April 8, 2008
May 1860, Levant was ordered to the Hawaiian Islands at the
request of the Secretary of State to investigate the
disbursement of relief funds to American merchant seamen.
After receiving a state visit by King Kamehameha IV at
Honolulu 7 May, and investigating at Lahaina, Maui, and
Hilo, Hawaii, Levant sailed for Panama 18 September, but
never made port.
All ships that vanish at sea gather rumors in death as they
collect barnacles afloat. But since Levant disappeared just
prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, an unusual number
of intriguing yarns surround her last voyage. Bits of
evidence, too scanty to solve her mystery, have multiplied
Commodore Montgomery reported that a violent hurricane had
occurred in September in a part of the Pacific Ocean which
Levant was to cross. In June 1861, a mast and a part of a
lower yardarm believed to be from Levant were found near
Hilo. Spikes had been driven into the mast as if a form a
raft. Some rumors had her running aground on an uncharted
reef off California; others had her defecting to the
Confederacy. Whatever her real fate, this ghostly heroine
of colorful episodes in American naval history still sails
the seas of imagination and legend.
In July 1861, a small bottle was found at Cape Sable
Island, Nova Scotia. It was corked and contained a card
that read in part: "Pacific Ocean" "Levant" "Written by the
last remaining" "three" "in a boat" "God forgive us".
Unfortunately, the card was damaged when it was removed
from the bottle and parts of the message were unreadable.
This card was in the possession of Thomas Willett of
Pubnico, Nova Scotia, in 1862, who lost a son aboard this
No other ship in the United States Navy has been named
Levant. The Levant has been immortalized in The Star Trek
Herald 30 Jan 1862 p. 3 col. 2 courtesy Yarmouth Co. Museum
James Skelton Gilliam, the son of Dr. John Gilliam and
Elizabeth Smith Shore, sailed on the USS Levant as
Assistant Surgeon. Dr. James S. Gilliam married on 26 Nov
1857, Georgia Clifford Nicoll, the daughter of Judge John
C. Nicoll. James and Georgia had several children
(supposedly Elizabeth A, Georgia, Loula and Leila) who were
left orphaned by 1870. Their father died on USS Levant in
Sep 1860; their mother died 1 Aug 1869.
I have been unable to locate with certainty James and
Georgia's children in the 1870 Census. They are not with
their Gilliam aunts and uncles. It appears daughter,
Elizabeth A. Gilliam, age 13, "at school" is living in
Savannah, with Caroline Lamar, age 44, who was the widow of
Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar. Caroline was Caroline
Agnes Nicoll, likely a sister or near relative of Georgia
C. Nicoll. In the Lamar household are numerous individuals
(21). There is also a Georgia G. Lamar, age 9. Georgia
could possibly be a daughter of James and Georgia.
Supposedly their daughter Georgia "Lamar" Gilliam was born
21 Jan 1861 in Chatham County, GA, making her age 9 in
1870. It has been said that Caroline also had a daughter,
Georgia, born February 1866, if so, then the Georgia G.,
age 9 in 1870 is not the daughter of Caroline.
It is said daughter Loula married a Mr. Thomas and that
daughter Leila married a Seaton Grantland. I have been
unable to substantiate either marriage.
LOSS OF THE SLOOP-OF-WAR LEVANT
There is reason to fear that the United States sloop-of-war
Levant has gone down with all hands on board.
For the last four weeks apprehension of her loss has been
generally gaining currency in the navy, and the news
received by the Department at Washington on Friday, to the
effect that the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Squadron
had not ordered her to stop at any intermediate port
between Honolulu and Panama, has removed the few hopes of
her safety that existed.
She had been cruising for some time around the Sandwich
Islands, showing the American flag occasionally at
different seaboard cities, and had sailed for the
head-quarters of the squadron at Panama to replenish her
THE U. S. SHIP LEVANT, REPORTED TO BE LOST ON THE VOYAGE
FROM HONOLULU TO PANAMA. and provisions, when last heard
from. For over forty days the naval officers and sailors at
the latter place were rather anxious about her, and the
California mail, some weeks since, brought intelligence of
her probable destination. So many ill-founded rumors,
however, relative to the alleged wreck of United States
men-of-war, of the Pawnee, Seminole, Congress, Niagara,
&c., have, from time to time, found their way into the
newspapers, that we thought best to keep quiet for a while.
There is no use, however, in hiding it longer.
The Levant is a sailing sloop-of-war of the third class,
ranking with the Vandalia, Cyane, and St. Louis. She was
built at Brooklyn 23 years ago; is 792 tuns burden, and
carries 20 guns. She served the country well in her time,
having cruised actively on the Home, African, East Indies
and Pacific squadrons. Side by side with the San Jacinto,
she, during her last commission, threw in her broadsides to
the Barrier Forts on the Canton River, and did much toward
After her return from China she was thoroughly overhauled
and repaired at Norfolk, from which port she sailed over a
year ago for the Pacific Ocean.
The Levant was always considered a good, strong ship, but
never rated with fast sailers.
Her condition up to the date of her departure from the
Sandwich Islands was reported to be good. While the
Lancaster was going out from the Atlantic States, she was
temporary flagship of the fleet, Commodore Montgomery and
suite being on board.
We append a list of her officers:
Commander—William E. Hunt.
Kieutenants—W. C. B. S. Porter, E. C. Stout,
Colville Terrett, R. T. Bowen, Dawson Phunix,
attached to the flag.
Purser—A. J. Watson.
Acting Master—J. C. Mosely.
First Lieutenant of Marines—R. L. Browning.
Passed Assistant Surgeon—J. S. GILLIAM.
Assistant Surgeon—D. E. Montgomery.
Captain's Clerk—A. O. Shuff.
Purser's Clerk—C. Woodward.
Acting Boatswain—H. Edmonston.
Acting Gunner—R. S. King.
Sailmaker—C. T. Frost.
Master's Mates—William Lewis, P. Morrison,
Samuel H. Drown.
A writer in the Times of Monday last, looks more hopefully
upon the absence of the Levant. He says: “On the departure
of the last mail steamer from the Isthmus of Panama, the
Levant had been out only 103 days from Honolulu, Sandwich
Islands, for Panama. During the past ten years there have
been several vessels which have been over 100 days between
these two ports; one in particular, in 1852, was 139 days.
Considering that fact, and knowing that the months of
October, November and December are the three months most
calm on that route, I cannot see any just cause for such
conclusions as those stated in your paper. The distance
from Honolulu to Panama is 3,764 miles in a direct line.”
We sincerely hope that the suppositions of this writer may
prove correct; although we confess that we have little
faith that they will be realized.
York Illustrated News, Jan 19 1861