Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Walk-in-the-water (Steamboat), aground, 1 Nov 1821
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STEAM-BOAT LOST! --- Information was received in town, last evening, that the steam-boat WALK-IN-THE-WATER, Capt. Rogers, was driven ashore near the Buffalo Light-house, during the gale on Wednesday night last, and materially injured, if not totally lost. The passengers (about 40 in number) and crew were saved. We have obtained no particulars, and those mentioned may prove incorrect, altho' there is much reason to believe they are well founded.
      Cleveland Weekly Herald
      Tuesday, November 6,1821

      . . . . .

      STEAM-BOAT. -- There is a report, the truth of which, we are informed, cannot be questioned, that the steam-boat WALK-IN-THE-WATER ran aground, in a gale, on the night of the 1st inst. a few miles above Buffalo light-house.
      Detroit Gazette
      November 9, 1821

      . . . . .

The report of the loss of the steam-boat WALK-IN-THE-WATER, is fully confirmed. We learn the following particulars from one of the passengers, who arrived in town a few days since by land: the boat left Black Rock on Wednesday the 4 o'clock, P.M. having on board a large quantity of merchandize, and about 75 passengers. The weather was calm, but black clouds and appearances of rain were observed in the north-west. After proceeding up the lake about 6 miles from Buffalo, the wind was so strong ahead as to induce the captain to put about and anchor in Buffalo Bay. At this time the rain poured down in torrents, the wind blew almost a hurricane, and the usual darkness of the night rendered their situation still more unpleasant. Between 10 and 11 o'clock, she commenced leaking, and dragging her anchors. They commenced working the pumps with the steam-boat machinery, but nothwithstanding all their efforts, the water in the hold was constantly increasing. She continued to drift until she struck, when they immediately cut the cables and she went ashore, on a sandy beach, and the passengers and crew were all safely landed, a few minutes before day-break. The keel of the boat is said to be broken in two or three places, and the whole must be terribly shattered. The goods on board belonging to different individuals,were wet and considerably damaged.
From the time she commenced dragging her anchors until she went ashore, the scene must have been truly awful. From the darkness of the night, it was impossible to tell how far they were from shore, and they were also apprehensive of being stranded on the rocks. The torrents of rain--the whistling of the wind--the dashing of the waters,and the constant croaking and rocking of the ship, conspired to render the scene beyond description. Every one on board, with whom we have conversed, speak in the highest terms of the master, Captain J.Rogers, whose calmness, and persevering endeavors to save the boat, excited the admiration of all. ---- Buffalo Journal
      Cleveland Weekly Herald
      Tuesday, Nov. 13, 1821

      THE NEW STEAM-BOAT. -- On Saturday last arrived at this port, the elegant new steam-boat SUPERIOR, Capt. J. Rodgers, with a full freight of merchandize and ninety-four passengers. This excellent vessel was built at Buffalo the past winter, and is owned by the proprietors of the old steam-boat WALK-IN-THE-WATER, which was wrecked in the fall of last year. (Part)
      Detroit Gazette
      May 31, 1822 p.3, c.1
      . . . . .

WALK-IN-THE-WATER Steamer, was the first Steam Boat on Lake Erie. Built at Black Rock in 1818, and commenced running the same season. The novelty of the sight, as she made her first trip through the Lake, excited a great degree of interest and curiosity amongst the people who lived upon the shores, especially among the native Indians, who were ignorant of the power and application of steam, and stood gazing with astonishment to see such "a thing of life" moving through the water without the aid of oars or sails.
The experiment was successful, and it was found that this lake could be navigated by steam boats in safety and to advantage. This boat, however, was lost in 1822 in a severe storm, being driven ashore a few miles above this city (Buffalo) and wrecked. There were about three hundred passengers on board at the time and all escaped in safety. The navigation of the lake at that period, was far more difficult and dangerous for any craft than at present, on account of the want of harbors, and the unimproved conditions of those landing places where vessels were accustomed to stop, and which have since become good harbors.
The SUPERIOR was built immediately after the loss of the WALK-IN-THE-WATER, and commenced running the same season. The engine and other parts which were saved from the wreck, were used in the new boat:- Bethel Magazine, Buffalo. 1835/36 (part)
      Cleveland Weekly Advertiser
      Thursday, January 28, 1836

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The following account taken from a Buffalo paper of that period, of the total loss of the first steamboat on Lake Erie, sixty-two years ago, will prove of interest to the readers of the RECORD.
      "On Wednesday last, the steamboat WALK-IN-THE-WATER left Black Rock at 4 p.m. on her regular trip up to Detroit; the weather though somewhat rainy, did not appear threatening. After she had proceeded about four miles above Bird Island, she was struck by a severe squall, which it was immediately perceived had injured her much, and caused her to leak fast. The wind from the South Southeast continued to blow with extreme severity through the night, which was exceedingly dark and rainy, attended at intervals with the most tremendous squalls. The lake became rough to a terrifying degree and every wave seemed to threaten immediate destruction to the boat and all on board. This was truly to the passengers and crew a night of terror and dismay. To go forward was impossible; to attempt a return to Black Rock in the darkness and tempest would have been certain ruin, on account of the difficulty of the channel and little less could be hoped whether the boat were anchored, or permitted to be driven on the beach. She however was anchored and for a while held fast, but as every one perceived each wave increased her injury and caused her to leak faster; the casings in her cabin were seen to move at every swell, and the creaking of her joints and timbers was appalling; her engine was devoted to the pumps but in spite of them all, the water increased to an alarming extent as the storm grew more terrific. The wind blew more violent as the night advanced, and it was presently perceived that she was dragging her anchors, and approaching the beach. In such blackness of darkness, could her helm have commanded her course, not the most skilled pilot could have chosen with any certainty the part of the shore on which it would be most prudent to land. The passengers on board were numerous and many of them were ladies whose fears and cries were truly heart rending.
"In this scene of distress and danger, the undersigned passengers in the boat, felt that an expression of the warmest gratitude is due Captain J. Rodgers for the prudence, coolness and intelligence with which he discharged his duty, his whole conduct evinced that he was capable and worthy his command. He betrayed none but the character of one who at the same time feels his responsibility and has courage to discharge his duty. He was if we may so speak almost simultaneously on deck to direct and assist in the management of the boat, and in the cabins to encourage the hopes and soothe the fears of the distressed passengers. The calmness of his countenance and pleasantness of his conversation relieved in a great degree the feelings of those who seemed to despair of seeing the light of another day. No less credit is due to the other officers, sailing master Miller and engineer Calhoun and even the whole crew. All were intent on their duty, and mainfested that they had intelligence, courage and a determination to perform it. All were active and proved that they wanted none of the talents of the most expert sailors in the most dangerous moments. To them all as well as the Captain the undersigned passengers tender their most sincere thanks.
The boat was at the mercy of the waves until 5:30 o'clock Thursday morning when she beached a short distance above the lighthouse, when the passengers and crew began to debark, which was effected without the loss of lives or any material injury. Some idea may be formed of the storm when it is known that the boat, being laden as she was, was thrown entirely on the beach:
Alanson W. Welton Jedediah Hunt Thomas Palmer
Oslando Cutter Wm. Berezy Silas Merian
Mary A.W. Palmer Rhoda Lattimore Catharine Palmer
Martha Bearey Chauncy Barker Geo. Williams
Thomas Gay Elisha N. Berge John S.Hudson
Edson Hart James Clark George Throop."

      Marine Record
      October 25, 1883

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The illustration on Page 5, is presented as an ancient work of art. It is copied from an oil painting by Mr. Matthies, made for the parents of ex-Senator Thomas W. Palmer, who were on the boat when she was wrecked, returning from their wedding trip. The apparent perspective, giving one the idea that the shipwrecked passengers might have jumped ashore from the stern, and the figures in the water, indicating that those who could not get into the life-boat walked ashore, detract from the seriousness of the disaster.
The WALK-IN-THE-WATER was built at Black Rock, now part of Buffalo, N. Y., in 1818 and was the first steam vessel that ever navigated any of the lakes above Ontario. She was launched May 28, 1818, and started on her first trip from Black Rock to Detroit on August 25 in the same year. Her machinery had to be brought from Albany to Buffalo, a distance of 300 miles, in wagons drawn by five to eight horses each. As this vessel ran regularly from and to Black Rock Harbor,and not to the present Harbor at Buffalo, she had to proceed a short distance down the Niagara River. While she could navigate down stream safely, her power was not sufficient to enable her to make headway against the strong current at the head of the Niagara river. Resort was therefore had, to what was known in the early days as a "horned breeze". The WALK-IN-THE-WATER was regularly towed up the Niagara River by a number of yokes of oxen.
The boat made her trip regularly between Black Rock and Detroit, making the round trip in nine to ten days. She was wrecked and lost on the beach at Buffalo in November, 1821, but during the winter of 1821/22, a second steamer was built at Buffalo named the SUPERIOR. The machinery of the WALK-IN-THE-WATER was used in the SUPERIOR. It was a low pressure engine, a 48 x 40 inches, and turned 16 foot paddle wheels. The hull was 150 feet long by 27 foot beam, and she was described as "the finest steamer in the world, except one recently launched in New York, designed to cross the Atlantic". Job Fish was her first Captain.
      The Marine Review
      Thursday, March 30,1893


Media Type
Item Type
Reason: aground
Lives: nil
Freight: passengers
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original
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Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 42.88645 Longitude: -78.87837
William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Walk-in-the-water (Steamboat), aground, 1 Nov 1821