The Discovery

The mystery of the Mary Celeste began when the vessel set sail from New York on November 7, 1872, destined for Genoa.3 On board were Capt. Benjamin Spooner Briggs, his wife Sarah, daughter Sophia, and seven crewmen.4

Painting of the Dei Gratia by an unknown artist1

This journey took a mysterious turn when the British brig Dei Gratia discovered the Mary Celeste adrift and unguided 400 miles east of the Azores on December 5, 1872.4 Captain David Morehouse of the Dei Gratia, upon discovering the vessel, noted that it was supposed to have already arrived in Genoa by that time.4

Upon boarding the Mary Celeste, the Dei Gratia crew found an eerie scene. The ship was completely devoid of people; however, everything else aboard was in its place.4 The crew’s belongings remained undisturbed in their quarters, indicating a sudden abandonment.2 Despite this, there was no sign of a struggle or immediate danger, as 3.5 feet of water in the ship’s bottom was not considered life-threatening for a vessel of its size.4 Additionally, the Mary Celeste contained 1701 barrels of alcohol and a six-month supply of food and water, all of which were completely intact.4 The last log entry was made at 5 am on November 25, revealing nothing unusual that might explain the crew’s disappearance.4 At the time, it was believed that the crew had escaped on the one missing lifeboat.5

The ship was completely devoid of people; however, everything else aboard was in its place.4

Taking responsibility for the derelict, the crew of the Dei Gratia sailed the Mary Celeste 800 miles to Gibraltar. They intended to claim insurance payments for salvaging the ship.4 However, upon their arrival and the subsequent inspection of Mary Celeste‘s condition, the Admiralty Court grew suspicious.2 The court speculated that there might have been foul play involved, leading to a trial to ascertain the Dei Gratia crew’s innocence or complicity in the mystery.2

Despite these suspicions, the Dei Gratia crew was eventually awarded $46,000 by the court, a sum that was only one-sixth of the insurance value of the Mary Celeste and its cargo.4 While they were cleared in the eyes of the law, this was not necessarily true in the eyes of the general populace, leaving the mystery of the Mary Celeste unsolved and fueling speculation and intrigue for years to come.6