A Shipwreck Story - The Human Connection
Donna Shumate has spent years piecing together information about her family. Her passion for digging up family history has lead to an amazing revelation: Two of her husband Greg’s ancestors not only survived a shipwreck but were touted as heroes aboard the ship! Greg Shumate is a descendant of Captain Edward Young and First Officer Sarsfield Young who both served aboard the SS Republic which was lost in a hurricane in 1865 and later discovered by Odyssey in 2003. Recently Odyssey hosted these two very special guests in our corporate office and conservation lab, which are typically closed to the public.
“It was important for us to meet, and thank, the people who have so carefully told this story through the recovery and preservation of the site and the artifacts. Unexpectedly, Greg Stemm was at the headquarters when we visited. It was so gratifying to thank him personally. He has been so dedicated to preserving the history and telling the story on a personal level of the passengers and crew. He has treated the ship, the story, and the people (our ancestors) with such dignity,” said Donna Shumate.
The Shumates’ visit allowed them to view many of the more than 14,000 artifacts recovered from the Republic. The vast majority of these remain at the lab in dry storage while more than 500 objects continue to undergo conservation treatment. Many of the artifacts from the Republic are on display in Odyssey's Virtual Museum. The meeting was especially meaningful for both parties who had first made contact in 2003, shortly after the wreck was discovered.
Donna, driven by a passion for researching family history, posted a message on the Ancestry.com genealogy message board about Captain Edward Young, her husband Gregory’s great, great grandfather. Not long after, Donna was contacted by Odyssey researcher Kathy Evans. Through several communications the two began to piece together significant events in the Captain and First Officer’s colorful lives. In fact, Donna had not been aware of Edward and Sarsfield's connection to the Republic, which included their heroic efforts to save the lives of the passengers and crew.
“We [the Shumates] were equally excited to learn this new and very important information… Because of all the research done by Odyssey, we were presented with a tremendous amount of information about this very major event in their lives. It also made them [the Youngs] more real to us - not just names, dates and facts. It gave us a real story of them living their lives in a most extraordinary way. It made us very proud of them. And finally, it was an eerie realization that my husband, Greg (Edward's great-great grandson, and Sarsfield's great grandson) would not have been born if they had not survived that horrific hurricane and shipwreck. We would not be having this conversation had they perished in the shipwreck,” said Donna.
Donna shared her genealogy research with Odyssey, with the biggest revelation being that Sarsfield had been Edward's son – a major piece of information that Odyssey had not known from earlier research.
The Shumates’ name became well known within Odyssey as communication continued over the years, but it wasn’t until early spring 2010 that both parties met at Odyssey headquarters.
“We had seen pictures of many of the artifacts, but nothing comes close to the experience of seeing them in person. It was like taking a step back in time and into the world of Edward and Sarsfield. There we stood surrounded by items that they were once surrounded by. Some of which were very personal. There was such a connection.
It was incredible to see up close the delicate items that survived the violent storm, the wreck, and then over 130 years at the bottom of the ocean. Shoe leather, hair bands, fine porcelain ink wells, glass bottles (some with fruit and berries still intact) - all beautifully maintained. In particular, we were personally touched by the navigation instruments. It is very likely that these were used by Edward or Sarsfield. Also, the bell was especially meaningful. I can just imagine the haunting clanging of the bell in the rough winds of the hurricane as they tried to save the ship,” said Donna.
For Odyssey, meeting the Shumates was equally momentous. It reaffirmed the company mission to share the knowledge and excitement gained from shipwreck discoveries and illustrated how this knowledge on both an historic and human level can reawaken the past and bring a shipwreck to life!
About Captain Edward Young
- Born in England on January 6, 1813
- Lived in NYC and Brooklyn where his two children (Mary and Sarsfield) were born and raised
- Sailed for over 40 years, most notably on the Harvest Queen (a square rigged sailing vessel) of the Black Ball Line
- As Captain of the Harvest Queen, rescued a British ship in 1860 and was awarded a watch from the British Parliament
- Never sailed again after the Republic shipwreck
- Continued to live a quiet life in Brooklyn, where he died on February 7, 1891
- Was noted for his valor in saving the Republic passengers. A letter which appeared on October 27, 1865 in the Charleston Courier was signed by seven of the survivors:
"We . . . hereby tender our thanks to you, her late Commander, for your kind care of us all; for your never flinching exertions to save both passengers and ship, and when it came to the worst, and the ship was to be abandoned, we felt that we found in you all the requisites of a sailor and gentleman; that your judgment and coolness saved many lives that would otherwise have been sacrificed; and, being the last man on the ship, was actually carried down with her when she went from sight forever. Words fail to express the thanks of our hearts. Our prayer is that our Heavenly Father, who watched over us all in this our dire distress may always watch over you and protect you wherever you may be, by land or sea."
About First Officer Sarsfield Young
- Born on June 12, 1843 in NYC
- Began his sailing career as a teenager, under the direction of his father
- Served in the Union Navy under Admiral Farragut at the Battle of Mobile Bay – the same battle at which the Republic (a.k.a. Tennessee) fought valiantly against Confederate forces stationed at Fort Morgan at the mouth of the Bay
- Became a ship's captain, sailing for the Pacific Mail Steamship Service
- Married in 1891 to Cesarine Gross
- In 1892, daughter Jeanne was born (Greg Shumate’s grandmother); Cesarine died shortly there after
- Sarsfield remarried and had no other children
- Lived in Brooklyn until his death on June 2, 1912
For more information about the importance of research in shipwreck exploration, please click here.