The Bessie A. White

The Bessie A. White was a four-masted coal schooner, probably one of the last built. It was more than 200 feet long with a displacement of 2000 tons. She had left Newport News, Virginia for St. Johns, Newfoundland with 950 tons of soft coal for a gas works. She was only three years old and was owned by Charles T. White & Son of St. Johns.

On February 6, 1922, at 4:30 am, she fetched up on the bottom a half-mile west of Smith’s Point. The grounding opened her seams and she quickly filled with 8 to 10 feet of water. In darkness and fog, the crew waited for daylight. The Smith Point Coast Guard Station was closed for economy reasons, and the distress signals were not visible to either the Bellport station four miles to the west, or the Forge River station four miles east. At day-break, the crew launched two boats and escaped to shore — one overturned in the surf and crushed Seaman Rynburgh. Upon the arrival of the Coast Guard, first aid was administered to Rynburgh who was then transported by Arthur Hulse and the Captain to hospital in Brooklyn. All crew and the ship’s cat surveyed.

The Captain was Leslie T. Merriam of Spencer Island, Nova Scotia. First Mate was Harry McNally of St. Johns, New Brunswick; Second Mate was B. F. Porter of Spencer Island. Also on board was the captain’s son, Spencer, and a crew of 10.

The salvage rights were purchased by Foster Sills and Harry Paine of Patchogue. The masts and rigging were salvaged as the wreck was pushed closer to shore by wind and waves. They and their crew worked for about a week to salvage as much as possible before the sea claimed the remaining salvageable material.

Van R. Field comments: “It seems strange that the chain laid on the beach for 10 years, particularly when the ship was sold to locals, who salvaged it. That would seem to me to be valuable salvage, unless it was under water on the anchors. It could have been one of the other many ships that were grounded there, like the Puritan for one.”

Photo and other information from Van R. Field. More information on the Bessie A. White may be found in an article he wrote for Long Island Boating World, Volume 21 (May 2004).

A contemporary account of the shipwreck may be found in the Patchogue Advance: February 10, 1922 available on microfilm at the Patchogue-Medford Public Library.

Men in foreground are probably the salvage crew. Photograph is reportedly by Edwin Levick.