“The Sea Ran Mountains High”

On September 3, 1857, the steamship Central America left Panama for New York City with nearly 600 passengers and crew. Nine days later, the vessel sank in a hurricane off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in the deadliest peacetime shipwreck in American history. Four hundred twenty-five people perished in the wreck. And tons of California gold went to the bottom.

The wreck horrified and fascinated the American public and helped spark a financial crisis known as the Panic of 1857. Without the gold on board, several New York banks were unable to pay their creditors. Rediscovered in 1987, the wreck was later salvaged.


The vessel suddenly careened to one side and, looking toward our porthole, I notice that it was entirely under water.
—Addie Easton, survivor of the wreck of the Central America


It blew a perfect hurricane and the sea ran mountains high.

—Merchant ship captain Thomas Badger, a passenger on the Central America