Collision of Steamer Chesapeake and Schooner Porter
The steamers Chesapeake and Constellation from Buffalo, were sailing in company on Lake Erie, June 9, 1847, and being off Conneaut about midnight, they met the schooner Porter, which turned aside to avoid the Constellation, and came in contact with the Chesapeake. It appears that the light on board the Chesapeake was mistaken by the helmsman of the schooner for a light on shore, and by some miscalculation of the distance, the schooner ran into the steamer, which she struck on the larboard bow. At the moment of collision, the crew of the Porter sprang on board the Chesapeake, and the latter continued her course out into the lake. Captain Waine of the Chesapeake, thinking that neither vessel was much injured, put about, and steered for the Porter in order to return her crew; but as she came nearer, it was perceived that the Porter was sinking, and by the time the small boat was lowered, she had disappeared. At this moment, the captain was informed that the steamer was leaking. All hands were called to the pumps, but the water gained on them, and the passengers were set to bailing. The firemen were driven from the hold by the rush of water. The Captain had ordered her to be run ashore ; she was accordingly headed in that direction, but before she had proceeded far, the water had put out her fires, and the engine stopped. The anchor was then let go to maintain her position, as the wind was blowing freshly from the shore. From this time to the moment the boat sunk, all hands were employed in preparing floats for the conveyance of the crew and passengers to land. The Captain advised all to stick to the wreck, but some left it notwithstanding, hoping to swim ashore, or to float thither on pieces of plank, furniture, &c, but nothing was heard of them afterwards. Among those who left the boat in this way, was the chief engineer.
Within half an hour after the collision, the Chesapeake went down, head foremost, in seven fathoms water. The upper deck separated from the hull, and remained on the surface. On this floating platform, the passengers who remained alive, took refuge. Many of them were women and children, and their shrieks for aid are described by Captain Waine (who tells the story of the disaster) as most appalling. At this critical juncture, the steamer Harrison hove in sight, but soon passed them at a distance without hearing their cries for help. The [p. 209] Harrison stopped at Connaut, about a mile and a half distant from the wreck, and her captain was there informed by the clerk of the Chesapeake, who, with several other persons had reached the shore in a small boat, that his assistance was needed. The Harrison immediately started for the place, and rescued all who were still alive on the floating deck.
The persons named below are known to have been drowned :
Mrs. Houk, Waterton, N. Y. ; G. Van Doren, Sandusky ; E. Cone, Belle Air, Ohio; S. York, Tiffin, Ohio; R. Sutherland, chief engineer Orson Ware, second porter; R. McNabb, deck-hand.
Besides these, many passengers whose names were unregistered, were undoubtedly lost. The clerk's books, and about $8000 in specie, sunk with the hull, and were never recovered.
During that awful half hour which preceded the sinking of the Chesapeake, the state of affairs on board was almost too horrible for description. The night was exceedingly dark ; a high wind was blowing from the shore, precluding all hope of reaching land on floats; the boat was fast sinking, and death to all on board seemed inevitable. The captain preserved all his serenity, and advised the passengers that their only chance of safety consisted in remaining on the wreck. He assisted his wife and another lady to climb the mast, and fixed them on the cross-trees. Mr. Lytle, the steward of the boat, was very active and self-possessed, helping such as needed help, and often exposed his life to imminent peril in order to preserve the lives of others.
At length the bow began to fall, and the cry was heard, "She is going!" One loud, long, and unearthly shriek arose simultaneously from the despairing multitude ; a shriek which the survivors say is still ringing in their ears, and such a shriek as they hope never to hear again. Many had betaken themselves to floating articles, settees, cabin-doors, planks, tables, &c. One man was seen to turn under his plank, where he remained, his fingers only visible, holding on with the grasp of death. A gentleman and his wife were seen on a float, sometimes sinking, and then rising again to the surface. The lady, not having presence of mind enough to guard against inhaling the water, soon became strangled and exhausted, and died beside her husband, who held out some time longer, but finally sunk into the same watery grave which had received his wife. "They loved in life, and in death they were not divided."
The most touching case was that of Daniel Folsom, his wife, and child. When the engine ceased to work, the yawl-boat was manned and sent ashore in charge of Mr. Sheppard, the clerk. Ten men [p. 207] were put on board, and four ladies, among whom was Mrs. Folsom. She at first refused to go without her husband. He knew it was not the time to debate such a question, and instantly resorted to the only argument which could prevail, by taking the child and putting it in the boat. She then followed, and the husband took an affectionate leave of her at the gang-way. All of this family were saved.