, April 25, 1856 (page 1):

“Barque Mary Varney, Perkins, From Norfolk for Guadeloupe, was fallen it [in?] with, 7th inst., Lat 31 42,lon. 74, [35.2N, 75.5W is probably more accurate] with her masts and houses gone, and decks swept fore and aft, the sea breaking over her; she having been capsized on the 5th, when the wife of the captain was carried overboard and lost. The captain, two officers, stewards and four colored seamen were taken off by the barque Gallego, and carried to Baltimore. They had been without food or shelter for five days when rescued.”

(https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84023127/1856-04-25/ed-1/seq-1/  fourth column, fourth paragraph from bottom)

The writer also alerted me to a photograph of the grave marker for the wife of the captain, Eliza Perkins, who was apparently the "sailor" lost when the Mary Varney wrecked. (Photo by Carolina Dutchman)










Eliza Perkins is memorialized with a cenotaph at the Pemaquid Cemetery in Bristol, Maine. She was 19 years and 8 months old. (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/111815903/eliza-a-perkins)


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