Roman died in 1889 hurricane off Samoa


Lt. Francis E. Sutton is one of the many veterans from Rome, who gave his life for his country.

Sutton was a Marine aboard the sloop USS Vandalia on March 16, 1889, when it was hit by a disastrous hurricane in Samoa. He was only 29 years old.

Born on Dec. 23, 1859, Francis Eskridge Sutton was a son of Dr. Richard Eskridge and Harriet C. Green Sutton of Rome.

His father and brother were both physicians and surgeons in Rome. His sister May was a teacher, according to the 1900 census.

He was admitted to the Naval Academy from New York on June 21, 1877, at age 16. He graduated sixth in his class of 96 in 1881, and was the first Annapolis grad to enter the Marine Corps, according to the website

According to a story in the New York Herald, after a cruise, Sutton returned to the Naval Academy for examination for promotion and passed. He was appointed a second lieutenant in the Marines. On March 9, 1888, he was promoted to first lieutenant. He was stationed at Mare Island, in California, and had just been detailed to command the Marine guard of the USS Mohican, “but the Vandalia sailing suddenly for Samoa before the arrival of her Marine officer, Lt. Sutton took his place expecting to fall in with the Mohican on the cruise.”

Sutton was lost when the USS Vandalia was wrecked in a cyclone on March 16, 1889, its bottom torn out on a reef. Forty-two other officers and men were also lost. The ship Vandalia carried a crew of 200. One of the survivors was Navy Cadet John A. Lejeune, a future major general, the 13th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and namesake of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Other ships were also sunk by the hurricane in the harbor.

According to one report, Sutton “valiantly” tried to save the Vandalia during the storm. Lejeune survived by clinging to the Vandalia’s sunken rigging until he could escape via another sinking ship.

The New York Herald reported that, at “the Navy Department, Lt. Sutton is regarded as having been one of the brightest and most intelligent officers of the Marine Corps and his loss is greatly deplored.”

Sutton is buried in Rome Cemetery. His grave marker states: ”Lost in a hurricane with the USS ship Vandalia in Apia Bay, Samoa.”

This column was written by Chip Twellman Haley, retired Daily Sentinel news editor, utilizing the Rome Historical Society archive. Comments, old photos, suggestions for future columns or guest columns may be emailed to: Copies of the books “Rome Through Our History, Volumes I and II,” collections of some of Haley’s columns, may be purchased from the Rome Historical Society.

The Rome Historical Society, 200 Church St., is temporarily closed until further notice, due to COVID. Go online at, visit their Facebook page, or call 336-5870 for more information.


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