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Capt J. Cass Mason
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Birth: 1831
Death: Apr. 27, 1865

Captain of the Sultana. James Cass Mason rose to fame as Captain of the "Sultana" when the steamer exploded on the Mississippi River on April 27, 1865. From St. Louis, Missouri, his age and date of birth are unknown although he was thought to be about 35 years old when the disaster occurred. He was married to Rowena M. Dozier, a member of a prominent family in St. Louis. His name first surfaced in the public when his steamer, the "Rowena", was confiscated by the Federal Government in February of 1863 for smuggling Confederate contraband during the Civil War. The steamer was owned by his father-in-law, a known southern sympathizer. Mason and Dozier broke relations after the incident and Mason was never connected with the Confederates again, and considered by many secessionists as a turncoat. Mason then became Captain of the "Belle Memphis." As a riverboat pilot, he earned a reputation as a careful operator, but dispelled that notion when he deliberately piloted the fateful Sultana while it was extremely over its capacity. The war was nearly over after most of the Confederate Army surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, 1865 and the U.S. Government made a concerted effort to return Union prisoners of war to the North. Mason seized an opportunity to profit from the Union Army's needs and agreed to transport recently liberated soldiers from prisons in the South for five dollars per head and ten dollars per officer. The Sultana was permitted to carry about 300 passengers along with its crew of 85. When the steamer set off upriver from Memphis, it was loaded with nearly 2,300 passengers, mostly soldiers. Mason reluctantly accepted the gross overloading, but pushed on with determination to meet his schedule. Several officers and boatmen proclaimed that the journey should not be undertook, but those same men boarded the vessel. Additionally, the steamer's boilers were in poor condition and one of them was recently repaired with a temporary patch. Seven miles upriver from Memphis on the Mississippi River at about 2 O'clock in the morning on April 27, 1865, the boilers exploded and the center sections of the boat erupted and burst into flames. 1700 passengers perished in the disaster, 600 of them drowned. Mason and most of his crew were lost. It was the worst disaster on a boat in the history of the United States, with more casualties than the Titanic. The Sultana was relatively new and considered as state of the art. It was built in Cincinnati in 1862 and was purchased by Mason and a few others in 1864. Initially, the disaster was rumored to be sabotage. A Federal Government Inquiry exonerated the officers and determined that the Confederates were not involved in the fate of the boat. The inquiry further stated that the soldier passengers were the party most responsible. Although Mason objected to the overcrowding, the soldiers defiantly stormed aboard refusing to wait for other boats to transport them, trying to get home as soon as possible. Mason was last seen on deck trying desperately to save the passengers that were dumped into the water by throwing down whatever he could that would float so that they could grab hold and stay above the strong current. 
Family links: 
  Mary Rowena Dozier Mason (1842 - 1918)*
*Calculated relationship
Body lost at sea
Specifically: on the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee
Created by: K Guy
Record added: Oct 18, 2007
Find A Grave Memorial# 22295288
Capt J. Cass Mason
Added by: K Guy
Capt J. Cass Mason
Added by: K Guy
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Join the annual reunion of the Sultana Descendants which meets this year in Cincinnati, where the Sultana was built. Contact Norman at
- Sultanaman
 Added: Mar. 24, 2012

- GP
 Added: Oct. 22, 2007

- Robert Mitchell
 Added: Oct. 22, 2007
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