Francis H. Leggett

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Francis H. Leggett was an American-flagged steam-powered schooner built in 1903 by Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Virginia, as a timber-hauling ship serving Andrew Benoni Hammond's timber operations on the United States West Coast. She served in this capacity for 11 years before she sank off the Columbia Bar on the coast of Oregon. The disaster killed 35 of the 37 passengers aboard and all 25 crewmen. It was the worst maritime accident in the history of Oregon and was attributed to the ship being overloaded with railroad ties.

NameFrancis H. Leggett
NamesakeA business partner of A. B. Hammond
OwnerHicks-Hauptman Transportation Co.
OperatorMcCormick Steamship Company, San Francisco, California
Port of registry United States
LaunchedJanuary 31, 1903
In service1903
FateSank September 18, 1914
General characteristics
Typesteam-powered schooner
Tonnage1,606 GRT
Length241.5 feet (73.6 m)
Beam41.2 feet (12.6 m)
Depth14.8 feet (4.5 m)
Installed power1,000 hp


In 1903, with his timber operations in full bloom in the Pacific Northwest, timber baron A. B. Hammond began acquiring what became known as "Hammond's Navy," a flotilla of 72 ships (not all owned simultaneously) that served his operations. The flagship of this flotilla was Francis H. Leggett, which Hammond named after one of his business partners and commissioned to be the largest ship in the Pacific lumber trade.[1] With a capacity of 1.5 million board-feet of lumber, her steel hull was so large that she could not enter many of the ports on U.S. West Coast. Nicknamed "Hammond's Folly," she nevertheless was a commercial success when she arrived on the U.S. West Coast from the Virginia shipyard where she was built.[2] In 1905 alone, Francis H. Leggett and her sister ship Arctic netted Hammond $62,000 in profit, more than the profit of some of his timber operations. The success of Francis H. Leggett led Hammond to acquire more ships.[1]

Later, Francis H. Leggett was one of the pioneering ships behind the technique of ocean rafting (also called Benson rafting), whereby large rafts of logs were chained together and towed. These rafts could be up to 700 feet (210 m) long and contain up to 11 million board feet of timber.[3] After some years of success, the practice was banned by the United States Congress in 1912 after several rafts broke up in storms, spreading large logs up and down the coast and creating a hazard to shipping.[4]


On September 17, 1914, Francis H. Leggett departed Grays Harbor, Washington, for San Francisco, California, with a load of railroad ties lashed to her deck. While the weather was calm in Grays Harbor, it worsened as the ship steamed south, where a 60 miles per hour (97 km/h) gale was blowing off the coast of Oregon. On September 18, the ship's cargo of railroad ties began to shift, and a hatch cover was torn off by the storm, allowing waves to flood into the ship.[5] Charles Moro, the captain of Francis H. Leggett, ordered the ship's radio operators to send a distress call as the ship began to sink.[6]

The distress signal was detected by the Imperial Japanese Navy armored cruiser Izumo, but Izumo did not respond to Francis H. Leggett out of fear that she would encounter the Imperial German Navy light cruiser SMS Leipzig, which was nearby; World War I had begun, Japan was at war with Germany, and Izumo feared being attacked by the more modern German ship. Izumo relayed the distress signal to other ships, including the oil tanker Buck and the steamer Beaver. Both ships responded to the call for help, but by the time they arrived on the scene, Francis H. Leggett had sunk, leaving only its cargo of railroad ties still afloat. Two passengers aboard Francis H. Leggett were rescued. One of the survivors, Alexander Farrell, explained that the storm swamped both of the ship's lifeboats as soon as they were lowered. Both survivors lived by clinging to railroad ties.[7] The death toll of 60 people makes it Oregon's worst maritime disaster on record.


  • Forty-Fifth Annual List of Merchant Vessals of the United States. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington: 1913. p. 176
  • Gordon, Greg. When Money Grew on Trees: A.B. Hammond and the Age of the Timber Baron. University of Oklahoma Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0806144474


  1. ^ a b Gordon, p. 267
  2. ^ "The Francis H. Leggett Launched". The New York Times. Newport News, Virginia. February 1, 1903. p. 10. Retrieved May 3, 2021 – via
  3. ^ "The Largest Lumber Raft". The New York Times. San Francisco. August 24, 1906. p. 1. Retrieved May 3, 2021 – via
  4. ^ Gordon, p. 269
  5. ^ Lienhard, John H. "The Francis H. Leggett," Engines of Our Ingenuity. January 31, 2014. Retrieved September 21, 2014.
  6. ^ "Only 2 of 70 on Leggett Escape," The Spokesman-Review. September 19, 1914. Retrieved September 21, 2014.
  7. ^ "Only Wwo Saved in Pacific Wreck". The New York Times. Astoria, Oregon. September 20, 1914. p. 1. Retrieved May 3, 2021 – via

Further readingEdit

  • Belyk, Robert. Great Shipwrecks of the Pacific Coast. Wiley, 2001.

External linksEdit