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The Wreck of the Admiral Sampson

The SS Admiral Sampson was a cargo and passenger steamship built for the American Mail Steamship Company in 1898. In 1909 both the Sampson and her sister ship the Farragut were purchased by the Alaska Pacific Steamship Company. Based in San Francisco, they provided passenger and cargo service between that city and the Puget Sound and sometimes all the way to Alaska.

The Admiral Sampson set out from Seattle on August 26, 1914, making a run to Juneau. There were 126 passengers on board. The fog was thick as the ship made its way out of Seattle. At the same time, the Princess Victoria was inbound. In spite of both captains exercising extreme caution, the Victoria broadsided the Sampson. The Victoria was not in danger of sinking. But there was a large gash in the Sampson and that ship was going down.

Both ships launched lifeboats. When a fire broke out on the Sampson, Captain Moore had passengers dropped over the side so they could be picked up by the boats. He ordered the crew to abandon ship, but he stayed on board. The telegraph operator remained at his post transmitting calls for help. Both men went down with the ship.

On this date in 1914, North Dakotans learned that a trunk had washed ashore from the shipwreck. It bore the name of J. McLaughlin. Inside were clothes as well as personal papers. Reports of this find led North Dakotans to surmise that a Mr. and Mrs. James McLaughlin and their five children, who had lived for several years around Arvilla, North Dakota, had been onboard the doomed ship. The Grand Forks Daily Herald suggested that the entire family may have perished, but there was no confirmation.

Rumors abounded about the shipwreck and confusion was evident in the reporting. The Warwick News reported 700 casualties. This was a wild exaggeration since there were nowhere close to that many passengers. The official death toll was twelve. One article identified an Ezra Byrne as both a stowaway and a member of the crew. Was it another mistake that a man named John McLaughlin was listed as a casualty? He was last seen clinging to the rigging as the ship went down. Could that actually have been the James McLaughlin of the North Dakota McLaughlin family?

Regardless, the report of the trunk brought the shipwreck close to home for land-locked North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher and Sarah Walker


Warwick News. “Arville [sic] People May Be Victims.” Warwick ND. 24 September 1914. Page 1.

Northwest Yachting. “Disaster at Point No Point.”  Accessed 8/18/19.

The Seattle Star. “Liner Admiral Sampson Rammed and Sunk in Sound.” Seattle WA. 26 August 1914. Page 1.

Grand Forks Daily Herald. “Arvilla People May Be Disaster Victims.” 21 September 1914. Grand Forks ND. Page 10.

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