By Michael Schreiber

River Tingalinta, a tributary of the River Nuñez, in the 19th century.
River Tingalinta, a tributary of the River Nuñez, in the 19th century.
Travels in Western Africa in the years 1819-21, from the river Gambia … to the river Niger” by Major William Gray.

One of the gravestones that stands in the Gloria Dei churchyard commemorates Capt. Henry Sharp. Sharp was apparently “lost at sea” while on a voyage to Africa.

Sharp appears in the Philadelphia directory as in 1810 as a 24-year-old mate, living in a back alley. Later, as a sea captain, he lived on S. Second Street, making frequent voyages to the West Indies and to Africa.

On one voyage, Sharp’s mate and four crewmen died while their vessel was in the Rio Ponga, the heart of the slave trade in what is now the country of Ghana. But Sharp was not a slave trader; he returned to Philadelphia with a cargo of beeswax, ivory, palm oil, hides, camwood, and gold. Sharp reported that the colony of relocated former American slaves in Liberia seemed to be thriving, but slave ships were thick along the African coast.

On his final voyage to Africa, Sharp left Philadelphia on the brig Mary on Nov. 14, 1835. On New Years Day, according to later reports in the newspaper, the Mary was at the River Gambia and due to sail shortly for the River Nuñez, where it was spotted in March 1836. There was no more word about the Mary until May 11, when she had returned to Philadelphia under command of the mate, Bancroft. The mate gave the news that Capt. Sharp had died in Africa—at just about the time of his 50th birthday. But still, how he died is not known.

The answer in similar incidents is often disease; most crew members on trading ships from Europe and America had little resistance to tropical diseases like malaria.

An 1873 U.S. government handbook for ship masters, “The West Coast of Africa: From Cape Spartel to Sierra Leone,” cautions its readers: “The climate of the [River] Nuñez is very unhealthy. It is rare for the crews of vessels which have been in the river any time to escape the dangerous fevers, that require 10 days for incubation. The most unhealthy months are November and December, when even the natives suffer from the effects of the climate. It would be better not to enter the river during these months, and never to remain in it longer than necessary. Negroes should always be employed for doing the work of loading, discharging, and boating.”

Conservation Assessment

the memory of
only son of
Capt. Henry Sharp
who departed this life
May 6th 1835
in the 19th year of his age.

Also of
Capt. Henry Sharp

who departed this life at sea
April 16th 1836
in the 50th year of his age.

Type of Marker: Headstone and footstone
Material: Marble
Issues: Biogrowth, blistering, broken/fragmented, loss, sugaring
Elements Missing or Compromised: Missing top portion of marker
Recommended Treatment: Document

Historic Integrity: Intact
Structural Integrity: Fair
Material Integrity: Fair
Legible Inscription: No inscription

Marker Details
Inventory Number: 187
Plot Number: 424
Historic Number: 297
Ledger Book Number: 229
Cemetery Section: 5
Marker Height/Length (in): 14
Marker Width (in): 26
Marker Thickness/Depth (in): 1
Footstone Height (in): 14
Footstone Width (in): 13
Footstone Thickness (in): 1

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