503-227-5906, 208 SW Ankeny St, Portland
In July of 1865 the side wheeler steamship the S.S. Brother Jonathan sailed from the harbor in San Francisco overloaded with cargo. On board was a treasure chest of gold mined during the California Gold Rush Days. A gale kicked up shortly after Brother Jonathan left port and the storm worsened. Around one o’clock in the afternoon, the ill-fated steamer passed Crescent City, California hitting the Saint George Reef. The impact was so jarring that both passengers and crew were tossed overboard. A geyser immediately erupted inside the paddle wheeler and within 45 minutes the Brother Jonathan sank to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean as onlookers watched helplessly from the high bluffs of the town. Only 19 of the 223 passengers survived. Among the sunken items were personal belongings, china cups, porcelain, glass bottles and a group of “Rare Date” San Francisco Mint gold coins minted during the Civil War in 1865.
For some 131 years, rumors abounded about sunken treasure aboard the ship. Many thought there was a Civil War Army payroll on board. No one knew for sure where the shipwreck was since 1865, nor if any gold coins were really on board, or if they were preserved in recognizable condition. Thanks to modern deep sea technological developments, treasures from famous shipwrecks like the Titanic have been successfully saved in recent years.
In 1993, the S.S. Brother Jonathan shipwreck was discovered by scientists in search of the highly prized gold and other historical treasures. When news was released of the find, rare coin experts were amazed. On board were a variety of Pre-Civil War coins carried by the passengers. Among the shipwreck was a find of historic, $20 Liberty gold pieces dating 1865. The coins were placed in the hands of a numismatic team who carefully dissolved the adhered calcium and residue without using polish, abrasives, or any other substance which would be harmful to the coins. In this way the dirt was removed and the majority of the coins are no different in appearance than they might be if they were stored in a bank vault over the last century.
The resting place of the captain’s wheel from the Brother Jonathan is in the front lobby at Dan and Louis Oyster Bar in Portland, Oregon. The same city it had been destined for when it shipwrecked in 1865. That was the same year Meinert Wachsmuth shipwrecked on Yaquina Bay.