Steamboat "Lexington" Exploded In 1855 


Author Unknown - Ca. 1855

A great disaster occurred at six o'clock, a.m., on the first day of July 1855, about 90 miles below Louisville on the Ohio River. Every person on board, except those of the crew, who had been appointed to keep the night watch, were in their berths. Three boilers exploded at the same moment, demolishing the whole of the upper works forward of the wheelhouse, and hurling many of the sleeping crew and passengers into the water without any premonition of danger. The steamer was underway at the time of the accident, and the engine had been working steadily without intermission for two hours. There were about 50 cabin passengers, exclusive of eight ladies, one child, and a nurse; who, together with the officers, crew, and deck passengers, made a sum total of 130 persons.

The explosion produced a deafening report, and the wreck immediately took fire. "Then," says an eyewitness, "was presented a dreadful harrowing scene, such as no pen can describe, no imagination conceive. Many persons were blown into the river, a few of whom swam ashore. Many fell on the boat and were mingled in awful confusion with the fragments of the wreck; all were lit up by the blazing timber, which in that dead hour of the night, cast an unearthly gleam on the hideous spectacle. To the spectator, to whose harrowed sight were visible the blackened bodies of the dead, and the expiring agonies of those who struggled in the water, and on whose ears rung the groans of those who were expiring on the wreck, the scene was one of the most terrific and heartrending description."

The second mate, Peter Edds, ordered the anchor to be thrown overboard as soon as possible, and the steamer dragged for two miles down the stream. The scene of the disaster was near some wood choppers' cabins on the Kentucky shore. These people, as soon as they discovered the misfortune which had befallen The Lexington, came in their skiffs and took off the surviving passengers. The ladies generally were saved. The males, with very few exceptions, were more or less injured.

Killed. - W. C. Larkins, Madison, Indiana; Mr. Phillips, Liberty, Missouri; Henry Lewis; John Taylor, Negro porter; Thomas Baldwin, Negro; William Harrison, Negro; James Miller, second clerk, Nashville; M. R. Fairchild, barkeeper; P. Willis, second engineer, Smithfield; M. Bernard, pilot; Samuel Lowery, Negro; two brothers, names unknown; Mr. Haines, carpenter; a German deck hand; a Negro fireman; and 11 others, names unknown, making a total of about 35.

Wounded. - Capt. Throop, Col. Bales, and Thomas Payne, Louisville; Thomas Gibson, first mate; E. G. Davidson, first clerk, Paducah, Kentucky; Sneed Strang, pilot, J. B. Johnston, and M. Twigg, Nashville; S. W. Anderson, assistant engineer; D. Harris, Cincinnati; Henry, Negro boy; J. Gardner, King's Landing, Kentucky; P. Flynn, Auburn, New York; J. John and A. Badger, pilot, St. Louis; W. P. Johnston, Madison; T. Ryan, St. Louis; Capt. Thomas White, Louisville; Mr. McElroy, Lebanon, Kentucky; J. Hall, Liberty, Missouri; Charles Squire; and others, names not mentioned.

The boat turned bottom upward and sunk near Stephensport. The steamer D. A. Given took charge of those passengers who had been carried to the Kentucky shore by the wood choppers. It is remarked as a singular circumstance that few persons were scaled by this explosion. Most of the wounded were badly bruised or had their limbs broken. Many were drowned, of whom no account will ever be given, as the books, papers, and all of the baggage, except that in the ladies' cabin, were destroyed.

Capt. J. V. Throop, the commander of The Lexington, has been engaged on the river for 25 years. He is a prudent and experienced officer, and this is the first accident that ever befell a boat under his command.