Local lakes hold untold treasures

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Have you read about or ever

hunted for lost treasures? Treasures can range from lost coins to sunken ships. One such treasure ship

sank off the coast of Florida in

1622. It was later found July 20, 1985, and carried over $3 million in gold, silver and emeralds. This ship was the Atocha and had been searched for by treasure hunters for many years.

Did you know that Lake Pontchartrain holds sunken ships and lost treasures? One such boat went down in 1810 during a storm and was loaded with $1.725 million in gold. Another ship in the depths of Lake Pontchartrain is the St. James. The St. James sank on July 8, 1852. Lake Maurepas also holds the remains of a ship. It was known as the Barritaria, and it sank in 1863.

In this article, I will tell you about the St. James. It was July 8, 1852, and the St. James set sail from Bay St. Louis to New Orleans and had left port at 10 p.m. Her captain would be Thomas Clark. Twenty minutes after the St. James, set sail, another ship, The California, also sailed for New Orleans. Her captain was H.P. Ensign.

Both ships were loaded with passengers, many of which had gone to bed for the night. As the ships neared Lake Pontchartrain the California passed the St. James, then the St. James passed the California. The St. James was about one fourth of a mile in front of the other ship when tragedy struck. Without any warning, the entire top of the St. James exploded and burst into flames.

Judge Preston, a member of the Supreme Court, was asleep in his bed, which was located over boiler 24, where the explosion occurred. Preston was killed instantly, as was another passenger, John L. Sheed of the United States Mint.

Mr. Turner, a tax assessor, said

he could not sleep and decided to walk up on deck for some night

air. Turner said he was just thinking about the high pressure of

the steamship when the ship blew up. Turner was not seriously injured.

J.W. Wolf and his 14-year-old son were on deck at the time of the explosion. Because the ship was burning, the son begged his father to jump and swim for safety, but Mr. Wolf refused. The boy stayed on board pleading with his father as long as he could and then jumped into the water. He swam toward the California, which was on the way to aid the survivors.

After an exhausting swim, the boy began to sink. Suddenly, someone on the rescue ship threw him a rope and saved his life. The boy then watched the ship burn and sink with his father on board. Approximately 15 to 25 passengers lost their lives in the explosion and fire that followed.

While doing the research for the article, the name Capt. Thomas Clark, who was the captain of the St. James, seemed familiar to me.

I began looking through old books from 1863 and found the name

Col. Thomas Clark. Clark was captain of the ship Barritaria, which sank 11 years after the St. James. Clark was court martialed for being drunk and loosing the Barritaria. It makes you wonder if Col. Clark and Capt. Clark were the same person. It also makes you wonder if he was drunk the night the St. James sank and if he was racing the California and caused the boiler to overheat and explode. What are your thoughts?

The next article will be on The Barritaria, which sank in Lake Maurepas.

Wayne Norwood is a lieutenant with the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Department and owner and operator of the Louisiana Trreasures Museum located at 10290 Highway 22, West Pontchatoula.