It was December 25, 1853 when a vessel from the Pacific Mail Steamship Company encountered a terrible gale and foundered near Charleston. The ship had left New York and was bound for Panama. Aboard were both soldiers (the ship was transporting the Third Regiment of the United States Artillery) and civilian passengers, including women and children. The decks were swept with wind and water, the smokestacks toppled, the boats lost. Reports of the total casualties vary; some contemporary newspapers reported about 300 casualties and 150 saved. First hand accounts of the disaster can be read here.
Among those reported dead that night was "The barber, colored, washed overboard." This barber's name was not given in any accounts of the tragedy, but it was most certainly the same Jacob F. Benjamin; he Albany city directory for the same year lists him as a barber residing at 111 Knox Street.
His body was not recovered, but his name was carved on the marble shaft in a family plot deeded to his wife, Abigail. At the time of his death, they had five children who ranged in age from an infant (his father's namesake) to eleven years old. Jacob was thirty-five when he was lost to the waves.