Monday, December 1, 2014


1 December, 2014: Wow! It's December already! I'm still trying to figure out what happened to summer! And speaking of summer - I live near Sandy Hook NJ, now a national park and recreation area (means we get lots of summer tourists here to sit on the beach and swim in the Atlantic Ocean). There is a wonderful bike/walking trail - paved - on the Hook which run almost to the end, about 7 miles, and during the summer and early fall months, I ride a bicycle there with a friend. Along the trail is a monument, a stone pedestal, a plaque, and a flagpole displaying the American flag, the colonial flag, and the British flag. Most people who visit the Hook are familiar with the monument but do not necessarily know what it's about. Here's what it looks like on a brisk, windy, late fall day:

Ok - So what's it all about? Well, I'm gonna tell you that right now! Remember the Revolutionary War? Yup! That one. The one where the fighting ended with the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781. And the one where the Treaty of Paris that supposedly set the terms and conditions for England to leave us alone was not executed until September 1783. The British still occupied New York City until 25 November of that year. (Why did they hang around so long, one might ask!) Yes, that Revolutionary War. The one we Americans won! So OK, you say, what's that got to do with the monument?

 Hang on there. While the British left New York in November of 1783, they didn't ALL go. A couple of ships, including the HMS Assistance, hung around for some reason and, on 30 December of that year anchored in Sandy Hook Bay. A party of sailors was sent ashore to this uninhabited strip of land to get fresh water, and I suspect, firewood. Being British sailors, more than likely pressed, they saw an opportunity and took off. Deserted. So the next day, the first lieutenant (second in command - and the title is a position, rather than a rank) of Assistance sent another party in to accomplish the task and have a look about for the deserters. Well, guess what? That gang split for parts unknown as well!

Getting a bit frustrated at his dwindling crew,  the first lieutenant himself  took a barge and fourteen men - twelve midshipmen and a sailor - to seek out the rascals who deserted. His name was Hamilton Douglas-Halyburton, scion of a distinguished and wealthy Scottish family (his name probably hinted at that right off!). Did I mention it was snowing? Yep, a regular blizzard, and the crew and Lieutenant Douglas-Halyburton did not return to the ship. A couple of days later, 2 January, the storm quit, and a party was sent ashore to find out what happened the their first lieutenant. Find him they did, and his crew. Frozen to death in the snow. Their bodies were buried the following day, in a common grave on Sandy Hook.

When his mother, Katherine, learned of her son's death, she had a marble monument placed at the site of the graves; it read:
          "Here lie the remains of the Honorable Hamilton Douglas-Haliburton, son of Shoto Charles, Earl of Morton, and heir to the ancient family of Haliburton of Pitcurr in Scotland, who perished on this coast with twelve more young gentlemen and one common sailor, in the spirited discharge of duty, the 30th or 31st of December, 1783 - born October the 10th, 1763: a youth, who in contempt of hardship and danger, though possessed of an ample fortune, served seven years in the British navy, with  a manly courage. He seemed to be deserving of a better fate. To his dear memory, and that of his unfortunate companions, this monumental stone is erected, by his unhappy mother Katherine, Countess Dowager of Morton."

The plaque then goes on to list the names of the "young gentlemen" (by the way, those would have been midshipmen, referred to by that title), the "common sailor" and mention that they were "cast away, all found dead and frozen, and buried in this grave." 

Interesting, right? But that's not the end! Nope. In 1808, a French ship turned up in Sandy Hook Bay and, with the French being at war with the English (for a change), the sailors, when they discovered the monument t0 a BRITISH crew, destroyed it. Nothing of the original monument remains. However, a similar memorial to the lost men was placed in Trinity Church in Manhattan most likely at the same time as the original one was set in the soil of Sandy Hook. And time passed, the sailors' graves were forgotten, unmarked, as they were, but still there. 

In 1908, workmen discovered the bodies accidentally while digging in the area and the remains were exhumed and re-interred at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY (and no, I don't know why that cemetery). The site then went untouched until 1937 when, as part of a Citizen Conservations Corps project, a new monument and plaque was erected, but interestingly, they got the date wrong, saying the events occurred in January 1783, which of course was just a year early! Finally, in 1939, just after the plaque with the wrong dates was in place, Queen Elizabeth and King George VI (of England) went by the site on 10th June, but there is no record of their having stopped. 

And that's the story, folks. And thanks to my good pal and biking buddy, Hank Gulick, who suggested this would make an interesting post for Maritime Maunder. 

"Things are not always as they seem!" unknown

                                      Fair Winds,
                                           Old Salt  

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