ships from the Civil War era were built to perform specific tasks prior to that
epic conflict. Some were built to fight and inflict damage on the enemy – others
were used as blockade runners – some may even have been used as slave ships.
it is doubtful that any of the men who saw duty on these vessels could ever have
imagined that their ships would be responsible for the death of anyone in the
Beneath the waters of the Navidad River, near Lolita,
rests the wreckage of the Confederate iron-hulled steamship known as Mary Summers.
In January of 2010, a fisherman from Victoria
was killed when his small boat plowed into a piece of the wreckage that had been
exposed during low tide.
David Martin was 62 years old when the accident
occurred, he was described as an avid fisherman and Vietnam veteran who had fished
these waters many times before – authorities speculated that he hit his head when
his boat struck the wreckage and that he probably died on impact.
that tragic accident, many people have questioned why the wreckage of the Mary
Summers is not marked. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, parts of the
historic vessel are only exposed at low tide. They say efforts to mark the wreckage
have been futile because every time bouys are put in place to indicate the spot,
they are stolen or washed away when floodgates are opened. Reports indicate that
the wreckage has been struck by boaters before, but Martin is the first to lose
his life in one of these incidents.
How the historic ship found its way
into the Navidad River is not clear and there’s not a lot of information available
to answer that question. One thing we do know; the Mary Summers is very
ship was built in England in 1838 and sent to Savannah, Georgia. According to
information from the Maritime Texas blog, shortly after her arrival in
Savannah the Mary Summers was sent to Baltimore where she underwent extensive
renovations to her boilers and engine.
In 1846 the ship was purchased
by the U.S. Navy to serve in the Mexican War. She sailed the waters of the Gulf
of Mexico serving as a transport and freight vessel.
After the war with
Mexico, the vessel was sold to private parties in New Orleans – she was resold
a number of times and had several owners.
During this time her name was
changed to United States and the 1850s found the ship traveling between
New Orleans and several Texas ports transporting merchandise, passengers, and
live Texas cattle.
At the start of the Civil War the vessel once again
became the Mary Summers and was used by the Confederate navy. It seems
that records of the old ship’s activities after 1862 are nonexistent and historians
can only speculate as to how she ended up in the Navidad.
Pearson, an expert on nautical archaeology, has his own theory on what happened
to the Mary Summers. “I suspect she was run up the Navidad and scuttled
and stripped of most of her valuable material by 1862.” Others speculate that
the ship was intentionally sunk as an obstacle to Union gunboats that might try
to sail up the river.
Pearson has done extensive research at the wreckage
site and is convinced that this vessel is the Mary Summers. “The dimensions,
construction and engine on the Navidad River wreck exactly match what we know
of the Mary Summers, so there is no doubt the wreck is the Mary Summers.”
Pearson says the vessel was a technological marvel when built because of its innovative
He explains, however, that the ship was obsolete by 1860 because
she was old and worn out while newer, more powerful engines were driving steamships.
The Mary Summers is of great historical value and is listed on National
Register of Historic Places. According to Pearson, “… what appears to be the oldest
iron-hulled steamboat wreck found in the U.S. is resting in Texas
Star Diary July
29, 2013 column
| Columns | Texas
Town List | Texas