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What Was the Mary Celeste Sea Mystery?

By M. Dee Dubroff
Updated May 17, 2024
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The sea holds many mysteries, perhaps none more baffling and enduring than the inexplicable disappearance of the crew of the two hundred ton brigantine, the Mary Celeste. The ship was found floating in the middle of the Sargasso Sea, some 500 miles (805 kilometers) east of the Azores in December of 1872. Many stories and theories abound about the fate of Captain Benjamin Briggs, his wife and their infant daughter.

No one will ever know what really happened aboard the Mary Celeste, but it is known that the Mary Celeste began its life as the Amazon in 1861. After a series of mishaps, in 1869 she was refitted and renamed the Mary Celeste. Three years later, in October of 1872, Benjamin Briggs became the new captain of the Mary Celeste as well as part owner, which was the fashion of the times.

Briggs was an experienced sailor and a man from a seafaring family. The Mary Celeste left Pier 50 in New York harbor on 5 November 1872, bound for Genoa with a cargo of raw alcohol. The ship was not seen again until 5 December when Captain David Morehouse of the schooner, Dei Gratia, a ship similar to the Mary Celeste, spotted her floating abandoned in the middle of the ocean. In an ironic twist, Morehouse knew Briggs and the two had even dined together on the eve of Brigg’s departure into oblivion aboard the Mary Celeste.

Everything about the abandoned vessel suggested an evacuation of great haste. The chronometer and sextant were missing but a log was found with a last entry of 24 November. The imprint of a child’s outline on a bed and an unfinished meal in the captain’s cabin table all support the theory of a swift departure. The longboats were slung on their davits and an opened bottle of cough medicine was standing upright on a narrow shelf. A partial explanation may lie in the cargo carried by the Mary Celeste.

Raw alcohol was highly volatile and combustible. One of the bottles on board the Mary Celeste had been opened and it is possible that Briggs abandoned ship suddenly because of fear of an explosion. The cargo may have rumbled, which is a noise commonly associated with raw alcohol. If so, was the problem with the towrope connecting the evacuees to the Mary Celeste? Did it somehow come lose and Briggs go after it, hoping to catch up with the unmanned vessel? Or did a giant tidal wave swallow up the tiny life boat and all of its occupants?

The story of the Mary Celeste and her ill-fated crew remains a mystery as deep and impenetrable as the sea itself.

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Discussion Comments
By anon52084 — On Nov 11, 2009

My great grandfather was among the men who discovered the abandoned ship. A part of the story never told was that he found a small sword or knife aboard the Mary Celeste which did have something on the blade. He quietly took it with him and it remained in our family for a long time before the gold in the handle was removed and cast into a pair of earrings for a gift to my grandmother. my mother still has one of these earrings in her possession. This story has never left the family.

By anon44251 — On Sep 06, 2009

Briggs' last log before the Mary Celeste was found by the Dei Gratia and did not report anything strange, bad or worrying.

By anon30346 — On Apr 17, 2009

What was in Benjamin Briggs' actual logs? What did it say in it because surely that might help people to work out what happened?

By anon19439 — On Oct 12, 2008

I wonder were all the people went....i hope they didn't die.

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