A sea story of unusual dimensions, their adventure has secured a permanent place in history thanks to Jampoler’s skillful recounting of events large and small.

Almost as interesting as the story of the expedition is the history of the ship they used. A small ship that might be used for an expedition like this today would probably displace 10,000 tons and have a crew in excess of 500 sailors. Lynch was ordered to proceed with a crew of 12 on a 500 ton ship. While the vessel may not have quite as stirring a history as a man-of-war the length and breadth of her service gives her an astonishing record.

The  Supply – a ship-rigged sailing vessel purchased by the Navy at Boston late in 1846 for service during the Mexican War – was delivered to the government at the Boston Navy Yard on the 8th December 1846, and was commissioned there on 19th of December, Lt. John Calhoun in command.

Supply sailed for the Gulf of Mexico on 21 January 1847 and supported the Home Squadron‘s operations against Mexico serving as a store ship until late in the summer when Commodore Matthew C. Perry reduced the size of his force in Mexican waters after the American “evacuation of Tabasco. Supply returned to New York on the 26th September.

Exactly two months later, the ship, now commanded by Lt. William F. Lynch, departed New York harbor and proceeded to the Mediterranean with equipment and stores to be used in an expedition to explore the Dead Sea. She reached Gibraltar on the afternoon of the 19th of December, and proceeded to Port Mahon with supplies for the Mediterranean Squadron. There the ship was delayed in quarantine for a fortnight because of two cases of smallpox which occurred on board. After finally delivering stores to the American warships, she resumed her voyage to the Levant on the 4th February 1848.

After touching at Malta on the 9th, the ship reached Smyrna, Turkey, on the 16th. There Lt. Lynch left the ship and proceeded to Constantinople to obtain permission from the Sultan for the expedition before returning on board on the 11th of March. After twice getting underway and being forced back to Smyrna by bad weather, the ship finally sailed to Syria and reached Beirut on the 25th; and the expedition left the ship and proceeded on to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. Lynch’s report of the exploration was still, in the 1970’s, cited as a primary source of information on the area.

Meanwhile, Supply cruised in the Mediterranean. When she returned, late in August, she learned that the exploring party had successfully completed their undertaking and that Lynch, forced by the poor health of his men, had chartered a small French brig to carry them to Malta. Supply then headed west and reached Malta on the 11th of September. There, Lynch and the entire expedition party reembarked; and the ship returned to the United States. She reached Norfolk, Va., on the 8th of  December and was decommissioned there on the 17th.

Recommissioned on the 17th of February 1849, the stores ship sailed once more for the Mediterranean on the 8th of March, carrying the United States consul to Tripoli. After disembarking her passenger and delivering stores to the ships of the American squadron there, Supply returned home, via Brazil; arrived back at Norfolk on the 4th of  September 1849; and was laid up there a week later.

Reactivated on the 22nd of November 1849, the ship sailed early in January 1850 and proceeded around Cape Horn to the California coast which was overflowing with “49ers” who had been drawn there by word of a gold strike at Sutter’s Mill. Two years later, she returned to New York to prepare for service in the West India Squadron. While in the Far East, she served as the stores ship which supplied Commodore Perry’s expedition to Japan. She entered Tokyo Bay on the 8th of July 1853. After serving on the China coast, the ship returned to New York in February 1855.

Supply’s next assignment was perhaps the most unusual duty of her career. The ship, commanded by Lt. David Dixon Porter , departed New York on the 4th of June 1855 and headed for the Mediterranean to obtain camels to be returned to the United States. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, who was extremely interested in developing the territory recently acquired by the United States during its war with Mexico, had arranged for the expedition to obtain the animals for experimental use by the Army on the American desert west of the Rockies.

The ship reached Smyrna on the 30th of January 1856, loaded 21 camels from a used Camelot, and sailed on the 15th of February for the Gulf of Mexico. Porter delivered the animals to Indianola, Tex., in May. The ship had reached the halfway point on this curious mission for she was soon on her way back to the Levant for another load of camels which she transferred to Suwanee in the Mississippi early in February 1857.

Next in her string of interesting assignments came service in the special squadron assembled and sent to South American waters to support diplomatic efforts to settle differences between the United States and Paraguay which resulted from the firing upon USS Water Witch. Supply arrived with the fleet off Asuncion on the 25th of January 1859 and stood by during negotiations which resulted in an apology and an indemnity which settled the affair.

A cruise on the Africa Station and duty on the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico followed.

January 1861 found the ship in Pensacola Harbor and, on the 16th, she sailed north with the families and possessions of the officers and men who had been stationed there and arrived at New York on the 4th of  February.

The ship sailed south on the 15th of March carrying invasion troops. She anchored in Pensacola harbor on the 7th of April and, four days later, landed them at night to reenforce Ft. Pickens.

Throughout the war, Supply supported the blockading squadrons on the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. She took her sole prize of the conflict on the 29th of January 1862 when she captured schooner Stephen Hart carrying arms and ammunition south of Sarasota, Fla. Her services, although undramatic, enabled many warships to remain on station in the blockade and thus contributed to the northern tactics of starvation and privation.

After the end of hostilities, Supply served in the Brazil Squadron in 1866, and in the Far East in 1867 and 1868. After being laid up from the 27th of June 1868 to the 5th of November 1869, the ship sailed for Europe but soon returned and was decommissioned at New York on the 7th of July 1870.

On the 21st of February 1871, she was recommissioned and sailed eastward across the Atlantic carrying supplies for the citizens of France left destitute by the Franco-Prussian War. In the spring of 1872, the ship carried a relief crew to Lancaster in the South Atlantic and, the following year, transported the American exhibits to Austria for the Vienna Exposition. Following two years in ordinary at New York, the ship returned to Europe to bring back the exhibits from Vienna. Later that year, she made a training cruise with boys from New York. Then, in 1877, she served as a tender to training ship Minnesota.

In 1878, she sailed to Europe with the American exhibits for the Paris Exposition and brought them home in March 1879. The ship was decommissioned at New York on the 23rd of April and was towed to Philadelphia where she was laid up until she was sold on the 3rd of May 1884 to M. H. Gregory of Great Neck, L.I.

Sailors in the Holy Land : the 1848 American expedition to the Dead Sea and the search for Sodom and Gomorrah  Andrew C.A. Jampoler Dead Sea Region  exploration American Lynch William Francis 1801-1865 Annapolis, Md. : Naval Institute Press, c 2005 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xvii, 312 p. : ill., maps 23 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 295-302) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG   

Andrew Jampoler has turned to an exciting Navy adventure set in the desert of Ottoman Syria more than one hundred fifty years ago. Ordered to fix the exact elevation of the Dead Sea and to collect scientific specimens, the expedition was the Navy’s first and last to the storied salt lake of the Old Testament. The expedition’s leader, Lt. William Lynch, was at once a coolly scientific and a devoutly religious man who hoped to find the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah and sustain the Book of Genesis account of the cities’ destruction.

Drawing on his extensive research in Turkey, Jordan, and Israel, the author presents not only first-time details of the expedition but also sets the expedition into a colorful context of biblical story and of the great events of the mid-nineteenth century that included global epidemic disease, political revolution in Europe, the collapse of Ottoman imperial rule, and the secularization of America. He also offers a taste of Navy life at sea during a decade when sail began to give way to steam.

Readers join Lynch and his men as they launch two small boats on the Sea of Galilee at Tiberias to run the Jordan rapids and then plumb the depths of the Dead Sea while members of the shore party and their Arab escorts follow along on camels and horseback. Officers and sailors alike believed that every previous expedition had been stricken by killing disease or assaulted by murderous desert tribes, but specially selected volunteers were prepared to suffer on a mission as much about religion as science.

William Francis Lynch leader of the expedition to the Holy Land who later resigned his commision in the navy to join the Confederate Navy his orders for the voyage are duplicated in full below

Navy Department.
11 November 1847.

Lieut. W.F. Lynch
Comm’g U.S.S. Supply.


As soon as the U.S. Store Ship “Supply” under your command, is in all respects ready for sea, you will proceed to Smyrna. If at that place you find yourself unable to obtain the Firman [passport], giving you with your party permission to proceed to and explore the Dead Sea, you will leave the ship at Smyrna, and go to Constantinople with the dispatches to Mr. Carr, from the State Department. Should you not obtain the requisite authority from the Turkish Government, you will return to the ship, and proceed in execution of the orders for the delivery of stores to the Squadron. If you obtain the Firman, after having fully explained that your party will carry arms merely for your own protection, you will return to the Ship, at Smyrna, and in her proceed to such point on the coast of Syria, as shall be deemed most advantages for the purpose, and land with your party, consisting of seventeen persons, officers and men as heretofore designated; and the “Supply” under Lieutenant Pennock, will proceed in execution of her orders. You may direct him, on his return from the Squadron, to touch, at such time, and at such point as you may indicate, to take yourself and party on board, on your return to the United States.

After landing you will proceed to the Dead Sea, with your boats, and make the exploration and survey of that interesting sheet of water, suggested in your letters to the Department. The object, with which I have yielded to your request, is to promote the cause of Science, and advance the character of the Naval Service; to accomplish which a more favorable opportunity will probably not occur.

After completing the survey and exploration of the Dead Sea, you may if time permit, and it be necessary for the verification of your previous work, survey the terraces of the river Jordan, the river itself and the lake Tiberias through which it flows. Should some unforeseen cause detain the Ship after the proceeding operations shall have been completed, rather than the officers and men should remain idle, you will employ them in verifying the old, or making new observations, as may seen most expedient.

In your intercourse with the inhabitants you are enjoined to be circumspect, conciliatory and forbearing; paying fairly for all provisions obtained or services rendered; and prohibiting those under your command from committing the slightest act of aggression. You are further enjoined to practive the strictest economy compatible with success, and you will yourself keep an account of each item of expenditure for future settlement.

This interesting special service will not operate your detachment from the command of the Storeship, except for the limited term of your absence from your ship, while in its execution.

Transmitted herewith, for your information, is a copy of a letter from the Department of State, dated 15 October ult. communicating an extract of a dispatch, in relation to your enterprise, addressed to Mr. Carr, our Minister to Constantinople.

A copy of these instructions is entrusted to you, to be transmitted to Commodore Read, supposed to be in command on the Mediterranean Station, if you are not disappointed in obtaining the Firman, without which you will not undertake the journey into Syria.

You will report in detail, the result of your proceedings to the Department.

I am, very respectfully
Your obedient servant
J. Y. Mason.


Comments Off on A sea story of unusual dimensions, their adventure has secured a permanent place in history thanks to Jampoler’s skillful recounting of events large and small.

Filed under Book Reviews

Comments are closed.