Sunk with Margaret Fuller

Returning from Italy with her husband and infant son, the American feminist and critic Margaret Fuller drowned on 19 July 1850 when the Elizabeth sank within sight of Fire Island. Her papers were lost, including the manuscript of her history of the short-lived Roman Republic, and her body was never recovered.

Also lost in the wreck was a statue by Hiram Powers of John C. Calhoun, the proslavery senator from South Carolina who had died in March, before the Compromise of 1850 had been worked out. But on 26 August 1850, the New York Herald reported that the statue had been found. Captain Waldron of the cutter Morris tried to raise it, still in its packing crate, but “by some awkwardness or other of a person on board, in attempting to hook it up, the lid was broken off, and . . . the statue was injured. The boatswain then stripped, and dived down . . . He felt the legs and other parts so distinctly as to leave no doubt of the certainty of the object.” Unfortunately, no divers on hand knew how to attach the tackle to the statue to raise it, and it remained submerged. Perhaps it was raised later, but I haven’t yet stumbled across an article saying so.

Postscript: According to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the North Carolina Museum of Art once owned a marble statue of Calhoun by Powers, which was only 29 inches tall, but it’s currently listed as “unaccessioned.”

Post-postscript: On 9 November 1850, the Herald reported that the statue was indeed recovered, thanks to “James A. Whipple, the celebrated Boston diver. . . . The only injury . . . is the loss of the left arm from the elbow.” The life-size statue, “clothed with the Roman toga and sandals,” was shipped to Charleston on board the steamship Southerner a few days later (Herald11 November 1850).