One thing I learned while writing Those Who Stayed is that, though time and circumstances have erased much evidence of Green Turtle Cay’s fascinating history, a few clues remain — if you know where to look.
One glimpse into the cay’s past can be found along the Settlement Creek waterfront…
The sea was smooth and the winds light on the evening of December 31, 1864. However, with just the narrowest sliver of a new moon, the night was so dark and the water so black that visibility was reduced to less than a ship’s length.
Her captain, R. W. Meade, was unwilling to concede defeat. Suspecting his prey might take advantage of the darkness to make a run around Hole In The Wall and west toward the U.S. Gulf Coast, Captain Meade sailed slowly along the shoreline, hoping to intercept the blockade runner.
Shortly after midnight, however, the San Jacinto smashed into the reef three miles north of Green Turtle Cay and became stuck. Though her crew worked valiantly to free her, they were unable to do so. And as the sun rose, a powerful easterly wind began to blow, swamping the ship.
Thanks in large part to the local wreckers who gathered around the vessel, Captain Meade was able to save all crew members as well as the San Jacinto’s guns, sails, rigging, and provisions.
As for the vessel itself, the San Jacinto foundered, broke apart and sunk in about 40 feet of water near No Name Cay, where her wreckage remains today.
Along with the San Jacinto‘s shaft and propeller, which were sold for scrap in Key West, Green Turtle Cay wreckers were able to retrieve three of her cannon. One was salvaged by the U.S. Navy, and is now part of the Smithsonian Museum archives in Washington, D.C.
The other two? They stand guard over Settlement Creek from their post on New Plymouth’s public dock.