Great-grandson of Betsy Ross washes ashore

On the evening of July 13, 1875, the body of a well-dressed man was discovered washed ashore on the Lake Michigan beach near Holland in Ottawa County. In the man's pocket was a bottle, in which was a letter. The message, determined to be written by the deceased, identified the man as Daniel K. Albright of Fort Madison, Iowa.
Kevin Collier
Jul 22, 2013

He had written the message for the purpose of his identification and to notify his wife and children back home.

Ten days earlier, on July 3 at the Chicago docks, around 7 p.m., Daniel Albright purchased a ticket aboard the Goodrich steamer The Muskegon bound for Grand Haven.

It was reported employees aboard the steamer “noticed his gentlemanly bearing and attractive personal appearance.” At age 48, Albright possessed the appearance of success, though he had recently fallen on hard times.

Born 1827 in Pennsylvania, Albright was once a successful businessman and worked for a Missouri railroad company. His family was quite affluent.

Daniel's mother, Cynthia (Wilson) Albright, was the granddaughter of Betsy Ross and as a child in Philadelphia helped her grandmother sew flags. Cynthia spun that into a livelihood creating “13-star” replica flags. His father, Jacob W. Albright, insurance agent and merchant, established the (St. Louis) Evening Herald in 1835, the first daily newspaper in the state.

Setting sail for Grand Haven, Daniel Albright settled into stateroom 23. He sat down and wrote out a letter to his wife and children. Then, he wandered in and out of his stateroom until about 4 a.m. Sunday.

“During passage, the gentleman (Albright) walked the deck uneasily,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

It was early July 4, Independence Day, and young men aboard the steamer were out on the deck celebrating with drink and blowing off simple fireworks. One of the revelers saw a sullen Albright and approached, offering him a flask of brandy.

Albright politely refused the offer, stating he had “not been in the habit of drinking liquor,” and walked away.

At 4 a.m., the night watchman heard the report of a pistol but didn't give it much thought as the revelers had been making noise, and perhaps one had fired a gun into the night sky. But upon pondering, the watchman was concerned that an accident had occurred and went to investigate who had discharged a gun. Others joined the search.

A hat was discovered resting upon the deck at one side of the ship. Recognizing it as Albright's hat, a search took place of his cabin. An envelope marked “To any officer of the boat” was found. Opening it, a letter inside revealed a tragedy.

“My name is Daniel K. Albright, from Fort Madison, Iowa. Impecunious circumstances, financial embarrassments and inability to obtain employment has led to this result,” one side of the letter read, written with stellar penmanship in ink. Albright wrote a bit about his past and closed with, “I leave this that there be no mistake of my death, the nature and whereabouts thereof.”

On the back of the paper was written a second note by Albright, in shaky pencil scrawl.

“From the report of pistol you will know I shot myself, and cast my body into the lake,” he wrote. “The small pittance of change you will please enclose in an envelope and send to my wife.”

Albright was 20 miles off the coast of Grand Haven when his body hit the water.

When the steamer made port in Grand Haven, Albright's family was notified and an investigation was launched.

Authorities determined Albright wrote the portion of the letter in pen in his Ganit House hotel room before buying the ticket to Grand Haven and the note in pencil was scribbled moments before he shot himself and jumped overboard.

Also, near the end of Albright's two-week stay at the Ganit, he had mailed a letter to his wife, saying he intended to take his life. Upon receiving the letter, Sarah Albright telegraphed hotel management informing them of her husband's intentions and pleaded to “look after” him. However, it was too late.

Besides leaving behind his wife, survivors included eight children — the eldest, 24, and the youngest, 11 weeks.

The Goodrich Transportation Company forwarded all of Daniel Albright's personal effects to his grieving widow, including the “small pittance” Daniel had left her — $1.45 — the equivalent of about $30 today.

Nine days after going overboard, Albright's body washed ashore near Holland. In his pocket was a bottle, in which a letter was found bearing his name, address and farewell note to family.

The identity of the “well dressed” man who washed ashore on an Ottawa County beach was now public record — Daniel K. Albright — but no one here knew he was a great-grandson of Betsy Ross.

Perhaps the only mystery is how a once affluent life had collapsed to an impoverished end.

Post a Comment

Log in to your account to post comments here and on other stories, galleries and polls. Share your thoughts and reply to comments posted by others. Don't have an account on GrandHavenTribune.com? Create a new account today to get started.