The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Watertown Daily Reformer (Watertown, NY), May 25, 1867

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A Sad Story.

Among the passengers of the steamer Wisconsin, recently burned near Cape Vincent, was a Mr. Chisholm of Canada, on his way to Missouri with his family and goods. When the fire broke out, he was sitting on deck, but his wife and children had retired for the night.. He called them up hurriedly and sought to safe their lives in a most unfortunate way.

One of the small boats was let down to about a foot of the water, and about twenty passengers leaped into it, and Mr. Chisholm assisted his wife, three daughters and a son to get in. One of the frightened crowd cut with a knife the rope which connected the bow of the small boat with the davit, and the loosened end dropped down like a spoon, and at once filled with water. The passengers were thrown out and nearly all drowned. This happened not more than a minute and a half before the steamer struck the shore on Grenadier Island, and had all remained on board, as the Captain ordered, not a life would have been lost.

Mrs. Chisholm, the three daughters, aged respectively twenty, seventeen and fifteen, and the boy of eleven years were all drowned. The father and the two older sons, who stuck to the steamer, were saved. Mr. Chisholm had $4,000 in greenbacks, his only fortune, which was in his wife's satchel, and was destroyed in the flames. Thus he was left in a strange land, a widower, bereft of four children, without money or property, with his great grief resting upon his soul, to commence the world anew.

The bodies of his wife and children were recovered and have been interred in the graveyard at Cap Vincent, and the sad, heart-broken husband and father, with his two remaining sons, will go on to his homeless home in the West. Few life-dramas have sadder chapters than this.

Additional Particulars of the Burning of the Wisconsin

(From the Ogdensburgh Journal.)

George Ashworth of Lawrence, Mass., whose name is first on the list of saved from the ill-fated steamer Wisconsin, arrived here on the 24th inst., or on his way home, having lost everything he had with him. From him we learn the following interesting additional particulars of the terrible calamity which befell the Wisconsin, on the night of the 21st. The steamer left the Cape at half-past ten by Mr. Ashworth's watch. When seven miles above and abreast Grenadier Island, the cry of fire was started. Mr. A. had retired and was one of the first to rush to the point of the fire.

It broke out on the main deck over the boiler near the smokestack; and spread rapidly. The Captain behaved heroically and gave his orders with the utmost coolness through the trying ordeal. He was ably assisted by the second mate who was the last man to leave the burning vessel. The steamer was at once headed for Grenadier Island as the pony or force pump set to work to check or put out the fire, but all efforts in this direction were unavailing. About twenty minutes after the fire broke, the steamer struck the shore on Grenadier Island.

One of the boats was lowered for the purpose of landing the passengers, but it had hardly struck the water before it was filled and swamped. The frantic passengers, and those of the crew were more intent in making their own escape than saving the lives of others, jumped from the upper deck, some striking in the boat and some in the water. Those in the water caught the sides of the boat and thus, by overloading, swamped her. It was by the swamping of this boat that all the loss of life occurred, and the total number, he thinks, reached twenty-five or thirty. But two persons in this mass were saved - Mr. Chisholm, who lose five of his family, and a Mrs. Gallagher, who was picked up a mile from the wreck three hours after she grounded.

Mrs. Gallagher had caught hold of a plank, and she was noticed floating away. Search was made twice before she was finally rescued, and when picked up, was nearly exhausted. The gangplank was launched and a rope taken ashore, and down this rope the passengers were passed to the shore; the Captain standing in the water up to his neck, and handing them towards the land, while the Second mate superintended the launching.

A few feet from the vessel the water was shallow enough to permit a six-footer to keep his head above water. There were several small children on board, all of whom were saved. One child, eight months old, was taken by one of the crew from the arms of its mother. The gallant fellow jumped overboard, and bore his little charge safe to land.

Those of the passengers who had retired, did not have time to dress themselves, and saved only their night clothes. Had the fire occurred a mile above or below where it did, it is Mr. Ashworth's opinion that few would have been saved. The people residing on Grenadier Island did their utmost to relieve the necessities and administer to the wants of the passengers. Up to Wednesday afternoon, at 6 o'clock, fourteen bodies had been recovered, and the crew were still prosecuting the search.

It is proper to state that there are two islands in the upper St. Lawrence named Grenadier - one about 28 miles above this place and the other above Cape Vincent. No one of the passengers or crew saved an article of any kind beyond what they had on their backs when the cry of fire was raised. The rescued passengers and crew were brought to Cape Vincent by the steamer Watertown, and the ladies and citizens of that place were unremitting in their efforts to supply the wants of the sufferers with food and clothing.

Verdict of the Coroner's Jury.

Inquisition taken at Cape Vincent, County of Jefferson, N.Y., on the 23d day of May, 1867, before Robert G. Angel, one of the Coroners of said county, upon the bodies of Artimus White, Henry Chatham, Catharine Chisholm, Thomas Chisholm, Elizabeth Chisholm, Catharine Chisholm 2d, Mary Ann Chisholm, Nancy Creed, Catharine Creed, Henry McAlpine, John Goodwin, George Lindsley, James Case, and A.J. Cook, then and there lying dead, upon the oaths of ten good and lawful men of the said county who being duly summoned and sworn to inquire into all the circumstances attending the death of the said persons, and by whom, produced and in what manner and when and where the said persons came to their death, do say upon their oaths aforesaid, that the persons aforesaid came to their death by drowning in Lake Ontario, near Grenadier Island, on the night of the 21st May, 1867, by jumping from and leaving the Propeller Wisconsin, while on fire, which originated in the hold of said vessel near the boiler; that if the orders and directions of Captain Townsend, the commander of said Propeller, had been obeyed, it is the opinion of the jurors aforesaid that all the lives of the passengers and crew would have been saved.

Robt. H. Angel, Coroner.

George Bartlett, Foreman, John Johnston, A.F. Smith, F.A. Cross, J.B. Grappott, T.M. Brewster, J.B. Ainsworth, G. W. Warren, R.B. Fuller, W.M. Wheelock, Jurors.

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May 25, 1867
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Richard Palmer
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Watertown Daily Reformer (Watertown, NY), May 25, 1867