Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Phoenix (Propeller), fire, 21 Nov 1847
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PHEONIX Propeller, burned near Sheboygan, L. Michigan, and about 150 persons lost.
      Buffalo Courier (casualty list)
      March 17, 1848

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PHOENIX Propeller, burnt on Lake Michigan about 17 miles from Sheboygan and about 200 of the passengers and crew perished. Nov. 21, 1847.
      Casualty List for 1847
      Erik Hyle's private papers

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      Propeller PHOENIX, of 302 tons, built 1845 at Cleveland, burnt November 21, 1847, about 7 miles off Sheboygan, Wis., with the loss of 160 lives.
      Merchant Steam Vessels of the U.S.A.
      1790 - 1868. Lytle - Holdcamper List

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      A W F U L C A L A M I T Y !

      B U R N I N G O F T H E P R O P E L L E R P H O E N I X

      1 7 0 L I V E S L O S T

      On Sunday morning, about 4 o'clock, the propeller PHOENIX, bound up, when within 70 miles of Sheboygan, was discovered to be on fire, and it was found impossible to extinguish the flames. She had more than 200 passengers, 30 of whom took to the small boats, and were picked up by the propeller DELAWARE, which hove in sight, but not in time to save those on board, the remainder were either burned or drowned. Capt. Sweet was sick in his state room, but was saved; 150 of the passengers were emigrating Hollanders. Every attention was extended to the sufferers by the Captain and crew of the DELAWARE.
      The PHOENIX was owned by Pease & Allen, Cleveland, and was insured for $15,000.
      The schooner ONTONAGON, Capt. Robinson, arrived yesterday, by which we learn the PHOENIX was burnt 10 miles from Manitowoc, and six miles from land. The fire originated in the forward part of the boiler deck. Mr. Bleech of Southport, after he saved Capt. Sweet, returned and perished in the flames.
      There were probably 200 lives lost. Capt. Sweet is at present in Sheboygan. The mate and six of the crew were saved. The propeller DELAWARE is expected every hour, and will bring full particulars of the calamity.
      Buffalo Daily Courier
      Monday, November 29, 1847

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      We were unable to obtain any more particulars of this calamity, than the following from the Commercial of last evening.
      Accounts received here this morning do not vary from those which arrived yesterday. This unfortunate vessel was, on Sunday, the 21st instant, within about 15 miles of Sheboygan, and about the same from Manitowoc, when it was discovered that she was on fire in her hold. She had been compelled to put to sea, being unable to procure sufficient anchorage in Manitowoc Bay, where she had gone for shelter. This fire was soon extinguished, but this was no sooner done than it broke out in the forward front of the boiler deck, having been communicated from the boilers. The vessel was about 6 miles from the shore. The greatest confusion prevailed after the second discovery of fire, as it then appeared that there was no hope of extinguishing it. A rush was made for the small boat, which would have rendered it entirely useless, but Mr. Davis Blish, of Southport, a gentleman whose name should henceforth be had in perpetual remembrance among those who navigate the lakes, drove the crowd away, and having taken Capt. Sweet, the commander of the propeller, from his berth, where he lay sick, and directing as many to follow as the boat could safely carry, the boat left for the shore, Mr. Blish voluntarily remained behind.
      The propeller DELAWARE hove in sight about the time the small boat left, but was unable to arrive in time to save those on board from destruction. Before the DELAWARE reached the spot, the burning vessel had sunk, and all on board were either burned or drowned, with the exception of two, who were picked up.
Mr. Blish perished among the rest. It appears probable that 240 lives were lost. One hundred and fifty of the passengers had recently arrived from Holland. This is a greater destruction of life than has ever occurred at any one time upon these lakes.
      The Captain and crew of the DELAWARE extended every assistance in their power.
      The PHOENIX was insured for $12,000, of which $5,000 were in the Buffalo Mutual, $4,000 Fire and Marine, and $3,000 North-Western Insurance Companies.
      We understand that there was on board a large amount of merchandise, including 40 or 50 hogsheads of sugar and a great quantity of dry goods, &c. It is estimated that this is not less than $80,000 or $100,000. Probably much of it was insured in New York, as is usual.
      We expected further particulars from the DELAWARE, but at the time of going to press she had not arrived.
      Buffalo Daily Courier
      Tuesday, November 30, 1847

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      We copy the following from the Detroit Free Press Extra. The informant of the Free Press was the engineer of the PHOENIX, who came down on the delaware:
      The PHOENIX was bound up, and on Sunday morning last, about 4 o'clock, when within 17 miles of Sheboygan, she was discovered to be on fire. After finding it impossible to extinguish the fire, and that all who remained on board would perish in the flames, many jumped overboard and endeavored to save themselves as best they could. About thirty got into the small boats, and were picked up by the DELAWARE, which hove in sight after the PHOENIX was in flames, but not in time to render assistance to those who remained on board, or who were unable to get into the small boat.
      The engineer furnishes us the names of those known to have been lost, and whom he recollects by name:
      Mr. West, lady and child, Racine.
      Mr. Fink and lady, Racine.
      Mrs. Long and child, Milwaukee.
      J. Burrough, Chicago.
      D. Blish, Southport.
      Two Misses Hazleton, Sheboygan.
      About 25 cabin and 5 to 8 steerage passengers, together with 150 Hollanders
      Of the officers and crew were lost:-
      D.W. Keller, steward, Cleveland.
      J.C. Smith, saloon keeper, Buffalo.
      N. Merrill, 2d. Mate, Ohio City.
      W. Owen, 2d engineer, Toledo.
      H. Robinson, 2d porter, Chicago.
      J. Newgent, 1st. fireman, Buffalo.
      Deck-hands - T. Halsey, T. Ferteau, River St. Clair; J. Murdock & A.
Murdock, Canada; George ---, Cabin boy; H. Tisdale, Cleveland, boy found;
Wheelsman - L. Southworth, New Bedford; Two colored cooks, Detroit.
      Capt. Sweet, Ohio City.
      Clerk, Donihue, River St. Clair.
      Engineer, M.W. House, Cleveland.
      1st. Mate, H. Watts, Cleveland.
      Wheelsman, A.C. Kelson, Ohio City.
      Deck hand, J. Moon, Cleveland.
      Fireman, Michael O'Brien, Buffalo.
      2d. Porter, R. Watts, Cleveland.
The PHOENIX had the largest load of passengers and freight she could carry.
      The loss of life above, is the largest which ever occurred on the lakes, ans the property loss is immense. It is supposed that those 150 Hollanders had considerable money with them, as they were seeking a location in the West; but how uncertain is life ! It is indeed mournful to record this sad catastrophe.
      In addition to the above, the Cleveland Herald has the following:
      We have conversed with Mr. M.W. House, engineer of the PHOENIX, and from him received the following particulars, in addition to those furnished by the Free Press. The fire occurred on Sunday morning, the 21st inst., between Sheboygan and Manitowoc, and 17 miles from Sheboygan. The fire was first discovered under the deck, near the back end of the boiler, and all possible means were used to extinguish it, but without success. The two small boats were lowered away, and instantly filled with the few who escaped to tell the tale of the sad disaster.
Capt. Sweet, who had been for several days confined to his state room, one wheelsman, and one deck hand, were in one of the boats, the first mate and 2d Porter in the other; the balance of the loads were chiefly Hollanders.
      Mr. Donihue, Clerk, Mr. House, Engineer, and one passenger, Mr. J. Lang, were all that were taken from the water alive. Donihue and Lang were found under the stern, clinging to the wheels, and the Engineer on a float about 50 rods from the wreck. Those who were saved were taken up by the propeller DELAWARE, which was at anchor off Sheboygan at the time the fire commenced. The DELAWARE towed the wreck, which was completly gutted, into Sheboygan, where it now lays aground. Much credit is due to Capt. Tuttle and crew of the DELAWARE, for the prompt and humane assistance rendered by them on the occasion, and for the kind treatment extended to the sufferers whilst on their passage down.
The PHOENIX was owned by Messrs. Pease & Allen of this place, and insured we learn
to the amount of $15,000 in eastern companies.
      But what signifies the value of property in comparison with the lives which have been lost, the hopes blighted, the hearts broken, and homes made desolate. The thought is too horrible to contemplate.
      Since the above was in type we have been favored by Capt. Tuttle of the DELAWARE with the following memorandum, embracing some particulars not before given, and correcting others:
      The PHOENIX was first discovered on fire from the deck of the propeller DELAWARE at a quarter to 4 o'clock on the morning of the 21st, off about 18 miles, bearing about North by East.
      The DELAWARE was at once got under way and headed for the burning propeller and drove with all possible speed for two hours, when, arriving within fifty rods of the wreck, they heard a voice calling loudly for assistance.
      One boat was immediately lowered down and sent in pursuit of the suffering man. It succeeded in picking him up directly and bringing him safe to the DELAWARE, where he was at once divested of his clothing and dry garments given him instead. After rubbing him severely he became quite comfortable. He proved to be the first engineer. While this man was being picked up the propeller proceeded to the wreck, where the other boat was lowered down, and the clerk was found, together with one passenger, clinging to the rudder. This boat picked them up and brought them on board, where, after the same means were used as
before, they were both revived and made comfortable.
      Both boats were then sent in pursuit of more bodies, while the DELAWARE was made fast to the wreck, and succeeded in towing it to Sheboygan where she sunk in eight feet of water. Soon after the arrival of the wreck at Sheboygan, the boats came up, one with 5 dead bodies and the other with baggage and furniture.
      At this time on of the PHOENIX boats came up from the shore wher the two boats had gone from the burning vessel, taking with them 42 of the crew and passengers. The boat that now came up contained the Captain very ill, and the First mate, together with some of the crew - the passengers being left on the beach about 12 miles below. From the Clerk, Mr. Donohue, we learned that there were on board 175 Hollanders large and small, and about 100 other passengers, and 25 of the crew, making in all 300 persons - 45 in all saved, 255 lost.
      The DELAWARE soon left on her downward passage, and in passing in the track where the burning vessel was found, fell in with many floating bodies, to the number of about 100. Some of them were standing upright in the water, some of the women were lying on their sides, some - the children generally - on their faces. Some of the passengers were in full dress, some in undress, and others entirely naked - all with their heads to the northward.
      They were within four miles of the land, and the wind was fast drifting them ashore, so it was not deemed advisable to pick them up, as plenty of boats had been sent from Sheboygan for that purpose, and not all picked up would drift ashore by the following morning. - Com. Adv.
      Buffalo Daily Courier
      Wednesday, December 1, 1847

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      (from the Chicago Journal)
      It appears that the PHOENIX lay at Manitowoc on Saturday, waiting for the sea to go down. She started again at one A. M., and after being out an hour or two the fireman discovered the pumps would not work, and so informed the 2d Engineer. He paid no attention to it and refused to call the 1st. Engineer, until the boilers were red hot and the boat was in flames.
The PHOENIX carried three boats, one on each side and one hanging at the her stern. Capt. Sweet, who was confined with a fractured knee, to his berth, at the entreaty of Mr. Blish, consented to go with the first boat, with twenty others, of the passengers and crew. In the second boat there were nineteen persons in all, including the first mate. These, with three persons afterwards taken off the burning wreck, by the propeller DELAWARE, are all that are known to be saved; FORTY-THREE out of a total, it is believed, of THREE HUNDRED souls. The boats, as soon as they left the propeller, made directly for shore, distant perhaps 4 miles, though invisible of course in the darkness, for it yet lacked an hour of daylight.
      The PHOENIX had on a full freight, and of her passengers, about 50 were Americans, (including the crew) and 250 emigrants, all Hollanders and all coming to Milwaukee. Among the latter were many, who had considerable sums of money with them, it being supposed that they had in the aggregate some $50,000.
      One young girl of 17, now at Sheboygan, is the sole survivor of a party of 25, who had, together $18,000. An old man, the father of nine children, is left to mourn the loss of all those for whose sakes he left his native land and emigrated to America.
      The weather was so cold, it is stated by the survivors that few lived over 20 minutes after being driven overboard by the flames. The lake was covered with small boats as soon as the fire was discovered. The Clerk was taken from the mast, which he tied to the rudder, the heat of the burning boat keeping him alive. Many dead bodies were found, some of which had been frozen to death.
      The Milwaukee papers say that hopes are entertained for the safety of Mr. Blish, together with those who may have accompanied him in the third boat.
      The Milwaukee Sentinel, says: - Some painful rumors reach us of inhuman treatment meted out to two or three of the survivors of this appalling disaster But we cannot, except on the most undoubted authority, lend evidence to tales which would disgrace human nature. We shall rather hope, until well satisfied to the contrary, that all the people of Sheboygan (as we know the majority of them did) extended every kindness to those who were thus cast helpless and friendless upon their shores.
      Buffalo Daily Courier
      Wednesday, December 8, 1847

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THE PHOENIX - Mr. S.S. Read has furnished the Commercial with a statement of the number of souls on board of this vessel at the time of her conflagration Nov. 21, 1847. Mr. Read has with much care availed himself of means to come to a correct account of the number lost, from the testimony of the officers saved and that of the passage Agents who shipped the Hollanders from this city, by which it would appear that the number is no so great as has been supposed.
      Mr. Read vouches for the correctness of the following statement:
      Number of Hollanders, 154
      Cabin and other American passengers, 32
      Crew, including officers 20
      Total 206
      Number saved 46
      Total lost 161
      Buffalo Daily Courier
      December 30, 1847

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      MARINE. - The engine, boiler and all the cargo, have been taken from the wreck of the propeller PHOENIX, and the hull lies in five feet water; she has been totally abandoned. The boiler was but little injured. No money was found on the PHOENIX.
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      Thursday evening, June 29, 1848

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Media Type
Item Type
Reason: fire
Lives: 161
Freight: merchandise
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original
Local identifier
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Wisconsin, United States
    Latitude: 43.75083 Longitude: -87.71453
William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Phoenix (Propeller), fire, 21 Nov 1847