John Milton (ship)
|Port of registry:||New Bedford, MA|
|Launched:||1854, Fairhaven, MA|
|Fate:||Wrecked Feb. 20, 1858, five miles W of Montauk Lighthouse|
|Tons burthen:||1,444 tons|
The John Milton, a 1444-ton vessel built in Fairhaven, MA, was wrecked on Feb. 20, 1858 five miles west of the Montauk Lighthouse, killing all 32 or 33 people on board, in one of the worst maritime disasters off the east coast of Long Island, New York.
Built in 1854, the John Milton was captained by Ephraim Harding of Martha's Vineyard out of its home port of New Bedford. The 43-year-old Harding was born in New Bedford. On board was also the captain's teenage son, Francis.
The ship left New York on Dec. 6, 1856 and was returning from the Chincha Islands, off the Peruvian coast, with a load of guano. On its return from South America it stopped at Norfolk, Va on Feb. 14, 1858, and sailed northeast two days later, presumably heading for New York. A blinding snowstorm and gale sprang up, and temperatures plunged to eight degrees above zero. It is speculated that Capt. Harding confused the Shinnecock Lighthouse at Ponquogue Point in Hampton Bays, which had been erected in his absence, for the Montauk Light, and ran aground off the shore at what is known today as "Ditch Plains".
The frozen bodies of some twenty-four sailors washed ashore, and were buried at the South End Burying Ground in East Hampton, NY, where there is a marble monument today. Harding's body was identified, but his son's was never found. Capt. Harding's body was returned home and is buried in the Village Cemetery in Vineyard Haven, MA.