Novelist researching Derry linked shipwreck in which 181 emigrants perished

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The extraordinary story of the ‘Faithful Steward,’ which foundered with the loss of almost two hundred emigrants’ lives on the Delaware coast on September 1, 1785, is to be brought to life in a forthcoming historical novel.

Pennsylvanian author, Harry A. Wenzel, has appealed for the help of ‘Derry Journal’ readers in piecing together the finer details of the shipwreck in which 181 souls, including 93 women and children, perished.

The ‘Faithful Steward’ left Derry for Philadelphia in July 1785 with a cargo of 249 emigrants and 400 barrels of copper half pennies and rose gold guineas on board and embarked on its final two month voyage to the revolutionary United States.

Tragically, she foundered near the mouth of the Indian River in Delaware just yards from shore and only 90 miles from her final destination, the ‘City of Brotherly Love’. All but 68 of the 249 emigrants were drowned as they tried to float to shore on debris or as they failed to swim the final hundred yards to land and safety.

Poignantly, the strip of coastline where the wreck occurred is now known as ‘Coin Beach’ and after storms the sea returns some of those half pennies and guineas as mementoes of the dead.

Mr. Wenzel has already established from local historian Brian Mitchell, that Abraham McCausland, a merchant, and his cousin, Captain Conolly McCausland, of Streeve Hill [the Drenagh Estate], Limavady, the ship’s owners, advertised for passengers and cargo in the ‘Journal’ on May 10, 1785.

And on February 21, 1786, this paper also published a list of survivors, however, Mr. Wenzel says there is a dearth of information about those who drowned.

“While the list of survivors was published in the Pennsylvania Packet, the Londonderry Journal, and London Times, following the wreck in 1785, no one to date has found any listing or individual naming of those who did not survive the disastrous calamity,” said the Pennsylvanian.

“I’d also like to hear from anyone with knowledge of the details pertaining to 400 barrels of English and Irish copper pennies and half pennies, some of which may have been counterfeit, transported on the ‘Faithful Steward,’ possibly under the watchful care of the Colhoun brothers [survivors], which were lost in the wreckage and even today, can be found washing ashore on ‘Coin Beach’ in Delaware,” he added.

He said the sad tale underlined the extremely strong links between Derry and the Philadelphia area.

“In researching, I’ve discovered a connection of names from Northern Ireland, emigrants living in Philadelphia during the American Revolution, who were instrumental in the early development of colonial America. It was General Washington who believed it was likely the War of Independence would never have been won had it not been for the involvement of the Scot-Irish, having emigrated years prior, settling in places from Boston to New York and Philadelphia.

“Certain names of the emigrants on ‘Faithful Steward’, the Colhouns to specify one, had tie-ins to prominent patriots living in or passing through Philadelphia, including Benjamin Franklin, General Washington, James Madison, Robert Morris, Stephen Girard and others,” he said.

Anyone with information can contact Mr. Wenzel at harry@harryallenwenzel.com or harryallenwenzel.com.