The Times and Tides of Ocean City, Maryland
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Captain William Carhart
by Suzanne B.Hurley

Captain L. J. Bunting
This feature article concerns Captain William Carhart. His grave is the only known marked site of a shipwrecked sailor in the Ocean City area. Carhart's grave site is located on Golf Course Road in the development of Captain's Hill in West Ocean City. Over the past 196 years, his death and burial have become part of our local legend and lore. The first article is considered to be of the oral tradition or the passing of the tale from generation to generation. The second is an undocumented account, which means that the source material can not today be located. The third article, Footnotes To A Legend, is a well researched and documented study of Captain Carhart.

The following article is taken from The Evening Sun Paper, September 1, 1932, By Gerald W. Johnson.

Captain L. J., The Original Bunting--certainly that's his name; at any rate, it is so painted on the sign at the pier in Ocean City where he ties up his boats--Captain Bunting eased the sheet a little and nodded toward three trees growing in the middle of Number One fairway of the Ocean City Golf Club.

"He's planted right up there," he said. I admit I wasn't there at the time. It was about 133 years ago. But I think it was all woods then. They cut down the rest of the trees, but they left them three over the old Captain. If you'll push into the bushes you'll find his tombstone. But it ain't been soaked in years and years."

All around the catboat, PRINCETON, a thousand ripples on Sinepuxent Bay flashed back stabs of sunlight. To the east, Ocean City shimmered on its sand bar. Sophisticates are fond of asserting that Maryland's principal beach resort is dull and drab; but it doesn't look so from the bay on a cloudless Sunday morning, when a faint, impalpable haze drapes its low cottages and tall hotels and lends them a touch of magic. A light but always northeast breeze rippled the water and kept the catboat's sail drawing beautifully as Captain Bunting worked his way north by west, tacking back and forth across the bay, a short tack to starboard and a long one to port, easing toward the point where Sinepuxent debauches into the wider Isle of Wight Bay, which the map calls Assawoman.

Presently the Thoroughfare opened--a narrow gut between the point on the western shore and an island, a channel hardly wide enough to let the PRINCETON through. Captain Bunting was two-thirds of the way across Sinepuxent when he came about and from that distance the entrance of the Thoroughfare looked like a slit hardly wide enough to insert a nickel. He stood toward it on the starboard tack, and when the sheet was well filled, settled down for conversation.

"Up there is where we took the spiritualist to find Captain Kidd's treasure," he said with a wave of the arm toward the wide stretches of Isle of Wight Bay, and toward a dim dark ridge of pine trees beyond it.

"That's White's Island and there was a fellow owned it who lived in New York. He went to the spiritualist and she got in a trance and said she saw Captain Kidd's treasure buried on White's Island. So he loads her on the train and brings her all the way down here and we took her out at mid-night to show her. But she didn't."

Captain Bunting stopped to look ahead, squinted from under his battered yachting cap, at the entrance to the Thoroughfare, then brought her up into the wind, the merest trifle. As he straightened the yacht, his eyes fell on the western shore.

"Carhart, his name was," he continued. "I don't rightly know where he came from, but Philadelphia claimed him, and they used to come down here with brass bands and celebrate over him. But that was before local option [opposition to liquor]. He hasn't been soaked in years and years.

"I don't know where he came from. All it says on his tombstone is that he was drown off this coast, but Philadelphia claimed him."

A golfer has no right to know about that tombstone. As you stand on number one tee, you have fifty yards of perfectly clear fairway to the right of the three trees; and that is where you ought to hit your drive. But if you are a duffer, struggling against a mean hook, it is odds on that right into those trees is where you will snap your first shot. And then, as you poke about in some myrtle bushes under the trees, wondering where the deleted-by-censor-the- omitted-fore-propriety thing has got to, you are apt to uncover an upright marble slab, bearing the inscription;

In Memory of
Capt. William Carhart,
Shipwrecked off this coast
September 5, 1799
Aged 38 years and 5 months
The PRINCETON slid within a hop-skip and jump of the marsh grass, but Captain Bunting sat motionless.

Going to make it on this tack, Captain?

"Well, now, that's just what I was wondering. I don't like to come about in here. Not room enough. We'll just see what she does."

A few yards beyond the entrance the Thoroughfare narrowed sharply. The marsh grass crept nearer and nearer, but Captain Bunting still sat motionless. Finally the grass swept up until the passengers might have reached over and grasp a hand full, and suddenly fell back and the PRINCETON went through by a margin measurable in inches. From a distance of half a mile, where he had come about, Captain Bunting had judged his position within less than a yard.

"It was sort of funny about that spiritualist," he said, as the craft emerged into the wider waters of Isle of Wight Bay. "She said it had to be mid-night or she couldn't do anything. So this fellow from New York and Captain Powell-he owned half the island, too-got me to take 'em up to White's Island the night she came.

"Captain Powell didn't think much of it, but he said he'd go, as long as his partner was all worked up over it. Well, it come on to blow right hard that night-a stiff northeaster and a driving rain. We got up to the island along about half an hour before mid-night, and all traipsed up into the woods. Black as your hat, in the way the wind was howling through the pine trees you wouldn't believe. So we all got ready for the spiritualist to get in a trance and show where Captain Kidd buried the treasure. And then she says, says she, that she got to have absolute silence before she can get in any trance. And Captain Powell stood around a while and then he says he can't make no northeaster keep absolute silence for a spiritualist, and he's going home.

"So we didn't find Captain Kidd's treasure, and the truth is I don't believe it was there."

The Captain spun his wheel. The PRINCETON made a graceful lop, the sheet ran out until the boom stood almost at right angles to her course, and with the wind behind her she kicked up her heels and went racing back. The three trees swung into view again.

Captain Powell
Captain William S. Powell
"He was washed up over there where Ocean City is now, and they buried him on the beach. But some of the crew escaped, and they got to figuring that if a high tide came and uncovered him they'd be in a bad fix, because he would come back and haunt 'em. So they came and dug him up, and brought him across the bay and buried him again up in the woods, safe and permanent, as you , might say.

"No, I can't say where he really came from, but Philadelphia claimed him. There was a society there that all the policemen and men who used to be policemen belonged to, and every year they used to come down to Ocean City in a special train with a brass band and two-three barrels of liquor and four or five kegs of root beer. They'd broach the barrels and kegs and all the grown folks in Ocean City were welcome to come and have a drink, and all the kids could come in and have all the root beer they wanted. It was a high time in Ocean City. But that was before local option.

And then on the last day of the convention, they'd all come in sailboats across the bay with the brass band and go up to Captain Carhart's grave. And the band would play mournful tunes and the policemen would fire volleys over the grave. And then they would wash the tombstone off with the whisky."

Captain Bunting brought her up a point or two and then took in a bit of the sheet, preparatory to bringing her up into the wind to make the pier.

"It was good whisky, too," he said amusingly. "But that was before local option. He ain't been soaked in years and years."

The three trees were far in the distance, but one could see the white linen knickers of some duffer who was poking about under them, looking for a lost ball. Perhaps he is one of those who find Ocean City dull and drab. For Captain Carhart is not a legend to him, but only one more hazard on a tricky course.

Grave Of Unknown Sailor On Whaley Farm Across Bay From Ocean City Is Celebrated Spot
Grave Of Unknown Sailor
Taken from a clipping of the Democratic Messenger, September 1, 1955.
Author, unknown

Up on the John S. Whaley "Thoroughfare Farm" on a knoll overlooking the Bay, opposite Ocean City there stands, a tombstone. On the grave marker is inscribed the words; "Here lies buried Capt. William Carhart, Shipwrecked off this coast on January 3, 1799."

This week we were shown ancient records of the old Philadelphia Camphene Club, long defunct organization that for many years visited Ocean City on its annual conventions and celebrated its 3 day program in part by a visit to the grave on the Ocean City Thoroughfare Farm across the Bay.

The Camphene Club first visited Ocean City back in 1885, according to the records. After holding their business and entertaining programs in the old Atlantic Hotel Casino, the Philadelphia Club members and their guest would take sail boats and travel across the Bay to the "Tyson Farm." Around the grave of Capt. Carhart they would gather for their "decoration" ceremony.

The band would play mournful tunes. Barrels of beer would be emptied and pretzels were devoured with relish. The "decoration" at the grave lasted three hours and was a highlight of the annual visit of the Camphene Club to Ocean City every September. Since the Camphene Club of Philadelphia abandoned its usual visits to Ocean City 50 odd years ago, the story behind their celebrations held over the Carhart grave has been gradually forgotten.

We learned to our surprise, that the ghoulish celebration was not held in tribute to Captain Carhart, but to an unknown sailor whose body was washed ashore north of Ocean City back in September of 1885. Old records of the Camphene Club state that the Philadelphia Club was holding its first outing and convention in Ocean City in September of 1885, when the body of a man apparently a sailor, came ashore in the ocean surf. There being no possibility of identification and everyone being deeply affected by the event, members of the Philadelphia Club promptly agreed to give the unknown sailor a Christian burial, which was done across the bay where Captain Carhart's grave is marked today. Flowers were placed on the newly made grave, a brief service was said over the body and a band played a beautiful funeral dirge.

During the next 25 years that the Camphene Club of Philadelphia visited Ocean City, one of the highlights on its three-day program was a visit to the grave of the unknown sailor, buried across the bay in 1885.

Another visit to the Whaley Farm, to the spot beneath some gnarled trees played a beautiful funeral dirge.

Where the Carhart tombstone is located today, convinced us that the old records of the Philadelphia Camphene Club were true. For on the north side of the Carhart grave we found evidence of another grave, unmarked and hidden beneath myrtle bushes and undergrowth. This, we knew, marked the last resting place of the unknown sailor, buried there in 1885. And the present day tradition that the Camphene Club of Philadelphia used to celebrate over the grave of Captain William Carhart buried there in 1779, after his ship was wrecked was blasted.

It was the unknown sailor and not Captain Carhart that drew the Camphene Club to that lonely spot.

Editor's note: The above article would suggest that the Camphene Club stopped visiting Ocean City in 1910, though the previous article written in 1932, suggest they stopped coming during prohibition.

By Joan D. Charles
Hampton, Virginia
There is a legend etched in stone in Ocean City, Maryland. It reads, "In Memory of Captain William Carhart who was shipwrecked on this coast, January 5th, 1799, age 38."

Captain Carhart's marker stands in silent testimony to the eighteenth-century tragedy. It is there across from Assawoman Bay on a slight rise of land that was once a farm, then a golf course and now is a residential area known as Captain's Hill.

Carhart's story is the stuff of legend, lore and oral tradition. The latter tells of a winter storm that caused a ship, known to the local folks as the OCEAN BIRD, to wreck on the shoals off shore. A cruel sea and the bitter cold weather claimed the lives of numerous English immigrants on board. Several of the crew survived and returned to the stranded vessel to recover the body of their beloved captain. That's the legend.

This story was brought to my attention by Richard Cook when I joined his team of researchers investigating several eighteenth and nineteenth century wrecks off of the Maryland coast...After one exhaustive research trip to Philadelphia, Mr. Cook told me about Carhart. He provided me with several newspaper and magazine articles by local residents telling of a group from Philadelphia called the Camphene Club that would hold special services at the grave, when they would break a bottle of beer on the headstone and a German band would play mournful tunes. According to these accounts Carhart was not from Philadelphia and no one knew the reason for this groups ritual.

Then we went to visit the grave. As I paced the seven-foot space between headstone and footstone I became convinced that the Carhart story had gotten off track over the nearly two hundred years of telling. And I followed a hunch.

Checking the 1780 Philadelphia census records I found a William Carhart, sea captain, living on Swanson Street. The 1800 census lists Widow Carhart at the same Swanson Street address. Listings in the Stephen's Philadelphia Directory for the years 1791 to 1798 list William Carhart and his occupation going from sea captain to sea master.

So here was the man. His ship should be an easy matter to locate...or so I thought. Lloyd's Registry of Ships, a main source of information for shipwreck historians, yielded no OCEAN BIRD. The Philadelphia Maritime Museum held no clues in its extensive Port Records. The Philadelphia Free Library with its outstanding holdings came up blank.

Then I began the tedious job of scanning microfilmed copies of 1799 newspapers from any East Coast port city from Boston to Charleston. Emphasis was on maritime journal entries. Mindful of the fact that communications were slow in the 1700s, the research had to include a three-week delay time for information to reach the papers.

The myth-blowing information was found in the Gazette of the United States and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser dated 21 January 1799.

"...a copper bottomed schooner of 107 tons, called the HAWK, commanded by Captain William Carhart, from the Havana, and belonging to Philadelphia, with a cargo chiefly of sugar, was stranded a little above Sinepuxent inlet. The captain and crew perished, her papers, tho' wet, since saved; the vessel entirely lost."

Another Philadelphia marine journal report reveals that Captain William Carhart had sailed from Havana on Christmas day 1798.

I should have been satisfied with the above information, but Carhart had become my personal obsession. Quite by accident, while scanning for another project, I found an advertisement in the Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser. It announced the landing of the schooner HAWK at the Willings and France Wharf, No. 185, Second Street with a load of sugar and coffee from Havana to be sold by the Felix Imbert Company in July of 1798, just about 6 months before Captain Carhart's tragic end.

I could understand the mix up in the legend of the names OCEAN BIRD and the HAWK. I could not figure out how sugar and coffee became English immigrants. I went back to the microfilmed newspapers in search of any shipwreck on the Eastern Shore of Maryland or Virginia that would fit the local legend.

Wrecks are not hard to find. The ocean floor must be covered with them. But the one that fit the bill came from the November 26 1783 issue of the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser.

"...the brig PHILADELPHIA PACKET, Captain Torrans from Belfast for this port (Philadelphia) ran ashore on Sinepuxent Bar, when the passengers, being in a hurry to get ashore, hired a Providence schooner, that came to their assistance...She took about 70 of them on board, when they got a small distance from the ship the schooner overset, being top heavy, and every person perished; about 50 of the passengers and servants saved themselves in the brig's boat and raft they made."

Ships from Belfast often stopped in Liverpool, England, and the Lloyd's Registry confirmed that R. Torrans was the captain of a 200 ton brig from Scotland and Ireland. It seems that over the years two wrecks, 17 years apart, blended into one legendary tragedy.

I am still in the pursuit of Carhart. With each answer I find another question. Why did he leave Havana on Christmas Day? What happened to the Carhart family? What is the Camphene Club? Were they (the Club) really connected with Carhart? Is there a ship OCEAN BIRD? Where are the dead from the PHILADELPHIA PACKET buried? Where is the crew of the HAWK buried? A Captain Jack Bunting from Ocean City told Cook that a cow stepped into what appeared to be a grave along side Carhart's grave. Could this be the resting place of a crewman?

I have learned to always listen to the legends. In each one there are clue to history that can be footnoted with a bit of research. My file on Captain William Carhart is still opened and I am delighted to hear from anyone who has any information on the it "footnote" material or "oral tradition." I now have an open file on the 1783 PHILADELPHIA PACKET tragedy and seek descendants of the survivors.

Copyright, 19 March 1991

Editor's Note: The astute reader will notice that the three articles concerning Carhart's death date inscribed on his tombstone are all different. A faint hint as to how legends and lore can become confused.

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