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The Jane Gray: The Italian Prince and the Shipwreck That Forever Changed the History of Seattle Paperback – June 16, 2013
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From the Author
While researching family history, several documents referencing the sinking of the schooner Jane Gray captured my interest. Three members of the University of Washington football team were lost at sea, one of whom was a two-time team captain - and my great uncle. Within reading a few paragraphs of the various newspaper articles, I was hooked and went on the prowl for books that might detail the night of the fateful wreck. Although several made mention of the sinking of the Jane Gray, no complete account had ever been written.
The famous people packed on the decks of this ship made her sinking a significant event, not only in the history of Seattle, but in cities across the United States and in Italy. Major Edward S. Ingraham, the educator and mountaineer, was leading a team of sixteen prospectors funded by Prince Luigi, the Duke of Aosta. Clayton Packard, editor and publisher of the Snohomish Eye joined the Major's team as a mining expert. In addition to the three University of Washington students, Dr. Luther Lessey, of Seattle, five members of a prominent Italian family, one Austrian mountaineer, and four San Francisco paper company agents boarded the schooner that fateful day. James Blackwell, civil engineer, architect, and a former mayor of Bremerton, headed his own prospecting team of seven men. The rest were equally as well known in their respective hometowns.
By the spring of 1898, the Klondike Gold Rush had been in full swing for nearly a year. Swarms of ships were leaving Puget Sound for the Yukon and Alaska Territories daily. Because of the sheer number of vessels heading north, rarely a day passed without the report of a ship that was overdue, missing or wrecked.
As the tug Queen pulled the Jane Gray away from the dock at the end of Columbia Street in Seattle, the passengers and crew waved farewell to throngs of family, friends and admirers. The crowd cheered while the boys on deck yelled promises that they would return wealthy men.
Three days later, at two o'clock in the morning on Sunday, May 22, 1898, the eighty-two foot schooner sank outside of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, approximately ninety miles northwest of Cape Flattery. Twenty-seven survived. The remainder perished on that cold, moonless spring night. And to this day, the exact number and identities of some of lost remains in question.
The day that news of the tragedy reached Seattle, the entire city held its breath, awaiting word on who had survived.
Headlines spread across all of the major newspapers in the country, often eclipsing news of the Spanish-American War. From New York to San Francisco, conflicting accounts of the tragedy, as well as conflicting lists of those missing, dominated front pages. The passenger manifest went down with the ship. All that remained was an itemization of provisions that named the leaders of each party and the number of persons accompanying them, as well as the ticket stubs retained by the outfitting firm, and the words of those who lived to tell the tale.
In the aftermath of the wreck, some of the survivors and widows resorted to legal action in an attempt to gain compensation for their losses. The MacDougall and Southwick Company, along with their secretary, John Pacey, went to great lengths in order to limit their liability in the event that such a disaster might occur. A contentious battle ensued. Eighteen months after the sinking of the Jane Gray, the case came to a questionable conclusion.
Much of the court testimony and evidence remains on file in the National Archives at Seattle, Washington, and is printed, verbatim, in this narrative. Some quotes came from personal family records, some from the Sella Foundation in Biella, Italy, while others were taken from old newspaper accounts and the interviews with the survivors. (Spelling and grammar errors have been retained in most quotes.) From these documents, a tale of hope, deceit and corruption emerges. It is left to the reader to decide whether or not justice prevailed.
As to the cause of the sinking, perhaps the words of Judge Cornelius H. Hanford remain the most accurate: "...probably the truth as to the cause of the disaster will never be known until the great ocean shall reveal the secrets buried in its depths."
About the Author
Michelle Merritt is a native of Washington State. Born at Seattle's Providence Hospital in 1964 to a Ballard family, she was raised on the East side of the Cascade Mountains. In 1982, Michelle returned to Seattle, where she attended the University of Washington for a short time. Dissatisfied and impatient with academic life, she joined the United States Air Force as a reservist and received a certificate in Aircraft Maintenance technology.
In the subsequent years, Ms. Merritt enjoyed a long career in the automotive industry, worked a brief stint as an insurance agent, owned a restaurant, and later served as the operations director for Tacoma Tall Ships 2008. She holds a current merchant mariner's license and is working toward accumulating enough sea time to become a licensed captain on international vessels.
Since the 2010 publication of her first book, One Night in Rome: And the End of Life as I knew It, Michelle has traveled by land, air, and sea to Italy, Monaco, France, England, Fiji, Turkey, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, and forty-five states within the United States of America
She is the mother of two grown sons and a grandmother who now calls Tacoma, Washington her home.
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