The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Stillman Witt (Propeller), sunk, 1 Oct 1857

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WITT, STILLMAN Propeller, burst boiler in Buffalo Harbor and sunk, wreck raised. six lives lost. Property loss $7,000
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      Jan. 28, 1858 (1857 Casualty List)

      . . . . .

TERRIFIC EXPLOSION. - Yesterday, shortly after twelve o'clock, the inhabitants of the lower part of the city were startled by an explosion which shook the buildings in the vicinity, quite as severely as the earthquake, and shattered the glass in the windows. It was occasioned by the bursting of the steam tug "STILLMAN WITT," the property of William Ferrell, which was lying at the wharf near the foot of Commercial Street. The upper works of the tug were blown in fragments and scattered all along the dock. A portion of the boiler, which could not have weighed less than 1500 pounds, was blown over the three-story warehouses and lodged in the street, near the corner of Norton Street. Pieces of the machinery were scattered in all directions, and it is wonderful that no one was injured by them.
      The tug was under the command of John Ferrell, and had a complement of six hands. Daniel Ferrell, the first engineer, was ashore at the time and escaped injury. Capt. Ferrell was seriously, if not fatally injured. He was badly scalded, and his face frightfully lacerated. Irving Haigh, the 2nd engineer, was badly scalded. Wm. Stenitt, pilot, scalded about the breast and cut by splinters. David Barry was badly hurt, and J.A. Keith, another fireman, is supposed to have been killed.
      One man was seen struggling in the water among the wreck, and went down, in the confusion, before assistance could be rendered.
      Two boys not connected with the boat were blown into the water, but were rescued without serious injury.
      The tug was almost new and was considered one of the best at this port. She was valued at $14,000, and her machinery was made by Bell, of Albany. The shattered hull lies under water to the top of her bulwarks.
We have heard no satisfactory explanation of the cause of the explosion. The pilot says the boiler was full of water, and was carrying only 100 pounds of steam, much less than her usual pressure.
      The explosion appeared to have occurred on the larboard side forward. The sound was not sharp, but dull and heavy, and the smoke, steam, pieces of timber, machinery &c., were projected as directly upwards as if shot from a cannon.
      Buffalo Daily Courier
      October 29, 1857

      . . . . .

      Capt. Ferrell, who was so severely injured by the explosion of the "STILLMAN WITT," died at three o'clock Thursday morning. His death was caused from the inhalation of steam. He leaves a wife and two children.
      William Starritt, the pilot, died at 11 o'clock yesterday morning. His injuries were also internal. He had been married only four months, and was a young man, much esteemed.
About noon yesterday, the body of Sylvester Johnson, a hand on a canal boat, which was lying near the tug at the time of the explosion, was recovered. He was from Rome, and twenty-four years of age.
      We learn that Haight, the second engineer, is so severely burned internally, that he cannot recover. He, with the firemen who were injured, are inmates of the hospital.
      The "STILLMAN WITT."- The hull of this tug was raised yesterday and towed up the Creek. Her engine will be saved and enough of the hull to rebuild from. She was insured for $10,000. -- The hull was raised by Capt. Dormwith, the Buffalo Mutuals' Propeller "RELIEF," assisted by Watson A. Fox, with the Lake Navigation schooner THREE BELLS who generously volunteered for the service.
      Buffalo Daily Courier
      October 30, 1857

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      The Commercial, of yesterday, says that a third boy, named John White, happened to be on the STILLMAN WITT, when she exploded, and was taken out of the water by the tug BARTON. He was much scalded, but how seriously we have not yet learned.
      Contrary to all former information, we find by visiting his friends this morning, that John A Keith, one of the firemen, has not yet been heard from. He was undoubtedly killed. Parties have been, and are now raking the Creek for his body. He was a young man; had no father or mother living. His step-father resides on Perry Street.
We learn from a person who was at the hospital this morning, that Barry's symptoms are favorable, and the physician says that Haight also is some better.
A boy by the name of James Anderson, whose parents live on the corner of Fly and Evens streets has been missing since the explosion. It is supposed that he was on the boat, and is killed.
      The boy J. White is at the hospital, and we believe not dangerously hurt.
      A visit this morning to the Jarvis boys, whose names are George and Andre respectively, find them doing well. There is no internal scald, and nothing serious externally. One of the boys was taken from the deck of the tug immediately after it blew up; the others from the middle of the Creek.
The body of Keith, so far as we can learn, was not found up to 12 o'clock today. The hull of the tug is not yet entirely out of the water at the derrick. It is supposed that he is in the fire-hold, as there is a rumor that he went below to open the doors of the furnace.
      Buffalo Daily Courier
      October 31, 1857

Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: sunk
Lives: 6
Hull damage: $7,000
Remarks: Raised
Date of Original:
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 42.88645 Longitude: -78.87837
William R. McNeil
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Stillman Witt (Propeller), sunk, 1 Oct 1857