One aspect of maritime history I like is tracking the histories and eventual fates and locations of Maine-built ships. The state of Florida has figured prominently in this quest, with its collection of many wrecks from the Pine Tree State. We’ve already touched upon the Nathan F. Cobb as one such example.

So I was excited this summer when I got an email from the Belfast Museum and Historical Society about some news of the barkentine Doris. The four-mast vessel was one of the last ships built by the Belfast shipbuilding firm of MacDonald and Brown.

The 1994-ton, four-mast barkentine was 189 feet long, nearly 37 feet wide and over 17 feet deep when it launched in 1894. MacDonald and Brown closed two years later. Doris had a billet head and an elliptical stern.

Capt. E. Bonner is listed as Doris’s first master, although another source spelled it as Bonne. Baltimore’s Morning Herald reported its arrival at the city’s port on June 28, 1894. It was towed into harbor by the tug Peerless. People remarked on Doris’s resemblance to the Josephine of the same fleet.

Doris was considered a beauty and clean as a new pin. Upon its arrival at the pier, it was the center of attention, as its owners and throngs of visitors climbed aboard. A new 44-star American flag hung from its color spar and the sails were said to look white as milk.

The captain quarters were reported to be quite luxurious, with velvet carpeting and rich tapestries for curtains. In the cabin hug a painting of Sallie Durham, who had christened the ship at its launch.

Its builder, Col. Eugene McDonald and Frank Wiley, traveled to Baltimore from Maine aboard Doris to deliver the vessel. On the way, Wiley made a model of the barkentine, a photo of which is in the Penobscot Marine Museum.

For the next few years, its owner C. Morton Stewart operated Doris out of Baltimore as one of its celebrated coffee vessels, oftentimes in rivalry with the similar ship of the fleet Josephine. Doris ran exclusively to countries in South America for their raw coffee. That all changed by 1902.

In early January that year, Doris departed Tampa, Florida, with a cargo of nearly 1,200 tons of rock phosphate. With Capt. Edward Masterson in command, the vessel set course for Alexandria, Virginia.

Masterson reported they encountered rough weather after rounding the Tortugas. About 7 p.m. the evening of Jan. 4, more severe weather hit the vessel. A heavy squall out of the northeast battered Doris, forcing Masterson to shorten sail.

But the squall soon subsided and Doris was able to spot some lights off its starboard beam. They continued, thinking the lights belonged to a steamer. A bit later, they spotted other lights bearing northwest by north. Masterson thought them another steamer.

But as the clock ticked by and the night grew darker, Masterson had second thoughts about the lights. He later wrote, “I was in doubt about them and immediately ordered the wheel to be put down so as to bring the ship on the other tack.”

He was right. The lights turned out to be from the Boynton Hotel, in the town of Boynton (now Boynton Beach), Florida. But by this time, the running current had taken hold of the vessel and the winds had moderated, robbing Doris of its ability to maneuver effectively.

Masterson instantly recognized his predicament and immediately ordered the square gaskets be cut and the square-sails set. He hoped to wear ship, or change the tack by coming about so that any wind passed astern.

His commands were instantly followed, but the wind and seas had increased and a strong running current kept them from tacking. A local diver reported the Gulf Stream comes very close to shore in that particular area of Florida and that its current there can be very strong.

Through the gloom, Masterson saw land and ordered the anchor let go in a last-ditch effort to avoid wrecking. But it was too late and Doris struck just as the anchor was dropped.

Fearful the barkentine might grind on its own anchor and hole the hull, Masterson ordered no more chain length paid out.

A local newspaper later reported Doris struck the beach head-on about 10 o’clock that night. After its initial grounding, the barkentine then swung around broadside to the beach. This opened it up to the full force of the waves, which cleanly breached over it.

The force of the sea also lifted the vessel up and smashed it back down upon the shore, all the while moving it a mile or so along the beach. It was finally lifted and slammed onto a reef. Once on the reef, the hogged vessel (sagging at both ends) soon broke in two amidships.

Throughout this wrecking, Masterson and crew sought safety atop the cabin roof, but this proved ineffective with the rough seas. They then moved out onto the spanker boom and desperately clung to it the rest of the night.

At daylight on Sunday morning, all 12 safely reached shore. Some jumped in and swam, while others clung to floating wreckage. Local volunteers were on hand to help them, once ashore. It was noted that Masterson was the last to leave Doris.

The next day, the captain telegraphed Doris’s owners and reported the hull broken in two amidships and the forward house mostly destroyed. He did believe some of the barkentine could be salvaged, such as its anchors, boiler, machinery, gaffs and booms.

Problem was, there were no wreckers in the area. He might have to send all the way to Key West for some, which would add to the salvage cost.

Over the next few days, the Boynton Hotel offered the Doris crew shelter and food. Newspaper reports said the wreck could easily be seen from the towns of Lantana and Boynton, as well as by passengers from the Florida East Coast Railway train.

By Feb. 1, Masterson and most of the crew had returned home. However, the captain’s foot had been crushed by a piece of metal that landed on his foot as he tried to salvage the steering gear.

A capstan, possibly from the Doris. Photo Courtesy of Steve Singer at anchorexplorations.com

Florida diver Steve Singer found a wreck in the area in 2001 that he thinks might be the Doris. He and fellow diver Don Kree came upon a ballast pile, an iron knee and other pieces of wreckage, including a large capstan. But fickle sands have since reburied most of the wreck.

 

Hawes pipes, possibly from Doris, found just offshore in Boynton Beach, Florida, in front of the Boynton Hotel. Photo Courtesy of Steve Singer at anchorexplorations.com

Singer returned in 2022 and found more wreckage, including another iron knee. Even closer to shore, they discovered two hawse pipes, which is where the anchor chain and rope pass through at the bow of a ship.

This indicates the vessel had wrecked bow-first onto shore, much like Doris. It also suggests the vessel came to rest with its bow facing southwest. There was not much left of the site; most of the ship remains had apparently been salvaged, again much like Doris.

Iron knee, some rigging and ballast, probably from the barkentine Doris. Photo Courtesy of Steve Singer at anchorexplorations.com/

 

What confuses the picture is that Singer has found other wrecks in this area as well, like the bark Lofthus, which sits just to the south. But he thinks that this particular wreckage could indeed be from the barkentine. He is hoping do a more detailed site survey in the future — if Doris remains uncovered.

This should confirm the identity of the vessel. And if it is who he thinks it is, he might just have made Doris’s day!

Charles Lagerbom teaches AP U.S. History at Belfast Area High School and lives in Northport. He is author of “Whaling in Maine” and “Maine to Cape Horn,” available through Historypress.com.