The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Western Herald (Sandwich, ON), Wednesday, August 18, 1841

Full Text
(From the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser)
Loss of one hundred and seventy lives.

The Steamboat ERIE is destroyed. The ERIE left Buffalo at 4 P. M. on Monday the 9th inst. For Chicago. She had 200 persons, passengers and crew, on board. Nothing occurred to mar the pleasure of the voyage till 8 o'clock, when the boat was off Silver Creek, eight miles from shore, and thirty-three from Buffalo, when a slight explosion was heard, and immediately the whole vessel was in flames. Captain Titus, who was on deck at the time, rushed to the Lady's cabin to obtain the Life Preservers, of which there were some ninety or one hundred on board, but so rapid had been the progress of the flames that it was impossible to enter the cabin. He then returned and gave orders to stop the engine, as the progress of the boat increased the flames, but the fire prevented it. The steersman was then told to put the helm hard starboard. The boat then swung heavily around towards shore, and the three small boats were ordered out. Two were lowered but in consequence of the heavy sea, and the headway of the boat, both swamped.

We will not attempt to describe the awfully appalling condition of the passengers. Some were frantic with fear, others plunged headlong into the water, others again seized upon any thing buoyant upon which they could lay hands. The small boat forward had been lowered. It was along side the wheel with three or four persons in it, when the captain jumped in, and the boat immediately dropped astern and filled with water. A lady floated by with a life preserver; she called for help. There was no safety in the boat. The captain threw her the only oar in thew boat; she caught the oar and was saved. It was Mrs. Lynde, of Milwaukee, and she was the only lady saved.

In this condition, the boat a mass of fierce fire, and the passengers and crew endeavoring to save themselves by whatever means they could reach--they were found by the CLINTON about 10 P. M. The CLINTON left here in the morning, but in consequence of the wind had put into Dunkirk. She laid there until nearly sunset, at which time she ran out and proceeded as far as Barcelona, when, just at twilight, the fire of the ERIE was discovered, some twenty miles astern. The CLINTON immediately put about, and reached the burning wreck about 10. It was a fearful sight. All the upper works of the ERIE had been burned away. The engine was standing, but the hull was a mass of dull red flames. The passengers and crew were floating around, screaming in their agony and shrieking for help. The boats of the CLINTON were immediately lowered and manned, , and every person that could be seen or heard was picked up, and every possible relief afforded. The LADY, a little boat lying at Dunkirk, went out of the harbor as soon as possible after the CLINTON. It was not thought by the survivors that she saved any. By 1 A. M. all was still but the dead crackling of the fire. Not a solitary individual could be seen on the wild waste of waters. A line was then made fast to the remains of the Erie's rudder, and an effort made to tow the hapless hull ashore. About this time the CHAUTAUQUE came up and lent her assistance. The hull of the ERIE was towed within about four miles of the shore, when it sunk in 11 fathoms water. By this time it was daylight. The lines were cast off. The CLINTON headed for this port, which she reached about six o'clock. Of those who are saved, several are badly burned, but none are dangerously injured, so far as we have heard.

Origin of the fire. -- Among the passengers on board were six painters, in the employ of Mr. G. W. Miller, of this city, who were going to Erie to paint the Steamboat MADISON. They had with them demijohns filled with spirits of turpentine and varnish, and which, unknown to Captain Titus, were placed on the boiler-deck directly over the boilers. One of the firemen who was saved says he had occasion to go on deck, and seeing the demijohns removed them. They were replaced, but by whom it is not known. Immediately previous to the bursting forth of the flames, as several on board have assured us, a slight explosion was heard. The demijohns had probably burst with the heat, and their inflammable contents taking fire instantly, communicated to every part of the boat, which having been freshly varnished, caught as if it had been gunpowder.

Not a paper nor an article of any kind was saved. Of course it is impossible to give a complete list of those on board. Of cabin passengers, Capt. Titus thinks there were between 30 and 40, of whom 10 or 12 were ladies. In the steerage were about 140 passengers, nearly all of whom were Swiss and German emigrants. They were mostly in families with the usual proportion of men, woman and children. The heart bleeds at the thought.

It is a singular coincidence, that the ERIE was burned at almost, identically, the same spot where the WASHINGTON was burned in June 1838, Capt. Brown, who commanded the WASHINGTON at that time, happened to be on board the CLINTON, and was very active in saving the survivors of the ERIE.

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Wednesday, August 18, 1841
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William R. McNeil
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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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Western Herald (Sandwich, ON), Wednesday, August 18, 1841