Menemon Sanford

Diver taking a photo of shipwreck parts on a sandy seafloor
University of Miami archaeologist examining paddlewheel remains Photo: Matthew Lawrence/NOAA

Menemon Sanford (aka Sanford) was a side paddlewheel steamship, launched in 1854 and named for the late founder of the Sanford Independent Line, Menemon Sanford. The vessel measured 244 feet long with a beam of 34 feet. Menemon Sanford could accommodate up to 249 passengers. On December 10, 1862, the steamship grounded on the coral reef about 1.5 miles southwest of the Carysfort Reef Lighthouse, off of Key Largo, Florida.


Menemon Sanford was built in 1854 in New York by John Englis while its vertical beam steam engine was produced by Guion Boardman and Company, otherwise known as the Neptune Iron Works. Originally built to service the New York and Philadelphia outside route for the Independent Line, the steamship was transferred to the Boston-Bangor line in April 1856.

Sanford's first major mishap occurred July 5, 1856 when the ship ran aground on Thatcher Island, just off Cape Ann, despite the clear weather. After 20 feet of the bow was chopped away, the steamer was refloated and was back in service by the end of the summer 1856. On September 19, 1856, a passenger from Maine fell overboard on one of Sanford's routes and the captain did not respond adequately to the emergency and was brought up on manslaughter charges. On July 31, 1862 the vessel ran aground again on Dry Salvages Ledge near Cape Ann. After laboriously dismantling parts of the ship, including the removal of its machinery, salvagers refloated the vessel and returned it to service.

In response to the Union Army's need to move trips to the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Army Quartermaster's Bureau chartered Menemon Sanford on November 13, 1862. Under the command of Captain Charles B. Sanford (brother to owner Jason Sanford) with Pilot Abel W. Richardson, Sanford steamed from New York on December 3rd 1862 with sealed orders after embarking 700-800 troops of the 156th Regiment of the New York Volunteers. Commanding officer Colonel Erastus Cooke unsealed his orders one day out from port and learned that his regiment was bound for New Orleans to support the campaign of General Banks in his new role as commander of the Department of the Gulf.

After 12 days of otherwise unremarkable passage south, disaster struck on the morning of December 15, 1862 at 6:00 a.m. Menemon Sanford grounded on a reef a very short distance from the 10-year-old Carysfort Lighthouse. Wrecking so close to the lighthouse was a serious error and the loss of the ship was blamed on Pilot Abel RIchardson's incompetence. No lives were lost, but a considerable quantity of military supplies were ruined. The steamship was extensively salvaged shortly after sinking. Its vertical beam engine was dismantled, removed, and refurbished and returned to service in the steamer George Leary of the Baltimore and Norfolk Line.


Following the steamship's extensive contemporary salvage not much remains of the wooden-hulled Menemon Sanford. The initial grounding of Menemon Sanford occurred at the location known as the "Maitland site." Archival sources indicated that the crew discarded stores and ammunition in an attempt to lighten the ship to re-float it. After this attempt failed the ship was abandoned and left where it ran aground. In October 1865, a Category 2 hurricane came through the region and may have torn off the starboard side of the ship along with the boiler and paddlewheel. The storm could have contributed to those parts ending up at the site now known as the Sanford site. Over the years due to repetitive hurricanes and natural sedimentation processes, the site has shifted and is now covered with sand.

Iron fragments from one of Menemon Sandford's paddlewheels. Photo: Brenda Altmeier/NOAA

The impact of the vessel when it hit the reef, the salvage of its parts, coupled with the marine environment, caused rapid deterioration of exposed ship features. A hurricane in late September 1894 may have further ripped apart the wreck scattering parts further into the reef. The paddlewheel and boiler were tumbled shoreward, coming to a rest approximately 600 feet (200 yards) from the original wreck site of Sanford. When the shipwreck was discovered in the 1990's, remnants of the paddle wheels and boiler were readily identified. Additionally, scattered wreckage consisting of glass bottle fragments, bracket and curved beam pieces, iron knees, and boiler piping was found on the western side of the reef.

(Corscadden Knox et al., 2010)

Site Map

Archaeological drawing of the shipwreck.
Archaeological site map of the Sandford wreckage. Credit: PAST Foundation