‘The Ship Faithful Steward’ novel is nearing completion says US author

Pennsylvania author, Harry Wenzel, is nearing the launch date where his historical novel, ‘The Ship Faithful Steward – A Story of Scots-Irish, English, and Irish Migration to Pennsylvania,” becomes a reality. The following article includes his update since the onset of researching and writing the story.

Monday, 13th September 2021, 10:08 am
A bench commemorating the ‘Faithful Steward’ which left Derry on July 9, 1785, and foundered off Delaware at the start of September in the same year.
A bench commemorating the ‘Faithful Steward’ which left Derry on July 9, 1785, and foundered off Delaware at the start of September in the same year.

I remember the day I found the name Faithful Steward on a map of ‘Shipwrecks along the Mid-Atlantic Coast.’ There was no purpose or chapter outline and I didn’t know what words would describe my thoughts on the pages to follow.

More than three years later, after research and writing, the picture has become clear. Another author read by me commented, ‘A book should say something.’ Perhaps the words seem trite, even insignificant, but for me, they take on another meaning. My thirty-six-chapter novel says something – I think a lot.

Over the course of research, I have been contacted by multiple descendants of survivors of the shipwreck of Faithful Steward. And each one is tracing their family roots, adding to what they know about their ancestors from the Kingdom of Ireland, circa 1700s.

My purpose in writing has metamorphosed into an obligation, even to honour those ancestors and their descendants; to produce a work based upon research that tells a story of who they were, where they lived, and why they set sail from Derry Quay on July 9, 1785.

“Once you find your ancestors – you want to bring them to life.” The quote is from Pam Eagleson, three times great granddaughter of John Elliott, who left Elliottstown in Donegal, eventually settling in Ohio. John was one of fifty-five passengers surviving the shipwreck.

Pam lives in Maine, the far northeastern corner of the USA. She has invested many years researching her own genealogy, and assisting others in bringing their ancestors to life. It doesn’t matter which side of the Atlantic you happen to live on; there are many who wish to find their ancestors. My guess is, that applies equally to those in NI.

Before you can bring those that sailed on the ship to life, much digging and research is required. I have been assisted by many in NI and the descendants of survivors of the shipwreck. Noted Derry genealogist, Brian Mitchell, has been instrumental in assisting with responses to all sorts of questions, and provides references for researching material for the story. He maintains his own file on anything related to Faithful Steward. Digging for material can be laborious, yet it has its rewards and surprises too. And when you start writing – the storytelling takes over. Passion can be consuming.

I like to tell the true story of Paul and Donna, friends and nearby neighbours in Pennsylvania. It fits into my narrative. Many years ago, they attended a family reunion alongside the Schuykill River at Phoenixville, PA. Across the river on the opposite side lies a small village, Mont Clare.

Decades before, something of historical importance occurred in the village, but that’s getting ahead of the story. Relatives sat in a circle and told stories of memories of years gone by. Donna’s curiosity became aroused after someone referred to a specific relative, no longer living. No one wished to discuss their ancestor’s bad behaviour. And she recorded the name, Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, born in Mont Clare in 1867.

Their family took multiple summer vacation trips to Colorado and Wyoming, reliving the days of the wild west. Turns out, Harry Longabaugh, Paul’s great great uncle was the Sundance Kid, and in the 1890s he joined up with Robert Leroy Parker’s gang – the wild bunch. Parker was Butch Cassidy, and as the saying goes, the rest is history, but not before Donna wrote two books using their research about Sundance.

If there were any Sundances on Faithful Steward, their secret will most likely remain at Coin Beach.

In my ‘Author’s Notes’ I summarise known names of the survivors; however, there are more than one hundred who perished, and no one recorded their names. There will be a surprise, a tie-in to some people of notoriety, Scots-Irish and Irish, who migrated from the counties of Ulster years before the American Revolution, together with the reason why one of the survivors left for Pennsylvania. On July 9, 1785 he stated he was sailing to ‘a land where heroes live.’

The people of Ulster will be surprised to find many forefathers participated in, and assisted with winning the war of independence. Two such examples are Gustavus Conyngham from Letterkenny, and John Dunlap from Strabane. Gustavus used personal funds to outfit his frigate, Revenge, and he was credited with capturing or sinking 31 British ships. Dunlap apprenticed at Gray’s Printery in Strabane, and after migrating to Philadelphia, joined the First City Troop after the war broke out. He donated £4,000 to the cause; many of them did.

After Thomas Jefferson finished the Declaration of Independence, Alexander Hamilton asked Dunlap to print the first 200 broadsides, one-sided copies of the now historic document. It’s a good thing they won the war – the alternative was to hang.

A couple of years ago I visited the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Jefferson’s original declaration is encapsuled in glass and on display daily. Each evening, at closing, the display of the document is automatically lowered into an underground vault for safe storage.

Samuel Hepburn, a ship passenger, sent two of his sons to Pennsylvania to scout for available land, years before he set sail on Faithful Steward. Son William joined the Pennsylvania Militia and served during the revolutionary war. Years later, William settled near Williamsport, and today is credited with the title – the father of Lycoming County.

There is a surprising storyline connecting the English coppers purported to have been stowed in the hull of Faithful Steward. Even today there are coins that wash ashore at Coin Beach, nearby the site of the wreck.

Descendants of shipwreck survivors have contacted me over many months, supplying their own family genealogy and histories of their ancestors. We stay in contact, exchange email messages, and on occasion I’ll send them anything that assists with their genealogical research.

A couple of months ago I connected the descendants to one another. Their responses were filled with excitement, and now each one has a list of those who wish to be added to the Descendants List. They can message one another.

“Once you find your ancestors – you can bring them to life.” The descendants are from Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, California, Maine, Tennessee, Illinois, Missouri, Canada, and of course, Pennsylvania. On September 1 we observed the 236th anniversary of the shipwreck of Faithful Steward. Many more descendants will step forth once this story is published. It’s a story that if never researched, would remain a story left untold. It’s time to fulfill a request from the descendants and bring these ancestors to life.

This will be Harry’s second historical fiction novel. He resides with his wife and family in Pennsylvania, and can be reached using the Contact tab ([email protected]) on his website – harry wenzel.com

‘The Emigrants’ sculpture along the River Foyle.