The Persian’s Crew

This one we added to our repertoire this summer.  Interestingly, the song speaks of the mystery of what happened to the Persian, and articles about the song indicate there is a mystery about what ship the song is actually about, but I think that both mysteries have been solved.

The schooner Persian (1855) has the right name, sailed from Oswego, and went down in Lake Huron on September 16th 1868.  She was even near Presque Isle, also mentioned in the song.  This seems like a pretty solid identification, though I bet more research can be done to shore it up.  (Newspaper clippings from Oswego?  Genealogical records of the two men we suspect were on the ship — Captain John Long (mentioned in newspaper reports on the wreck in the Chicago and Detroit papers) and Daniel Sullivan (mentioned in the song)?)

At any rate, the fate of that Persian is definitely known.  She was in a collision with the E.B. Allen, last seen heading for shore, but she never made it.  Her wreck was found in 1991:


There are even tantalizing hints that a movie may have been made about finding the wreck, but I’ve not been able to track that down yet.

Edited to add: I should make it perfectly clear that I’m not the first person to espouse this theory on the Persian.  Several of the sources I consulted cite Norm Cohen as having this same theory, citing an article in December 1969 New York Folklore Quarterly he wrote.  I’ve not yet seen the full article, so I don’t know what his evidence was.

After trying a bit of research on Captain Long and Dan Sullivan and coming up empty-handed, I decided to see if I could learn anything about the Patrick Fennel some sources allege to be the song’s author.  Doing so I found an 1886 book of poetry by Fennel which includes “The Persian’s Crew” as “Loss of the Schooner ‘Persian,’ on Lake Huron.”

PS After I wrote this, Jen found an interesting note in the October 17th, 1868 Detroit Free press:

THE BODY OF A SAILOR FOUND. — A day or two since Capt. Nicholson, of the propeller Montgomery, picked up the body of a sailor in Lake Huron, not far distant from False Presque Isle, which, without a doubt, was one of the lost crew from the schooner Persian, which went down in that locality.  It was decently interred at Presque Isle, where further information may be obtained; also from Capt. Nicholson.




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