Bibliography Texts

Letter to Captain Dudley Knox

Sherwood Picking

Re-typed to follow format of original letter. For convenience, the sketch map mentioned on the first page has been inserted into the text. Knox's reply follows the letter.

                                               U. S. S. MALLARD
                                            Enroute, Galapagos Islands
                                              to Cocos Island.

                                                 April 24, 1941.

Captain Dudley W. Knox, U.S. Navy
     Office of Naval Operations
          Navy Department
               Washington, D. C.

My Dear Captain:-

     On a recent visit to James Bay, in the Galapagos Islands,
Submarine Squadron Three went on an intensive hunt for the grave
of Lieutenant John S. Cowan of the ESSEX, who, as you know, was
buried here in August, 1813.

     To assist in our search, we had copied excerpts from Porter's
Journal as well as very helpful instructions from Mr. Joseph R.
Slevin of the California Academy of Sciences, who was a member of
the 1905-1906 Academy Expedition to the Galapagos Islands and who
has, since then, taken a great interest in Lieutenant Gamble and
hence, in the duel.  Dr. Waldo Schmidt of the National Museum, who
was with the President in the HOUSTON in 1938, was with us and very
much interested and helpful.

     I am enclosing a sketch of the local topography as we found
it.  The narrow black sand beach is bordered by a fringe of man-
groves behind which are two lagoons separated by a low ridge of
soil on which are two prominent pinnacles about 40 feet high.  The
area behind the lagoons (to the eastward of them), is densely
wooded, and is so thick that a thorough search would be impossible
without first clearing the land.  This land slopes up so steeply
that it appears an unlikely spot for a grave.

Enlarged circled numbers added for clarity.

     The MALLARD, Submarine Squadron Three rescue vessel, anchored
as accurately as possible in the ESSEX's 1813 anchorage, correct-
ing Porter's bearing for annual change in variation.  The landing
place was as indicated on sketch.  This was chosen for its prox-
imity to the ship and also because the surf seemed easier here.
It seems probable that Porter used the same landing.

     Two and one-half days were used in the search with some thir-
ty men employed, plentifully supplied with shovels and picks.  A
reward of $10. was offered the first man bringing information
leading to a succesful search and a further $10. to the first man
unearthing definite evidence.

     The small hole dug by the HOUSTON party in 1938 (Marked "1" on


                                               U. S. S. MALLARD

sketch) was found and was enlarged to 12 feet by 12 feet by 4 feet
deep with an additional hole, 2 feet deep, in the center.  At this
final depth of 6 feet, a solid bed of loose clinkers was met with.
It is positive that this is not the spot.

     Spot marked "2" on sketch, near the eastern pinnacle, was next
investigated.  This lies in an open glade, in attractive surround-
ings, on gently sloping ground.  Stones were found arranged in a
square here.  Similar formations of stones seem to occur, by hazard,
throughout this area and our search was rather for a cairn or large
mound of stones than for a rectangular arrangement.  Close examina-
tion of the surface here brought to light a fragment of a broken
pottery jug as well as several lumps of pitch.  This site has
evidently been used as a camp.  It was excavated over an area of
8 feet by 10 feet to a depth of 4 feet without finding anything at
all.  Numerous other small holes were dug in this vicinity but it 
is evident that stones and debris fall from the eastern pinnacle
onto this site and that it has built up considerably during the
128 years that have elapsed.

     Numerous small parties scouted the entire vicinity, finding
"indications" which proved to be illusury when investigated.  One
man, Short, from S-45, reported that he had found a blazed tree
some 250 yards northeast from the northern end of the beach (Mark-
ed "3" on enclosed sketch).

     The country in this vicinity is sparsely wooded, with numerous
open glades.  It slopes gently up but is both flat enough and open
enough for a duel.  It is also a suitable spot for a grave whereas
site No. 1 is not.

     The tree was about 35 feet high, of an unidentified species,
with a compound leaf and unripe fruit similar to a cherry.  The
trunk was about 18 inches in diameter.  The blaze marks were as
The hatched areas are very old blazes.  The
plain lines are distinct and possibly more 
recent than the large blazes.  They were
evidently cut with the point of a knife or

     Both arrows pointed towards the ground
by the tree.  We dug there, after removing a
quantity of loose stones and, at 2-1/2 feet
depth, struck what appeared to be a cemented
stone vault lying in an east-west direction.
At this point it was realized that the tree 
grew directly over the center of the vault so
it was cut down.  The blazed section was cut



                                               U. S. S. MALLARD

out and brought with us.  A rough tree ring count showed 61 rings
so the tree may have been a sapling about 1870.  That corresponds
with its appearance.  The entire vault was then uncovered.  It
appeared to have a 1 inch layer of a sort of mortar over it.
When that was removed, it appeared to be a lava bubble, which was
quite easily broken with a pick.  There were indications of joint-
ing but the whole dome, about 6 inches thick was too perfect to
have been laid by a mason.

     The space under the dome was hollow, about 16 inches in aver-
age depth, of which about 8 inches was filled with loam.  This was
very carefully shoveled onto a tarpaulin and searched by hand for
any buttons or brass sword fittings which might resist corrosion.
This search was hindered by a heavy rain which made the entire
excavation a sea of mud, but it was done carefully enough to make
sure we missed nothing.  We found nothing at all.

     In ground plan this "vault" or lava bubble, was 6-1/2 feet by
3-1/2 feet inside dimensions.  It was somewhat broken at its
easterly end so that if it was a natural bubble, as I believe, a
body might have been inserted from that end.  We dug thoroughly
around both ends in search of the bottle with instructions left by
Porter for John Downes, but found nothing at all.  The bottom of
the "vault" was solid rock which we finally broke through and 
found clinkers underneath.  We put the loam from the "vault" back
into it, but left the hole intact in case further search is to be
made at any time.

     In "A Narrative of the BRITON'S Voyage to Pitcairn's Island"
by Lieutenant John Shillibeer, Royal Marines, London 1817, there
is a description of Cowan's tomb:

     "Among some green bushes near the beach is the tomb of
     Lieutenant Cowan of the United States Frigate ESSEX, who
     fell in a duel with Mr. Gamble of that ship.  That this
     unfortunate young man was much esteemed by his brother
     officers, is evident by the great respect they paid to
     his memory."

     This passage indicates to me that we may possibly have found
the tomb, first, because it calls it a "tomb" and not a "grave",
and second, because it was a somewhat imposing structure.  The
blaze on the tree certainly indicated something of interest beneath
it and, when we dug there, we found this lava bubble.

     Against our having found the tomb is the almost definitely natural
origin of this lava bubble.  It was too well made to be of masonry
and a piece of the shell which we brought with us is definitely
solid lava.  The fact that it was completely underground is not



                                               U. S. S. MALLARD

astonishing to my mind as soil would tend to build up due to
weathering of the many rocks in the vicinity. The slope is now
grassy with only occasional rocks but I can well imagine it to
have been a foot or more lower and less fertile 128 years ago.

      If there were in existence any description of the tomb, it
might settle our doubts. Are there any journals of Chaplain
Adams or of Midshipman Feltus or Farragut? Are there any Porter
papers which might go further into detail than the Journal?

      Before mailing this I shall enclose prints of photographs 
we took of the tree with the blazes and of the "tomb". I know
of the President's interest in locating this grave and am en-
closing a copy if you think this worth sending him.

      I have a slab of the tree showing the blazes and a small
section of the lava "bubble" here. I can send them to you if they
would be of any interest.

      At all events, we had an interesting search and learnt a
good deal of history in looking it up. It was a revelation to
see the interest the men took in the search, and it was not due
entirely to the reward we offered.

      I am, with best personal wishes

                                Very sincerely yours,

                                 Sherwood Picking,
                               Captain, U.S. Navy. 


                                         31 May 1941.

My dear Picking:

          I thank you for your exceedingly interesting
letter of April twenty-fourth, describing the search under-
taken by Submarine Squadron Three, for the grave of Lieu-
tenant John S. Cowan of the ESSEX at James Bay, in the
Galapagos Islands.

          I am very glad to have your report for our
archives and have been very glad to make a thorough search
among our manuscript collection and printed sources for
further data.  Unfortunately, we have not been able to find
anything which might shed further light on the subject.

          In view of the President's personal interest in
the matter, I will be very glad to adopt your suggestion
of sending to him through his Naval Aide, the copy of
your report which you prepared for this purpose.

          With renewed thanks and hoping to see you soon,

                             Very sincerely,

                                   D. W. KNOX
                               Captain, U.S.N. (Ret.)

Captain Sherwood Picking, U.S.N.,
Commander Submarine Squadron 3,
U.S.S. S-44,
c/o Postmaster,
New York,

CC:   Mrs. Lawrence. §

§ Presumably, Alma R. Lawrence at the Office of Naval Records and Library