Lewis Gerhardt Goldsmith

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In 1879,during an international fad for attempting long voyages in tiny vessels,[1] 40-year-old Captain Lewis Gerhardt Goldsmith, a Danish immigrant and Civil War veteran, announced at a press conference [2] in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, that he was having built a boat of his own design. The vessel would be based on the latest "lifeboat" technology, and he would sail around the world in it. Dubbed the Uncle Sam, it was to be an open dory eighteen feet long by six feet wide, with a single fore-and-aft rigged mast. In place of a cabin, the Uncle Sam would have a watertight "trunk", (an oilcloth-covered wooden box) large enough to sleep in. Goldsmith also announced that his new 22-year-old wife, who had no prior seagoing experience, would be accompanying him as his "crew".

The planned route would take them along the coast of North America to Newfoundland, then to England, to a restorative stopover with family in Copenhagen, then through Gibraltar to the Mediterranean, through the new Suez Canal and on to the Indian Ocean. Then from India, on to China, Japan, Hawaii, San Francisco, Cape Horn, and home. He said they would leave in July 1879 and would return in November 1881, allowing time to exhibit the remarkable vessel in cities along the route.

The Captain and his wife left Boston Harbor at dawn on Sunday, June 1, ahead of schedule. Their progress, as reported by passing vessels and by the ports-of-call where they stopped, was charted in newspapers all over the United States, making use of the new undersea telegraph cables. The Uncle Sam made port in Halifax, Nova Scotia, three weeks later, for a week of resupply and repair. The Goldsmiths moved northeastward along the Maritimes, heading for St. Johns. In early July the Uncle Sam was badly damaged in a storm and had to make an emergency stop at the tiny French possession of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, just south of Newfoundland. Mrs. Goldsmith had become seriously ill (diagnosed, according to the Captain's log, with "inflammation of the bowel")so both she and the Uncle Sam needed rest and repair. With the help of the local French community, Goldsmith was able to get underway again and reached St. Johns, the last stop before England, on August 7. After a final resupply they set out for Liverpool in mid-August.

A week later, 2500 miles east of Liverpool, they encountered storms and fogs on the Grand Banks. During a "great storm," a huge wave swept away their sea anchors and most of their supplies. The Uncle Sam was swamped and filled with water but was kept afloat, due to its design, containing watertight compartments. After days of misery in the flooded vessel, suffering injury and illness, the Captain spotted the sails of a passing ship and, rigging a temporary storm sail, gave chase. After a desperate hour, someone on the ship spotted The Uncle Sam in tow and gave the alarm. The crew of the Queen Of Nations, a high-speed clipper ship out of Australia, threw a rope to the couple in their derelict boat and hauled them aboard. Captain Goldsmith's last act before debarking was to open the seacocks on the compartments to scuttle the Uncle Sam. Even aboard "The Queen" they were not yet safe; for two weeks the ship was battered by storms before arriving safely in Liverpool. Word of the Goldsmith's rescue was spread across the Atlantic and made headlines in papers all over America.[3] The Captain gave another press conference [4] and then the couple went home to Brooklyn. They named their first child Miquelon.


  1. ^ "The American Magazine", page 443 (1850) Volume XIL
  2. ^ The New York Times, 12 February 1879
  3. ^ Daily Kennebec Journal, Kennebec, ME, 22 September 1879
  4. ^ Brooklyn Eagle, 9 September 1879