Digest>Archives> Nov/Dec 2017

A Brief History of the Wreck of the Julia A. Warr

By Debra Baldwin


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The restored Little River Lighthouse in Cutler, ...
Photo by: Kathleen Finnegan

On either Thursday or Friday, Dec 16th or 17th, 1897, the Julia A. Warr set sail from Calais, Maine, for Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, with a full cargo of lumber, laths, and shingles.

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Painting of the Julia A Warr. (Courtesy Gail ...

Within the next 48 hours, a huge storm struck the New England Coast that lasted at least two days, moving from New York into Canada. The Calais Times reported at least five other schooners that were crippled or did not survive this same storm, though all of the crews were reported as being safe.

The Julia Warr was supposed to reach Vineyard Haven by Christmas, but she never made it. An article in The Calais Weekly newspaper shortly after the New Year stated that “Fisherman reported white center-board schooner bottom up, 200 miles off Cape Cod, spruce lumber and shingles floating alongside. By photograph and description, he is almost confident that it is the Julia A. Warr, capsized and all lost. This is terrible news.” The headline on Jan 6 was even more discouraging, saying, “All hope for schooner Julia Warr abandoned.” The article added, “It is thought she capsized during one of the gales three weeks ago. Relatives and friends of the schooner have given up all hope of ever seeing them again.”

On January 13, it was reported that “The Washington authorities, on information from Congressman Simpkins, Mass, ordered the revenue cutter Manning to search for the wreck which was last seen 175 miles off of Cape Cod.” But a few days later it was reported that the cutter “returned to Boston from an unsuccessful cruise in search of the derelict.”

At the end of January, the cutter Manning was sent out one more time to look for the schooner, but again failed to sight her and returned in February with no news.

Finally, on March 29, the Boston Daily Globe reported that “The mystery surrounding the disappearance of the schooner Julia A. Warr has at last been solved, the shell of the vessel having drifted ashore near the lifesaving station on Fire Island this morning. The vessel undoubtedly capsized during one of the heavy gales in December and her crew undoubtedly perished. The schooner left Calais in December for Vineyard Haven and was never afterwards heard from although a wreck passed several times in the vicinity of the South Shoal Lightship, bottom up and was supposed to have been the missing vessel”

Captain George D. Warr of Calais was known as one of the most successful masters in the coasting trade. At age 44, he left behind his wife, Ida, and six children. Seaman Willis Warr, age 26, was Captain Warr’s nephew. He left behind his wife, Maude, and two very young sons.

Seaman Campbell McKay, age 44, had divorced his wife Lizzy six years earlier. It is unknown if he remarried but he left two teenage daughters behind in Calais. The cook, Hartley Arthur Moses, also age 26, left his wife, May, and his little nine-month-old daughter, Jennie to mourn his loss.

Most tragic of all was Leon “Fred” Wilson, in his mid-20s, who had served on the Warr as mate for two years. Leon was Captain Warr’s brother-in-law, having married the half-sister of the Captain’s wife. Leon and Florence had married only the week before the fateful trip. Captain Warr had sold a cottage to Leon, who was from Jonesport, to be able set up as his honeymoon home. How sad it was that he was never able to do so.

This story appeared in the Nov/Dec 2017 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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