Widener Online Exhibit Features Sunken Ship

June 4, 2014

By Khalil Williams ’16

A little-known fact about the City of Chester is that a ship named in its honor sank in 1888 near San Francisco. The full story of the SS City of Chester can now be viewed in the Digital Collections of the Widener University Archives.

The ship sank following a collision with another passenger-cargo ship­ — the RMS Oceanic — in San Francisco Bay on August 22, 1888. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in April found the shipwreck of the SS City of Chester, a cargo ship made in the city by shipbuilders John Roach and Sons in 1875, under the Golden Gate Bridge.

The tragedy occurred at a time when there were severe racial tensions between U.S. citizens and Chinese immigrants, exacerbated by the Exclusion Act of 1888. It was initially thought that the Chinese crewmen of the Oceanic were negligent in helping the drowning passengers of the City of Chester, but later investigations concluded that they were in fact heroic and saved many passengers.

Posted by Wolfgram Memorial Library Assistant Archivist Jill Borin, the online exhibit features pictures of the ship, as well as the story of the collision and access to newspaper articles published from 1888-1894.

Khalil Williams ’16 is a communication studies major from Chester.



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