Return to site

Mettie and the Steamship Pacific

Written in 2010 by: Mary Bowlby, Executive Director (retired)

Originally published as part of a museum exhibit at Job Carr Cabin Museum.

Updated for blog publication in 2019 by: Holly Stewart, Program Manager

broken image

Marietta, Howard, and Margaret Carr in 1867

Marietta Carr Mahon

Marietta (Mettie) Carr, the third of Job and Rebecca Carr's four children, was born in 1849 near Richmond, Indiana. When her parents left to serve with the Union Army in the Civil War, 12-year old Mettie and her younger sister Margaret were left in the care of neighbors and grandparents.

In 1864, her brother Howard returned to Richmond after his release as a prisoner of war to learn that his mother and sisters had moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. Arriving the day before Christmas, he went with Mettie and Maggie to buy a 26 lb turkey to celebrate.

In the fall of 1867, Mettie was 18 years old and living with her mother and sister in Clinton, Iowa. Her brother Howard, just back from the west coast, convinced her to come with him to their father's house on Puget Sound. Their mother Rebecca paid for their passage.

The journey to Washington Territory took over two months, beginning on September 13, 1867. Howard and Mettie first headed east, traveling by train to New York where they caught a steamer (S.S. Santiago de Cuba) bound for California. They crossed Central America through Nicaragua, then boarded another steamship (S.S. Moses Taylor) bound for San Francisco. After a two week layover, they finally found passage aboard a northbound boat. Poor winds and heavy fog delayed their progress even further. For the last leg of the journey, they hired two Native Americans to bring them by canoe from Bainbridge Island to Vashon Island and finally home to their father's cabin at Shubollup (now the Old Town Tacoma waterfront), finally arriving on November 19. Mettie was frequently seasick along the way.

On Commencement Bay, Mettie lived with Job in his log cabin and helped him welcome visitors to the newly developing town of Tacoma City. In February 1869, Mettie married William (Billy) Mahon and they had one child. In 1875, she boarded the S.S. Pacific with her young son to visit her sister in California.

Tragedy at Sea

broken image

The loss of the Pacific, off Cape Flattery, Washington on November 4, 1875, may well have been the worst shipwreck, in terms of lives lost, in Pacific Coast History. At least 275 were known to have been on board when she sailed from Tacoma and Victoria outward bound for San Francisco. Contemporary sources agree that the number was higher -- in some cases far higher, numbering over 500 -- and only two survived.

Around 10pm, while at a distance of twelve to fifteen miles off the Washington coast, the Pacific rammed the sailing vessel, Orpheus. It was, by all accounts, not a major collision. The Orpheus, having lost some of her rigging and a section of railing, resumed sailing in order to make shore and assess damages. The last the Pacific was seen from aboard the Orpheus, she had altered course and was following the sailing vessel towards shore.

Only two survived after the Pacific sank some ten to fifteen minutes later; the survivors were found afloat days later at different times and places. A few bodies of the dead were recovered but the majority of those who went down with the Pacific were lost at sea forever.

Tacoma Passengers

The November 11, 1875 issue of the Puget Sound Express, the only newspaper serving Pierce County at the time (out of Steilacoom) lists the names below as those who boarded the Pacific in Tacoma--

Loss for the Carr Family

broken image

Marietta Carr Mahon

Marietta Carr Mahon was 26 years old when she perished in the shipwreck of the Pacific.

Despite the efforts of local historians and Carr family descendants, no records have been found that reveal the name or birth date of Mettie's son who died with his mother in the sea; he would have been between one and four years old.*

William Mahon never remarried. The 1880 and 1900 census record show him living on his parents' farm near Parkland/Spanaway.**

The loss of life would have been a hard one for the new city, and especially for Job Carr. In addition to the loss of his daughter and grandson, it is probable that Job Carr considered at least one of the other passengers as a colleague: former Washington postal agent Fred Hard.

In 1870 the Federal Census noted only 73 people living in Tacoma. Ten years later, the population had grown to 1,098.


* In 2019, a new set of Carr family archives included letters written by Mettie. This new information revealed that her child was named Frankie. It is possible that he was named after her brother Francis Howard Carr.

**William Mahon passed away in 1901 and is buried in the Mahon Family Cemetery in Parkland, WA.


..., "Loss of steamship Pacific, a terrible disaster, two hundred lives perish," The Puget Sound Express. November 11, 1875.

Kalafus, Jim, ‘The Public Be Damned: One Black Week in 1875’; Gare Maritime

Wright, E.W., "Loss of the 'Pacific,' New Transportation Companies on the Willamette and Columbia," Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest. New York: Antiquarian Press, Ltd., 1961., p.223-8.

broken image