The Captain of a Ship Named for His Brother: Capt. Richard William Dixey (1809-1860)

It is a difficult marker to find. In Mobile, Alabama's Magnolia Cemetery there is a broken memorial stone to mark the grave of a Yankee sea captain who died in the Mobile Harbor 150 years ago.

Richard William Dixey was an experienced mariner, from a long line of mariners. Growing up in Marblehead, Massachusetts in the early years of the 19th Century, it was preordained that he would spend most of his life at sea. He was the great grandson of General John Glover, the leader of the 14th Continental Regiment, or "Amphibious Regiment", that was most famous for ferrying General Washington across the Delaware on Christmas Day, 1776. He was the son of Capt. John Dixey, Sr., a ship master who had spent time in a Paris prison after being captured at sea by the French and in a London prison after being captured at sea by the English.

Capt. R.W. Dixey continued the nautical adventures of his forefathers. He was present when the first American Flag was raised at the United States Consulate in Foochoo (now "Fuzhou"), China, after captaining the ship that brought the new American Consul General to China across the Pacific. During his era, he was the most famous seafaring son from a famous seafaring family.

In the autumn of 1860, R.W. Dixey was captain of a ship named for his brother, Robert H. Dixey. The "Robert H. Dixey", or "Dixey", had been built five years earlier in East Boston, and had traveled as far as St. Petersburg, Russia. She was a 165 foot double top-sailed clipper ship, and said to be fast for her class, if not as fast as some of the larger ships of the day.

On the evening of Friday, September 15, 1860 the "Dixey" arrived at Mobile Harbor, after a two week journey from New York City. As the ship crossed the sand bar which marked the harbor, Capt. Dixey turned over control of the ship to the harbor pilot, Capt. Samuel Smyly. All hands on board felt a sense of urgency, as they were just ahead of a major hurricane.

The ship had made its way up the harbor, when heavy winds suddenly shifted to the north-northwest and Capt. Smyly made the decision to drop anchor. The anchors held until 10 o'clock the following morning, but as the eye of the storm passed and the north winds hit, the smaller anchor chain broke away. The crew worked furiously to cut down the masts and sails. After an hour, with the ship taking on water, the main anchor broke, and all hope was lost.

The crew made for the forecastle and lashed themselves to the ship. The "Dixey" bounced down the channel, and then drifted eastward out of the bay before breaking up on what is now known as the Dixey Bar. Capt. Smyly and four other crew members were able to escape to land. Capt. Dixey and the 18 man Bahamian crew stayed with ship. Capt. Dixey's last words to the pilot were "Goodbye. I hope we shall meet in Heaven."

Capt. Dixey's body was recovered and buried in Magnolia Cemetery. In 1995, the United States government renamed the sand bar that runs from Fort Morgan into the gulf "The Dixey Bar". Today, the Dixey Bar is one of the most popular fishing sites on the Gulf Coast. Many locals and tourists assume that it's name is "The Dixie Bar", and that it was named for its southern locale. It is however, named for a ship that wrecked there a century and a half ago.

Richard William Dixey was my first cousin, 5x removed
Adam Lowe Martin (son of) - Allen Lowe Martin - Allen Littlefield Martin- Frank L. Martin - Elbridge Gerry Martin, Jr. - Rebecca Homan Dixey (daughter of)-Peter Dixey (son of) - Richard Dixey - Capt. John Dixey, Sr. (father of ) - Richard William Dixey

This is first of what, I hope, will become weekly blog posts, each one telling a different story about one of my ancestors. I have been researching my family tree for nearly a decade now, and the fascinating stories I have been able to find are endless. Any feedback, corrections, and comments will be greatly appreciated.