Artifact Corner: 1800 Newspaper and the sinking of the LUTINE

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a newspaper from Ulster County, NY, dated January 4, 1800. This is the Ulster County Gazette, published at Kingston, NY by Samuel Freer and Son. We think the reason why this newspaper was saved is because it was the paper that announced the death of George Washington. This was obviously a pivotal moment in American history, and therefore something that people would want to remember. The paper is adorned with black “mourning” boarders throughout. The paper published speeches made in congress and letters written to the press from local politicians and foreign dignitaries, all commemorating Washington’s life. Since the Delord household was patriotic, and had an affinity for holding on to things, it’s unsurprising that this paper was kept. The paper also has the normal advertisements, public announcements, etc. But, the editors of the paper make it clear that the paper is mostly dedicated to the passing of George Washington. In one small section of the paper they give scant details of the other pressing news, and one of the events listed states, ” The frigate Lutine, lost on the 9th of October.” Let’s learn a bit more about the sinking of the frigate LUTINE.

The LUTINE was commissioned to be built by the French government in October of 1778, and was launched on September 11, 1779. She was a 32 gun Frigate, and she was launched in Toulon, one of France’s most important naval ports. The LUTINE was captured by the British after the siege of Toulon on December 18, 1793. In 1795 she was rebuilt as a fifth rate frigate, now carrying 38 guns. She then was put into action in the North Sea, and served at the blockade of Amsterdam. In October of 1799 the LUTINE was set to be a transport vessel for passengers and cargo, bound for Hamburg Germany. The main reason for this mission was to carry 1.2 million pounds sterling to the city of Hamburg as a financial bailout in order to prevent a stock market crash. In the late 18th Century Hamburg had become one of the biggest shipping cities in Europe. They were an important trading port for Europe’s commodities, and by 1799 their warehouses and store fronts were bulging with inventory. The winter of 1799 was particularly harsh, and the harbor at Hamburg froze over bringing the busy port city to a stand still. By the the time shipping activities could resume in the Spring, the market speculation for all of these goods had dwindled, and the city was faced with financial ruin. Great Britain stepped in to help the busy port city, by sending a cash bailout. The LUTINE had gold and silver bars, gold and silver Spanish coins, and gold and silver French coins, all carefully placed in her hold. The LUTINE also had 240 passengers and crew on board the vessel.

The LUTINE was captained by a man named Lancelot Skynner. Skynner had been serving in the British Navy since he was just 13 years old. His Uncle had been a Navy captain, and had died during a particularly vicious battle with the French fleet. Clearly, being in the navy was a family tradition. Skynner was captaining the LUTINE, and was being accompanied by a sloop named the ARROW for this trip across the North Sea. On the evening of October 9th, a very strong gale kicked up, and doomed the LUTINE. Here is a letter from the British commander whose squadron was nearby:

“Sir, It is with extreme pain that I have to state to you the melancholy fate of H.M.S. Lutine, which ship ran on to the outer bank of the ‘Vlie’ Island passage on the night of the 9th inst. in a heavy gale of wind from the NNW, and I am much afraid the crew with the exception of one man, who was saved on a part of the wreck, have perished. This man, when taken up, was almost exhausted. He is at present tolerably recovered, and relates that the Lutine left Yarmouth Roads on the morning of the 9th inst. bound for the Texel, and that she had on board a considerable quantity of money.
The wind blowing strong from the NNW, and the lee tide coming on, rendered it impossible with Schowts [probably schuits, local fishing vessels] or other boats to go out to aid her until daylight in the morning, and at that time nothing was to be seen but parts of the wreck.
I shall use every endeavour to save what I can from the wreck, but from the situation she is lying in, I am afraid little will be recovered”

All 240 souls aboard the LUTINE were lost, except for one passenger who managed to hang on to a piece of floating wreckage. The gold and silver meant to bail out Hamburg was lost at the bottom of the sea. Thankfully the vessel was insured by Lloyd’s of London, and the payout to Hamburg was received.

The ships bell was retrieved from the wreck site in 1856, and sits in the main entrance to Lloyd’s of London’s firm. Many attempt have been made to retrieve the gold and silver from the wreck site. The first attempts began in as early as 1800, and the last attempt was in 1979. The most successful attempt was in 1876 when some Dutch fishermen retrieved almost 83,000 pound sterling worth of the gold and silver. Over the years, a few more gold or silver bars have been found, and some more coins have been recovered, but the bulk of the money remains in the sea. Many of the bodies were recovered, and were buried on Vlie island, including the remains of Captain Lancelot Skynner.

This disaster story is just a quick foot note in our newspaper, as the dominant story was the death of our first president, George Washington. And if you read the paper quickly, you might have missed it. But the sinking of the LUTINE was a huge event in Europe, and a fascinating story, that was overshadowed by Washington’s passing. The newspaper is in great condition given it’s age, and only has a few stains. We are so lucky to have this piece in our collections, as it gives us a glimpse into life in the very beginning of the 19th Century. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,