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In One Ear: Good-bye Sharksville

USS Shark’s crew settles uncomfortably into Astoria
By Elleda Wilson

The Daily Astorian

Published on September 22, 2017 12:01AM


When the USS Shark ran aground on the Columbia River bar on Sept. 10, 1846, the crew eventually made its way to Astoria, where they built two houses on Point George (roughly where the Port of Astoria’s Pier 3 is now), and called them Sharksville, after their lost ship.

When their captain, Neil Howison, wasn’t busy running back and forth to Vancouver, Washington, trying to charter a boat to get the crew to California, or getting supplies, he and some of the crew members were trying to salvage anything they could from the remnants of the Shark on Clatsop Beach, which wasn’t much besides the ship’s flag — the wreckage had quickly spread out over 75 miles of coastline.

The flag proved to be important, however, as it was the “first U.S. flag to wave over the undisputed and purely American Territory of Oregon,” Howison proclaimed, after border issues were settled between England and America that year.

While the captain was busy, things were not running smoothly at Sharksville. Some of the men amused themselves by cutting their names into stones above Astoria’s high water mark, and there was always the work of survival. Several crew members were unhappy, and some were deserting. The captain blamed the Astorians for “tampering with the fidelity of the men” and their “inhuman conduct,” charging extortionate prices for simple items like bread.

In the meantime, Native Americans reported that part of the Shark’s hull had come to rest near Tillamook Head, with some the cannons intact, so the captain sent Midshipman Simes south to take a look. Two guns were inaccessible, but he did manage to haul a third above the tide line. Dragging it back over the mountains to Astoria was out of the question, so there it stayed. (Note: In 2008, a pair of the Shark’s cannons were found in Cannon Beach.)

Eventually a charter ship was found, and the stranded crewmen left Astoria, and Sharksville behind them to pursue other, hopefully more profitable ventures.

(Sources: Burr Osborn’s letters, http://tinyurl.com/BOsLet; “A Gallant Little Schooner,” http://tinyurl.com/shark1846)



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