USS Levant
Updated March 8, 2016

In May 1860, Levant was ordered to the Hawaiian Islands at the request of the Secretary of State to investigate the disbursement of relief funds to American merchant seamen. After receiving a state visit by King Kamehameha IV at Honolulu 7 May, and investigating at Lahaina, Maui, and Hilo, Hawaii, Levant sailed for Panama 18 September, but never made port.

All ships that vanish at sea gather rumors in death as they collect barnacles afloat. But since Levant disappeared just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, an unusual number of intriguing yarns surround her last voyage. Bits of evidence, too scanty to solve her mystery, have multiplied the myths.

Commodore Montgomery reported that a violent hurricane had occurred in September in a part of the Pacific Ocean which Levant was to cross. In June 1861, a mast and a part of a lower yardarm believed to be from Levant were found near Hilo. Spikes had been driven into the mast as if a form a raft. Some rumors had her running aground on an uncharted reef off California; others had her defecting to the Confederacy. Whatever her real fate, this ghostly heroine of colorful episodes in American naval history still sails the seas of imagination and legend.

In July 1861, a small bottle was found at Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia. It was corked and contained a card that read in part: "Pacific Ocean" "Levant" "Written by the last remaining" "three" "in a boat" "God forgive us". Unfortunately, the card was damaged when it was removed from the bottle and parts of the message were unreadable. This card was in the possession of Thomas Willett of Pubnico, Nova Scotia, in 1862, who lost a son aboard this vessel.

No other ship in the United States Navy has been named Levant. The Levant has been immortalized in The Star Trek franchise.

Yarmouth Herald 30 Jan 1862 p. 3 col. 2 courtesy Yarmouth Co. Museum & Archives.

Dr. James Skelton Gilliam, the son of Dr. John Gilliam and Elizabeth Smith Shore, sailed on the USS Levant as Assistant Surgeon. Dr. James S. Gilliam married on 26 Nov 1857, Georgia Clifford Nicoll, the daughter of Judge John C. Nicoll. James and Georgia had several children (supposedly Elizabeth A, Georgia, Loula and Leila) who were left orphaned by 1870. Their father died on USS Levant in Sep 1860; their mother died 1 Aug 1869.

I have been unable to locate with certainty James and Georgia's children in the 1870 Census. They are not with their Gilliam aunts and uncles. It appears daughter, Elizabeth A. Gilliam, age 13, "at school" is living in Savannah, with Caroline Lamar, age 44, who was the widow of Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar. Caroline was Caroline Agnes Nicoll, likely a sister or near relative of Georgia C. Nicoll. In the Lamar household are numerous individuals (21). There is also a Georgia G. Lamar, age 9. Georgia could possibly be a daughter of James and Georgia. Supposedly their daughter Georgia "Lamar" Gilliam was born 21 Jan 1861 in Chatham County, GA, making her age 9 in 1870. It has been said that Caroline also had a daughter, Georgia, born February 1866, if so, then the Georgia G., age 9 in 1870 is not the daughter of Caroline.

It is said daughter Loula married a Mr. Thomas and that daughter Leila married a Seaton Grantland. I have been unable to substantiate either marriage.

There is reason to fear that the United States sloop-of-war Levant has gone down with all hands on board.

For the last four weeks apprehension of her loss has been generally gaining currency in the navy, and the news received by the Department at Washington on Friday, to the effect that the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Squadron had not ordered her to stop at any intermediate port between Honolulu and Panama, has removed the few hopes of her safety that existed.

She had been cruising for some time around the Sandwich Islands, showing the American flag occasionally at different seaboard cities, and had sailed for the head-quarters of the squadron at Panama to replenish her stores.

THE U. S. SHIP LEVANT, REPORTED TO BE LOST ON THE VOYAGE FROM HONOLULU TO PANAMA. and provisions, when last heard from. For over forty days the naval officers and sailors at the latter place were rather anxious about her, and the California mail, some weeks since, brought intelligence of her probable destination. So many ill-founded rumors, however, relative to the alleged wreck of United States men-of-war, of the Pawnee, Seminole, Congress, Niagara, &c., have, from time to time, found their way into the newspapers, that we thought best to keep quiet for a while. There is no use, however, in hiding it longer.

The Levant is a sailing sloop-of-war of the third class, ranking with the Vandalia, Cyane, and St. Louis. She was built at Brooklyn 23 years ago; is 792 tuns burden, and carries 20 guns. She served the country well in her time, having cruised actively on the Home, African, East Indies and Pacific squadrons. Side by side with the San Jacinto, she, during her last commission, threw in her broadsides to the Barrier Forts on the Canton River, and did much toward capturing them.

After her return from China she was thoroughly overhauled and repaired at Norfolk, from which port she sailed over a year ago for the Pacific Ocean.

The Levant was always considered a good, strong ship, but never rated with fast sailers.

Her condition up to the date of her departure from the Sandwich Islands was reported to be good. While the Lancaster was going out from the Atlantic States, she was temporary flagship of the fleet, Commodore Montgomery and suite being on board.

We append a list of her officers:
Commander—William E. Hunt.
Kieutenants—W. C. B. S. Porter, E. C. Stout,
Colville Terrett, R. T. Bowen, Dawson Phunix,
attached to the flag.
Purser—A. J. Watson.
Acting Master—J. C. Mosely.
First Lieutenant of Marines—R. L. Browning.
Passed Assistant Surgeon—J. S. GILLIAM.
Assistant Surgeon—D. E. Montgomery.
Captain's Clerk—A. O. Shuff.
Purser's Clerk—C. Woodward.
Acting Boatswain—H. Edmonston.
Acting Gunner—R. S. King.
Carpenter—John Jarvis.
Sailmaker—C. T. Frost.
Master's Mates—William Lewis, P. Morrison,
Samuel H. Drown.

A writer in the Times of Monday last, looks more hopefully upon the absence of the Levant. He says: “On the departure of the last mail steamer from the Isthmus of Panama, the Levant had been out only 103 days from Honolulu, Sandwich Islands, for Panama. During the past ten years there have been several vessels which have been over 100 days between these two ports; one in particular, in 1852, was 139 days. Considering that fact, and knowing that the months of October, November and December are the three months most calm on that route, I cannot see any just cause for such conclusions as those stated in your paper. The distance from Honolulu to Panama is 3,764 miles in a direct line.” We sincerely hope that the suppositions of this writer may prove correct; although we confess that we have little faith that they will be realized.

  • New York Illustrated News, Jan 19 1861