The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Toledo (Propeller), aground, 24 Oct 1856

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Propeller TOLEDO, cargo merchandise, and passengers, foundered at her anchor off Port Washington, Lake Michigan, 42 lives lost.
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      January 31, 1857 (1856 casualty list)

      . . . . .

      CHICAGO, Oct. 27. - There has been a great gale on Lake Michigan for two days past. Advices received last night confirm the previous report of the total loss of the propeller TOLEDO, off Port Washington on Friday night. Between thirty and forty lives were lost - but three saved. The cargo of merchandize to Milwaukee is a total loss. No particulars.
      Buffalo Daily Republic
      Monday, October 27, 1856
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      G R E A T L O S S O F L I F E A N D P R O P E R T Y
      From the Milwaukee Sentinel, Oct. 27.
      We regret that we are obliged to record another terrible disaster on the lakes, resulting in a great loss of life and property.
      The propeller TOLEDO, Capt. Densham, of the American Transportation Co.'s Line, bound to this port with a large cargo of merchandize for this city and for merchants in the country, in the gale of Friday last was lost in front of Port Washington, and the captain and all on board drowned but three. We get the following particulars from Mr. Pomeroy of Detroit, who was at Port Washington at the time.
      On Friday, about noon, the propeller was within about 100 rods of one of the piers, and was dragging her anchors and going northward. At about 4 P.M., an attempt seemed to be made to get up the anchors, and get into a safer berth further north. The anchors were down again soon after she got beyond the north pier. The propeller had her flag at half mast, but the waves were rolling at such a fearful height that no boat could live a moment in them, and no help could be rendered. The wind rose to its height at dark. Fires were built all along the shore, and by their light the hull of the propeller could be seen rolling and laboring heavily, some 100 rods out. At about 7:30 P.M. boxes and barrels of goods began to come ashore, and in about half an hour the yawl boat was dashed on the beach and was found to contain a man clinging to one of the seats.
      As soon as he was able to speak he said that he was one of the deck hands, and had got into the boat with about twenty others but the boat was upset almost immediately, and he alone managed to cling to it as it was hurled over and over towards the shore. In a shore time another man got ashore, and a third was lifted up by a wave and thrown upon the pier alive. These 3 are believed to be the only persons saved. They say there were 40 or 50 persons in all on board. They were deck hands and did not know the names of the passengers, and but few of the crew. They remembered one family of passengers, a man and his wife and six children.
      They state that the captain's object was to get up his anchors and beach her as a last resort, but the anchor chain got afoul and they could not raise them or cut the chains before the seams opened and the water came in so rapidly above and below that the propeller settled to the bottom.
      Scarcely a vestige was left of the vessel in the morning, and such of the goods as came ashore were dashed to pieces by the waves.
      The TOLEDO was one of the largest class of propellers, and with her cargo was probably worth $65,000 to $70,000. The vessel was not insured. The waves have swallowed up an immense stock of goods of every kind, scarcely anything of which will be saved.
      We are indebted to J.J. Tallmadge for the following letter from Port Washington, received by him yesterday.
      Port Washington, Oct. 25.
      J.J. Tallmadge, Esq. : The report of the TOLEDO's loss is true. Poor Denshan is no more, and the propeller is the most total wreck you can imagine. She went ashore, dragging both anchors, last evening about 6 o'clock, and immediately went to pieces, The spectators describe it as being the largest sea ever seen here. Her crew consisted of twenty-one, all of which are lost with the exception of two deck hands, which I send to Milwaukee, per TRAVELLER, and one steerage passenger. The names of the deck hands saved are Samuel Welch and Aquilla Gifford - the latter was a deck hand on the steamer NIAGARA at the time of her loss. I cannot give you the name of the passenger, not having seen him yet. They report as having seen in the cabin five passengers, viz: two young ladies, one old lady, and two young men. In the steerage a man, wife and four children, and two young men, beside the one saved. There may be more.
      The shore is strewn for a mile to the northward of the pier, with pieces of the wreck, boxes, barrels, and contents nearly all smashed up, though some packages will be saved, but in a greatly damaged condition. Some idea of the force of the sea can be formed from the fact that her deck plank and stanchions are all broken to pieces, the lower part of her hull split and divided, her bulwark in pieces from one to six feet long, kegs of nails and boxes of axes thrown high on shore, &c.
      As yet there have been no bodies found though strict search have been made for them, but as the beach is covered from two to six feet high with fragments, and the sea rolling yet, it has been impossible to do it thoroughly.
      Buffalo Daily Republic
      Wednesday, October 29, 1856

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      From the Milwaukee Sentinel, 28th.
      Several of the officers and agents of our city insurance companies returned from Port Washington yesterday, whither they had gone to see about the wreck of the ill-fated propeller TOLEDO. The describe the scene as an awful one. For two miles or more the lake shore is lines with fragments of the wreck, piled up in many places, several feet high. The propeller foundered at her anchors, about 200 yards north and 25 yards outside of the piers, and the tremendous violence of the sea completed the work of destruction in a very few hours. The heaviest portions of the hull have come ashore in large pieces, but the upper works are broken up into innumerable fragments. All the dry goods and furniture boxes have been rent asunder by the force of the waves, and their contents riddles the sand, like sieves, and scattered far and wide along the coast. Some of the hardware, such as cases of axes, &c., came ashore whole, and were washed by the sea far up the beach. Sundry barrels of liquors also came ashore, but it is thought that $5,000 will cover the value of all that has been thus saved.
      Only one body has come ashore, up to Sunday evening. It was that of a stout, middle-sized man, apparently one of the deck hands. The Captain's trunk has also been washed ashore. Of the forty or fifty persons on board the propeller when she went down, only three, two deck hands and a steerage passenger, were saved. One of these deck hands, Aquila Gifford, was on board the steamer NIAGARA, when she took fire and burnt to the water's edge, off Port Washington, on September 24th. He is not over 20 years of age, and it was his first trip. His second was on the TOLEDO, which foundered very near to the spot where the NIAGARA was burnt. When the propeller settled, Gifford sprang into the sea and struck out for shore. Presently he felt a hand clutching at his neckcloth, and to save himself slipped his head out of the neckcloth, and saw that go down with the poor fellow who had caught it in his agony. With the help of a plank, Gifford managed to get to the side of the pier, but he had not strength enough left to climb. He therefore commenced halloing for help, at the top of his voice, and presently heard answering shouts from the shore. Before help reached him, however, a combing wave threw him on the pier, and he lost no time in
making tracks for 'terra firma.' It is his impression that he will stay ashore awhile this time.
      Buffalo Daily Republic
      Thursday, October 30, 1856

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Propeller TOLEDO. Built Buffalo, N.Y., 1854. 178.7 x 29.2 x 11.1 Foundered at anchor at Port Washington, 1856. 40 to 42 persons drowned,
      Herman Runge List

Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: aground
Lives: 42
Hull damage: $30,000
Cargo: $140,000
Freight: merchandise
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original:
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • Wisconsin, United States
    Latitude: 43.38722 Longitude: -87.87564
William R. McNeil
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Toledo (Propeller), aground, 24 Oct 1856