The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Charter Oak (Propeller), sunk, 27 Oct 1855

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CHARTER OAK Propeller, cargo staves, foundered in a gale on L. E. All hands lost. Property loss $10,000
      Buffalo Morning Express
      Jan. 11, 1856 (Casualty List)

LOSS OF THE PROPELLER CHARTER OAK. --The Express of this morning, publishes the following letter:
      Girard, Erie County, Pa., Oct. 28, 1855
Dear Sirs: - A propeller was lost opposite this place last night, and, from what has come ashore, we find it was the CHARTER OAK. All of her upper works is on the shore. She was loaded with staves, and they are all in piles on the beach. A trunk came ashore - the property of Wm. Stillman. We found by some papers which it contained that he belonged to the CHARTER OAK. The trunk is in my possession, and I shall keep it until called for. We have heard of no person coming from the wreck and suppose all hands are lost. The gale was very severe at this place -- the hardest of the season. Yours with Respect.
      James E. Pettibone, Girard Depot, 15 miles west of Erie.
      Buffalo Daily Republic
      Tuesday, October 30, 1855

THE PROPELLER CHARTER OAK. -- We went to Girard, Pa., on Tuesday, off which place, as a despatch to the Buffalo Express announced, the CHARTER OAK was wrecked. Through the kindness of Mr. James E. Pettibone, we were enabled to gather the following facts:
      He says that on Saturday night, the most tremendous gale ever known in that quarter, prevailed. Trees were uprooted and felled, and along the bank of the lake numerous heavy land slides had occurred from the powerful action of the swollen waves. The next morning Mr. Pettibone was drove to the lake, and saw an immense mass of staves and pieces of broken wreck coming in, while the beach for a mile or two was strewn with staves and fragments of the vessel. About noon a trunk was seen floating in, which Mr. P., secured, and found it almost broken to pieces. Inside of it he found a number of articles, among which was a miniature, two inches square, which we have, and which can be seen at this office; a letter dated Lockport, February 7, 1855, directed to Wm. Stillman; four shirts marked with the same name, several memorandum books, one is belled on the outside "Propeller MONTGOMERY in account with Geo. Worthington," inside of which, however, was the caption "Wm. Stillman in account with propeller CHARTER OAK," containing a list of her trips in 1855, the last one dated Oct. 12, 1855, the day the propeller CHARTER OAK left Buffalo on her last trip.
      We went down to the beach with Mr. P., and saw there evidence of a most terrific storm. The shore was lined with the fragments of a wrecked vessel and with thousands of staves as far as could be seen every way. Very near all her upper works had floated on shore in fragments and among them was the wheel and part of the pilot house. On many of the painted pieces had been written with pencil CHARTER OAK, and at last, by putting painted red and blue fragments together, we made out "CHARTER O" the balance of the word OAK being missing. About fifty feet of the hurricane deck, with hatches and doors, are also on the beach. There can be no doubt but that the wrecked vessel was the propeller CHARTER OAK, and that her whole crew, to a man, went down in the darkness, the cold, and the tempest. The only names in our possession, of those on board, are Capt. James Jeffords, of Ashtabula; Geo. A.C. Woods, of this city, who went up on a pleasure trip, being in very ill health, and Wm. Stillman, who was the engineer. No bodies have been washed ashore, and it is next to impossible that any upward bound vessel could have picked any of them up in such a fearful storm. Even if the vessel had been beached the crew would have perished, in all probability, as the shores are exceedingly bluff, in some places being a hundred feet high. This is the point where the MAYFLOWER struck some few years ago in the middle of the night. The owners of the CHARTER OAK or of her cargo, can learn any and all further particulars by addressing Mr. James E. Pettibone, Girard, Erie Co. Pa.
      P. S. - Since writing the above, we have seen Captain Jeffords, whom we supposed to have gone down with the "CHARTER OAK," He had been left at his home at Ashtabula, in consequence of a severe renewed attack of fever and ague, and he told us that Mr. George Wood was in command of the vessel when she left Ashtabula. She undoubtedly foundered about three miles off Girard, and went down with every soul on board. The vessel was a most miserable old craft in her hull, and we hear since the wreck, that her engine was as worthless for any emergency as her timbers. Portions of her hull which we picked up on the beach, were rotten and worm-eaten, and those who examined them with us, said that she was entirely unfit to make a trip anywhere, even in fine weather. The bridge tender at Girard, says that the storm commenced at about twelve o'clock last Saturday, and in a moment blew a perfect hurricane. No vessel, perhaps, could have out-lived this storm off the lee shore, when the CHARTER OAK went down. The bodies, of which nothing has been heard as yet, will probably come ashore this week. Men are stationed along the coast to recover them. There can be no doubt that the picture we have is the daguerreotype of Mr. Stillman, the engineer. His friends can obtain it with further particulars, by calling at this office.
      Buffalo Daily Republic
      Thursday, November 1, 1855

      . . . . .

      THE CHARTER OAK. -- From Capt. James Jeffords, of this ill-fated vessel, we have the following additional particulars, with the list of those who perished on her. She landed at Fairport on Saturday afternoon at 4 o'clock, for the purpose of putting the captain ashore, who was very sick. She left Fairport about 7 P. M., with a full cargo of staves, &c. The weather then very clear, with promise of a fair night. This was the last time he saw her. The following are the names of the lost:
      George A.C. Wood, Buffalo, Captain.
      Wm. Stillman, Ist engineer; parents live near Ogdensburg - no family.
      Stephen Smithers, 2d engineer, Buffalo, left a wife and 2 children. They have gone up in search of the body.
      Daniel McIntosh, wheelsman; no family, resided in Buffalo.
      Michael Walsh, wheelsman, has a sister in Buffalo.
      ---- Reinhardt, deck hand, residence unknown.
      John Inkster, from Trenton, deck hand.
      Adolphus Anderson, mulatto cook, from Cincinnati, and two other deck hands, names unknown.
      Buffalo daily Republic
      Friday, November 2, 1855

      . . . . .

      PROPELLER CHARTER OAK. -- The hull of this ill-fated vessel, we learn from an eye-witness, is lying in the lake eight miles from Elk Creek. Her stern is deep sunken while her bows are twenty feet out of water. No bodies were on board, and none have been picked up since the disaster.
      Buffalo Daily Republic
      Saturday, November 3, 1855

Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: sunk
Lives: 11
Freight: staves
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original:
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Pennsylvania, United States
    Latitude: 42.00033 Longitude: -80.31812
William R. McNeil
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Charter Oak (Propeller), sunk, 27 Oct 1855