In the summer of 1988, a team of treasure hunters led by Tommy Thompson finally discovered the vessel they’d spent years looking for. The SS Central America lay upright on the Atlantic Ocean floor off the coast of Carolina, 8,000 feet below the surface. It was like a ghost appearing out of the past. And it was a ghost loaded with gold, two tons of it.
Thompson’s team used a sophisticated technology to bring thousands of coins and bars of gold up to the surface. It would prove to be the greatest treasure ever found in the sea.
But one of its greatest stories actually had nothing to do with all that gold on the ocean floor. Its greatest story revolved around the extraordinary faith of a young newlywed named, Addie Easton. We can piece her story together from the journal that she left us.
The SS Central America sailed out of Havana, Cuba on the morning of September 8, 1857, bound for the coast of Florida. But a few days out to sea, the Central America ran into a hurricane. The boiler room began filling with sea water.
Every able-bodied man aboard, some 500 of them, began bailing. They worked for 30 straight hours with little sustenance or sleep. They fought off certain death by passing seawater in buckets from below decks to be dumped back into the Atlantic.
But it was a losing battle. On September 11, Captain Herndon could no longer steer his ship. The Central America was going down.
Two tons of gold was going down with her.
What the Central America had picked up in Panama was a group of passengers who’d sailed from San Francisco — and the California Gold Rush. Many had struck it rich. They were loaded. They were coming back to make huge deposits in the New York banks.
But now, all that gold couldn’t restart the boilers. It couldn’t keep the Central America headed into the waves. It couldn’t rescue their sinking ship.
All the gold was going to the bottom.
But there was one couple there on the Central America, newlyweds Ansel and Addie Easton, who weren’t just grasping for the wind. They managed to hang onto something that wasn’t sinking.
ADDIE’S JOURNAL: “A few hours only at most were between us and eternity. We talked to each other very calmly, and we mingled our prayers to Him who was our only hope and refuge. And He answered us and in answer He gave us such sweet consolation in such trying hours. How little do we realize in our earthly security the preciousness when all human hope has fled, of trusting, whether we live or die in an Almighty Power. I could not think of anything I had ever done to merit His love, but yet I still felt that we were in the palm of His hands and resigned to His will.”
“All that fearful night we watched and prayed, not knowing but that each hour might be our last. My sweet, dear husband and I, we talked calmly about our dear, dear friends, about our very brief happiness together, our hopes for the future. Life had never seemed so attractive and precious to either of us, and yet I think we could both say ‘Thy will be done.’ We resolved that when the moment came we would tie ourselves together and the same wave would engulf us both.”
As the Central America was tossed about in the storm, Ansel Easton joined those who were desperately trying to bail water. When exhausted he’d rest a bit by Addie’s side. Addie herself tried to join the line of men passing buckets to the upper deck, but they wouldn’t let her.
During one of their moments together, Addie turned to her husband and said, “Ansel, if you hadn’t married me, you wouldn’t be in all this trouble.”
Ansel looked back at her and replied tenderly, “If I knew it all beforehand, I should do the same again.”
And at that moment this new bride knew that this man beside her meant every word of it.
ADDIE’S JOURNAL: “Here in the midst of mortal peril, with death before me, with all the joys of life, so wonderfully loved, disappearing, my dear husband’s words made even the storm and the shipwreck nothing.”
While others were anguishing and fretting over what to do with the gold in their carpet bags, Ansel and Addie calmly resolved to go down together hand in hand.
Gold sinks to the bottom. Faith rises to the top.
Why did the storm and shipwreck become almost “nothing” for Addie? Because she had placed her faith in a good man, because she knew beyond a doubt that the man beside her was faithful and true and would be with her until the end. Ansel Easton proved himself a good, faithful man to the end.
One afternoon, someone spotted a sail on the horizon, another ship was approaching. It proved to be a two-masted brig, the Marine, bound for Boston. As she passed close, the passengers of the Central America cheered and wept, believing they were saved.
But the Marine herself had been battered by the storm. She was waterlogged and partially dis-masted. She had a hard time keeping close to the Central America. Captain Herndon ordered the women and children into the six lifeboats on board.
It proved a difficult, perilous task. The storm was still raging. Passengers had to be lowered into boats tossed by the waves, crashing against the ship.
Ansel Easton set to work on deck helping to get people off the Central America. Then he went below to tell Addie to hurry. “We shall be saved,” he assured her, “but the women and children are to be taken off first.”
Addie’s face turned white. “I can’t go without you,” she said.
Ansel reassured her, “You have to go; I shall follow very soon.”
Up on the deck, Ansel prepared Addie for the lifeboat. She turned to him again and said, “I don’t want to go till you do.” But he calmed her and said, “You have to leave now.”
After she was lowered into the third lifeboat, Ansel threw a coat down to her containing some valuables. And then he took the coat off his own shoulders and tossed it down, too, so she would be warmer during the rough ride to the other ship.
Ansel remained faithful to the end.
Others were more distracted. Women moving away in the lifeboats looked back and saw some tossing gold coins into the wind. But Addie could look back and see Ansel, and hold his steady gaze, and pull his coat tight around her shoulders.
Gold sinks to the bottom. But faith rises to the top.
Faith rescues us. It can rescue us in the storm. (1 Peter 1:6, 7)
After Addie made it safely to the Marine, she hoped the lifeboats would quickly be sent back for the men on that sinking ship. But the Marine had drifted too far away. There wasn’t a man with strength left to row back. And the storm made an immediate return trip seem impossible.
Tragically, the Central America sank before help could get back. Addie was on the Marine’s deck watching the lights in the distance disappear beneath the waves. Word soon came from an empty lifeboat: “The steamer’s gone down and every soul on board her is lost.”
The Marine managed to limp back to Chesapeake Bay. But it was a sad voyage for Addie. She was sustained only by the memory of her brave husband on the deck of that doomed ship. His coat was still around her shoulders.
As the ship docked in Norfolk, Addie and the other survivors received startling news. Forty-nine men from the Central America had been rescued by another vessel. Forty-nine had survived!
Addie caught a glimmer of hope. Was her beloved Ansel among them?
Arriving at a hotel where the survivors had gathered, Addie glanced from face to face in the parlor. Ansel was not there. But a few minutes later he burst into the room. He’d impatiently rowed out to the Marine to be reunited with his bride of four weeks — and found that she’d already gone.
There they were. Face to face. They embraced, and they were so overwhelmed that they could not speak.
ADDIE’S JOURNAL: “We wept together as well as rejoiced and for several nights, neither of us could sleep, so vivid were the scenes that we had passed through. My watch, my beautiful ring, our wedding presents and many other things that I valued from their associations were all lost. Though I shall never behold them again, I still have the privilege of preserving them in my memory and I still have my darling husband, the most precious jewel of all.”
Ansel was able to tell his wife about his miraculous survivalA wave crashed over the ship and forced it under.
As the Central America broke up and began to sink into the deep, Ansel was sucked down with her. Breaking to the surface, he found himself among scores of other men floating with the debris of the ship.
Ansel managed to hang onto a board for several hours in the frigid waters. He knew that there was someone waiting for him. Suddenly, a vessel loomed out of the dark. To him it seemed to have dropped from the clouds. He grasped the rope thrown down to him and was pulled up to the deck and safety.
Gold sinks to the bottom, faith rises to the top. (stevenmosley.com)
1Pe 1:7 (GW): “The purpose of these troubles is to test your faith as fire tests how genuine gold is. Your faith is more precious than gold, and by passing the test, it gives praise, glory, and honor to God...”