Schooner Governor Stone
The Governor Stone was built for Charles Greiner as a cargo freighter for his chandlery business and named after the first elected post Civil War Governor of Mississippi, Mr. Greiner's friend John Marshall Stone. The Governor Stone is the last known survivor of a class of vessels once numbering in the thousands. Initially she carried equipment and materials to deep-draft ships lying off shore, and hauled general freight between ports along the Gulf Coast. For 60 years in the hands of Nathan Mulford Dorlon and Patrick and Thomas Burns, this schooner travelled the near shore waters of the Gulf and operated as an oyster buy boat, visiting the oyster tongers as they worked and transporting their catch to market. Mr. Dorlon was 69 and a successful terrapin farmer when he purchased the Governor Stone for $425. 'Mul', to his friends, had distinguished himself earlier in life by doing in the last of the Gulf Coast pirates, Spud Thompson. Mul called him out for disturbing his brother in law and dispatched him with one blow, as the story goes.
At his age, no wonder Mul soon tired of the oyster trade and passed the labor on to his new partner Patrick Burns who trained up his son Thomas to captain the vessel during most of her career as a buy boat. Much to the dismay of his wife, during Prohibition Thomas Burns added a 16 HP motor to the vessel and augmented his oyster buying income by bringing ashore contraband rum shipments from Cuba at $500 a trip. While he successfully eluded capture by the Coast Guard, he did suffer searches and once had to jettison precious cargo.
The vessel sank twice under Burns ownership. The September 26, 1906 hurricane devastated the gulf coast and caught a fleet of schooners that included the Governor Stone in Heron Bay, Alabama. Twenty one men were lost. Captain Burns was saved by clinging to a skiff and the vessel was washed on shore with $600 worth of damage. The fact that she was repaired for such a huge cost indicates the value placed on these vessels at that time. It is rumored that 2 skeletons were found on board when she was finally salvaged. If true, perhaps they guard the vessel to this day, as she has led a charmed life.
Thomas Burns operated the Governor Stone for 33 more years before she again sank in a storm. By 1939 the age of the wooden coasting schooner had past. Power boats, trains and pick-ups had replaced them, so this time Thomas did not save the vessel.
Fortunately Mr. Isaac Rhea was seeking a day sailer for his luxury resort, Inn by the Sea, in Pass Christian, Mississippi. He salvaged the Governor Stone and had her rebuilt top to bottom. He named her the Queen of the Fleet after another vessel that lay nearby, and under the direction of Charles Merrick she ferried tourists around the area from 1940 to 1953 with a noteworthy intermission. The U.S. War commission purchased the vessel for $1.00 in 1942. She operated as a Navy training vessel through the War. She was returned to Mr. Rhea in 1947 with a 110 HP Chrysler Marine engine installed.
Several names and owners later the Governor was purchased by John Curry in 1965. He and his wife learned to sail and lived on the boat, now a private yacht with some modern conveniences. They literally sailed the history of the vessel interviewing people who remembered her past, researching in libraries and newspaper archives and discovering her original name and her astounding career. He also funded a restoration that made her a cargo freighter once more, all frills gone except the ever convenient head and an 80 HP Perkins engine. He gave the vessel to the Apalachicola Maritime Institute in 1991 where she served as a sail trainer for at-risk youth and a charter vessel in conjunction with the museum for 11 years.
The Governor Stone in many ways resembles the schooners of the Atlantic coast which were her precursors. She is a two masted, fore and aft gaff-rigged, centerboard, shallow draft schooner ideally suited for coastline and bay travel. Two masts means a smaller vessel for maneuvering in tight quarters. Fore and aft rigging allows her to sail close to the wind, wasting less time tacking. It also increases cargo space and reduces the number of crew members. The Governor Stone sails with a crew of three. The centerboard configuration, shallow draft, small keel and apple cheeks distinguish the Governor Stone as a uniquely gulfwise vessel. These fine little schooners handled the shoals and shifting sandbars along the coast. Where roads and railroads were nonexistent and sand and streams blocked the passage of land vehicles, the coastal schooners provided the communication and transport that made the development of the coastal South possible.
Now the restored vessel is devoted to educational programming and historic and cultural tourism. As it floats today, Governor Stone embodies maritime heritage as a moving museum and a reminder of the slower-paced past and the 130+ year old labor-intensive traditions of the Gulf Coast. Restored several times and repaired constantly, as befits a wooden seagoing vessel, the Governor Stone endures.
The vessel was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1991 through the United States Department of the Interior. Now owned and maintained by the all volunteer 501(c)(3) non-profit group Friends of the Governor Stone, Inc., the vessel sails as an enhancement to cultural, historical, and ecological education and community events along the Northern Gulf Coast. Maritime construction explanations are available as well as the history of the vessel, of the schooner fleet, and of the times and people that the fleet supported.
The extensive restoration undertaken in 2013-14, partially funded by the Florida Department of State, Bureau of Historical Resources, Division of Historic Preservation, not only preserves her for the future, but also restores distintive features of coastal schooners. You can find her at rest at her home port in St. Andrews Marina in Panama City, Florida, sailing St. Andrews Bay or offering guests a unique historical experience at ports of call along the Gulf coast.