The S.S. Tennessee, owned by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, was the first American steamship reassigned for service in the Panama to San Francisco run. On her first Pacific voyage in 1849, she carried only 15 passengers because of rough storms, but in March of 1850, she arrived in Panama after 57 days at sea to a waiting throng of 3,000 seeking passage to San Francisco.
The Tennessee brought thousands of gold-seeking fortune hunters to the city for three more years until a fateful, foggy day in March, when she ran aground in the Headlands. After the ship had struck, her wheels were turned back in hopes of getting her free, but as this proved hopeless, the effort was then made to get her ahead over the sandbar on which she was embedded – this also proved to no avail. In the meantime her stern swung around and the receding tide left her high aground. The fog cleared away but the violence of the surf soon prevented any hopes of her recovery.
The mate of the vessel jumped into the water and carried a line ashore, after which all the passengers, 600 in number, were safely landed, together with the mails.
After the wreck the passengers camped out on shore. The ladies were accommodated with tents and screens, and everyone made himself as comfortable as circumstances would permit.