The Sinking of the Metropolis

A drawing of the Metropolis from Office of Archives and History

A drawing of the Metropolis from Office of Archives and History

On January 31, 1878, the vessel Metropolis struck the shoals 100 yards from the beach at Currituck, halfway between two lifesaving stations.

Built in 1861 and originally called the Stars and Stripes, the ship was outfitted for naval service in September 1862 and saw action during the Battle of Roanoke Island later that year. The ship was refitted for freight and passenger service but eventually fell into disrepair, rendering it inadequate for the lengthy trips.

Nonetheless a Philadelphia company chartered the Metropolis to transport workmen and supplies to Brazil to build a railroad January 1878. By the time the ship reached the Chesapeake Bay, the cargo was shifting dangerously, causing seams in the hull to leak. On January 31 at 6:45 a.m., the ship hit the shoals. Alarms were sounded and heroic efforts mounted but to no avail. Of the 245 passengers aboard, 85 died in the wreck.

The wreck of the Metropolis—combined with that of the USS Huron two months earlier— captured the attention of Congress and prompted it to authorize construction of new life-saving stations.

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