The Sinking of the Sumner

William H. Sumner

By Ashley Newman-Owens - Wrightsville Beach Magazine

The story should stop at the testimony of the first mate. But, of course, it doesnt.

Had you been among the hundreds enjoying the beach that late summer Sunday afternoon, chances are you would have seen her the three-masted schooner William H. Sumner, making her way northward. Built in Camden, Maine, in 1891, she registered 489 net tons, measured 165 feet in length with a 35-foot beam. 

The Puerto Rican-owned ship was chartered for the phosphate trade and was, on this day Sunday, September 7, 1919 bound from San Juan for her home port in New York, carrying 850 tons of phosphate, as well as 56 mahogany logs and 30 tons of iron wood.

The boat was in the hands of a crew of eight. They were the West Indian seamen Leonida Edassarias, Aylando Frank, Aylando Quinonnes and Ramon Gonzales; the steward, Charles Wallace; the second mate, P. J. Antione of Louisiana; the first mate, Charles Lacey, of Mobile, Alabama; and the skipper, Robert E. Cochrane (Cockram, Corkum) a 24-year-old from Bath, Maine, voyaging on his first command.

Cochranes recent promotion had come at the end of five years, during which he and Lacey served as first and second mates under former Captain Williams.

Had you happened to be possessed of nautical savvy, it might have struck you as peculiar perhaps worrisome for the craft to be drifting so close to shore that Sunday afternoon.

Around 5 p.m., perhaps 5:30, you might have puzzled over what difficulties the captain must be having.

But you would have gone home to dinner, and the rest of the night would have passed without event. It wouldnt have been until noon the following day that word of any mishap would have traveled to shore.

The bearer of that word ? The first mate, Charles Lacey.

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three-masted schooner William H. Sumner Captain Williams phosphate trade