Año Nuevo State Reserve
Franklin Point Sailor Burials
Franklin Point is located in the Año Nuevo State Reserve, San Mateo County, California. It is named after the clipper ship the Sir John Franklin.
The ship was bound for San Francisco and in heavy fog struck rocks off of the point on January 17, 1865. The ship was destroyed, killing the Captain and eleven men. The bodies of only six of the victims were recovered, four seamen and two officers. The seaman were buried on the point; the officers in San Francisco. The Franklin Point site is designated a cemetery on the 1955, U.S.G.S. Franklin Point, 7.5 quadrangle. A monument, now missing, to the memory of Edward J. Church (a sixteen-year-old crewman of the Franklin) and the other seamen lost on the Franklin was placed on the point. Prior to the wreck of the Franklin, the clipper ship Carrier Pigeon ran aground west of the Point (without fatalities) on June 6, 1853. Following the wreck of the Sir John Franklin, the Coya went aground near Ano Nuevo Island on November 24, 1866, killing twenty seven individuals, including the Captain’s wife and child. Thirteen of the bodies were recovered and buried on Franklin point. On November 21,1868, the Hellespont, ran aground killing eleven men. The Columbia became stranded on the rocks in 1897 (Alta California, January 19, 1865:1; Le Boeuf and Kaza 1981:37-39; Morrall 1978:54-57).
In 1980, dune erosion exposed human remains that were collected by a park visitor and turned into to the ranger office at the reserve. In 1982, a project to excavate the exposed burials was authorized by the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). A contract was awarded to the Department of Anthropology, San Jose State University to remove the human remains. Four burials were encountered and archeologically removed (Leventhal and Jermain 1987). In 1993, DPR awarded a contract to Sonoma State University (Meyer 1993) to conduct a sub-surface survey to determine the locations of additional burials. In 1997, further dune erosion exposed additional human remains on the Point and a project to excavate the burials was authorized by DPR and funded by the 1998/99 Statewide Resource Management Program. Associate State Archeologists Lee Motz and Richard Hastings, and Peter Schulz, Senior State Archeologist conducted the excavation during the week of April 26, 1999.
CA-SMa-207 is located on a sand dune overlooking the Pacific Ocean, at an elevation of 40 ft. above sea level. The coffins were partially exposed in a depression eroded in the dune by strong winds. The sides and foot of one coffin (burial 199) and a segment of the south sidewall of the coffin for burial 299 were visible on the surface prior to excavation. Excavation began by exposing the upper surfaces of the foot, sidewalls, and head of burial 199 coffin. During this work, the north sidewall of burial 299s coffin was exposed contiguous to the south sidewall of burial 199.
The sand fill in the coffins was excavated with trowels and brushes. Due to wind driven sand, it was necessary to wear safety goggles while excavating. The progress of the excavation was recorded on color print film and detailed drawings were made prior to the removal of the remains. The excavated material was cleaned, cataloged, analyzed, and is curated at the Department of Parks and Recreation, State Archaeological Collections Research Facility, West Sacramento.
RESULTS OF EXCAVATION
The archeological work uncovered nearly complete skeletons of two adult males in redwood coffins (1’11" wide x 5’10" long x 10" high. The wood of the coffins was severely decomposed and fragmented when touched. No evidence of a coffin lid remained of Burial 199 and only a remnant of a lid remained of Burial 299.
Artifacts recovered consist of a 3-1/2" long pocket knife remnant found on the coffin floor adjacent to the distal end of the left femur of Burial 199, and an iron ring located on the coffin floor next to the cranium of Burial 299.
The coffin of burial 199 was buried contiguous and north of coffin 299, suggesting the burials were contemporaneous and represent victims of the same shipwreck, although it could not be determined to what ship the sailors belonged. The four coffin burials recovered from the site in 1982, most likely represent the four ordinary seamen buried on the point from the wreck of the Sir John Franklin (Levanthal and Jurmain 1987). It is suggested that the two burials excavated during the 1999 project represent victims from the wrecks of the Coya on November 24, 1866, that killed twenty-seven individuals, of which thirteen were recovered and buried on the point, or the Hellspont that grounded on November 21, 1868 killing eleven men.