The Wreck of the Steamboat “Swallow”

Steamboat Swallow 1836


Total Wreck of the Steamboat Swallow.
— A Number of Lives Lost.

The steamer Swallow left Albany at 6 o’clock on Monday evening, with two or three other boats, to come directly through to New York. She has on board a large number of passengers, probably three hundred and fifty in all. when passing through the narrow channel at Athens, she ran upon a large rock, called “the brig.” The bow ran up so high that it was impossible to stand upon the deck. The keep broke and the stern bent upwards, and still went down so that in three minutes the two cabins were full of water. The scene among the passengers may be imagined. It was 9 o’clock in the evening, and very few of them were in their berths. The upper part of the boat soon took fire, which increased the alarm.

The evening was very dark and the wind blowing fresh at the time, the boat struck. Fortunately the Rochester, Capt. Cruttenden, was but a few boat’s length behind, but by the time she succeeded in rounding to and reaching the Swallow, the water was up to the top of the ladies’ cabin.

The passengers were taken off by Capt. Cruttenden (should be Crittenden), but so short was the interval from the time the Swallow struck till she went down, that it is impossible to say how many lives were lost.

The following letter contains full particulars of the fearful accident:


MY DEAR FRIEND: — You may value a few lines from me, an eye-witness, descriptive of the terrible accident which befell the SWALLOW last evening. At about 8 o’clock last evening when going at a rapid rate, the boat struck on a small rock island abreast the town of Athens and the city of Hudson. I was sitting in the upper saloon in conversation. At the first severe shock the passengers rushed below, but fears were calmed for a moment by the outcry that we had only come in contact with a raft. But our ears were speedily assailed by the appalling sounds of the rending of timbers, and the evident destruction of the boat; while the stern settled with frightful rapidity. —

Those who had “turned in,” in the after cabin, had barely time to leap from their berths, before the water was upon them. You can imagine the horrors of the scene at this moment when more than three hundred souls were thus exposed in the midst of falling snow, and almost utter darkness. As the waters reached the boiler fires, a sheet of mingled steam, smoke and flame poured into the boat, illuminating the ghastly countenances with a sudden glare of vivid light, and completing the consternation. The conviction that the curse of fire was to be added to our other imminent perils, curbed the resolution of the stoutest hearts. But the rapid sinking of the boat extinguished the fires, and darkness prevailed again.

In less than five minutes, by the blessing of God, the stern rested on the bottom, the water being above the windows of the aft saloon state-rooms. Several females were drawn out of state-rooms by dashing in the windows; two almost exhausted — one very aged, and now lying on board this boat in a precarious situation — were taken from the Ladies’ Cabin by cutting through the floor. — They had sustained themselves on settees with only a few inches of breathing room for their faces. The bow had been forced high and dry upon the rock, and the boat, split open amidship, was left rising almost perpendicularly upward, covered with anxious beings clinging to the bulwarks. The remainder of the passengers were sadly grouped on the forward upper deck, many bewailing the absence of dear companions, and actuated by the most dreadful apprehensions for their fate.

By this time the alarm had been thoroughly communicated to the shore on either side. The bells of the churches began to ring, and the river was soon covered with torches, waving in the fleet of boats that put off to our assistance; while the steamboat Rochester, which had found it difficult to get to us, and the steamboat Express, which had now come up, were gradually approaching alongside. The sound of the drum pealing on the air, the shouts of those in the boats, the light of the waving torches, and the wailing grief of many on the wreck, constituted features of a most impressive scene.

In the course of an hour all were taken off who remained, in the Rochester, the past seeming like a terrible dream. I am approaching the city. It can be scarcely be but that many are lost. Many leaped immediately overboard in that frenzy of mind which precluded the power of self preservation in the water.

The awful scene exhibited to the self-possessed observer many striking traits of human nature. In the very height of the confusion and dismay, on the upper deck, when all was darkness, the snow falling fast, the boat sinking rapidly, wives shrieking for husbands, sisters for brothers, and children for parents, and the accents of prayer best befitted the lips, the voice of a strong hearted ruffian was heard even among the tumult, pouring volleys of oaths at the poor agonized females around him, because of the emotion they exhibited. A gentleman was hurrying up from the lower cabin, with difficulty escaping the pursuit of the waters, and when he reached the saloon he saw a husband hasten from the state room beside him closely hugging a valise, while his wife, with an infant in her arms and another little child by her side, shrieked to him as he rushed away, never turning his head to view their fate —

“Husband! husband! in God’s name, drop your valise and save your wife and children!”

But he disappeared unheeding! He probably preferred the miserable gold in his valise to his wife and children! A gentleman although he had apparently lost every thing, except the clothing on his back, did not make an effort for himself until he had secured the safety of that family. we rejoice to be able to offset so finished an exhibition of selfishness, with this act of disinterested generosity.

The scene must have been as appalling as it has been described. Even the feelings of those on board the Rochester and Express, as they approached, were not to be envied. The awful cry of hundreds in their terrible agony was heard, it is related, full a mile away. And when the glare of the sudden flames lighted up the boat as she was described sinking fast, very fast, the intensity of sympathy was almost akin to the who of the sufferers.

The boat is broken entirely open. — The engine, &c. may be saved provided it holds together long enough to raise them. But it is so complete a wreck that a high wind is likely to break her entirely up.

The Adams Sentinel (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Apr 14, 1845

Wreck of the Steamboat Swallow on North River.

The following particulars in relation to the loss of this boat we copy from the Buffalo Pilot of the 11th:
Troy, April, 8, 1845, 9 o’clock P.M.

GENT. — I arrived in this city this afternoon at 5 o’clock, and find that much excitement exists, produced by the loss of the fine steamboat Swallow, the news of which reached here this morning. You will find in the Albany Evening Journal, of this evening, an account of the disaster, this I am informed, is erroneous in many particulars. It is states in the Journal that Mrs. Starbuck, of Troy, was among the dead. This I learn to be an error.

On the tidings here, the steamboat John Mason immediately started for the scene of the disaster, and I have waited until this hour in hopes of getting more full particulars, but she has not yet arrived. Should she come up during the night, I shall gather what I can in the morning, and add to this in a P.S.

Meantime, I send you the proof of an article prepared for the Troy Daily Whig of to-morrow morning, which is believed here to be the most authentic accounts received yet, and for which I am indebted to the kindness of the editor of that paper Mr. WATSON.

“The steamboat Swallow left this city for New York on Monday afternoon. — She had a large number of passengers on board — over 300. The night set in very dark with occasional squalls of snow. About 8 o’clock the boat, while under full headway, struck a ledge of rocks just north of the village of Athens, opposite the city of Hudson. The bow of the boat was forced completely out of water, causing the stern to be proportionally depressed under water.

“The steamboats Rochester and Express were a short distance astern of the Swallow when she struck. They came alongside with great alacrity and took off her passengers. In their fright, a number of the passengers jumped overboard, and were picked up by the small boats of the Swallow. The citizens of Hudson and Athens also came to the assistance of the passengers in boats and carried many of them on shore at those places. Had the passengers been aware at the time of the accident of the exact position of the boat, all of them might have been taken off without wetting even the soles of their shoes; as the rock on which they Swallow struck was 12 or 15 feet out of water. The hull of the boat is broken in two near the forward gangway.

After the Swallow struck, her stern sunk very rapidly; so much so that several persons were extricated from the state-rooms on the promenade deck, by cutting holes though the roof. Capt. Squires exhibited throughout the whole affair, the most commendable coolness and energy in his efforts to save the lives of his passengers.

“The Swallow was purchased last summer by the Troy and New-York Steamboat Co. for $24,000. During the last winter she was thoroughly repaired and greatly improved in every respect. She was built in 1835, and was in excellent condition. The loss will be a heavy one to her owners, as she was not insured. She was valued at about $30,000.

“The Albany will be put on the line in place of the Swallow.

“Among the passengers on the Swallow from this city, were John Paine, lady, daughter, and son, John L. Thompson and lady, N. Starbuck and Mrs. Benjamin Starbuck, Mrs. Townsend, M. Vail, Mr. and Mrs. Hayner. Mr. Fellowes, Wm. C. Rice, C.L. Richards, and a large number of others whose names we have not ascertained.

“P.S. We learn that another passenger, Mrs. French of Detroit, is missing and is suppose to be lost.”

Wednesday, April 9, 6 A.M.

The Mason returned last night at 11 o’clock, bringing the bodies of 6 persons, viz: Mr. Geo. Coffin, of West Troy; 2 Misses Wood, of Albany, Miss Briggs, of Troy; and a man and woman unknown. On the woman’s finger was a silver thimble marked ‘F.M.C.’ The Troy Whig of this morning states that the body of Mrs. Starbuck, of this city, was among the number brought up, but this is a mistake — it is not yet known whether she was drowned. A gentleman informs me that he saved himself by jumping some 18 feet down upon the island.

My informant says that the boat must have been under great headway at the time, as her bow ran between 30 and 40 feet on the island. It will probably never be known how many lives were lost. The following letter was written yesterday afternoon by the Steward of the Swallow, and no doubt contains his honest opinion — it having been written without instructions from those interested in having the truth concealed:

“I have just returned from the Swallow. They are fishing out dead bodies all the time. I saw ten women that were drowned. They think that about 60 are drowned.

Yours, in haste,


“Capt. Squier of course is blamed by no one — the captains on the Hudson having nothing to do with piloting the boats — that duty devolving on a pilot. So if any one is to blame it is the pilot, and a coroner’s jury has said that he was not, the night being so dark he could not see. It appears to me, then, that he should have stopped, notwithstanding the importunities of a few hot-headed passengers, who objected to his so doing, because they did not wish to get into New York behind the Rochester.

Capt. Squier is still on board the wreck, hard at work. He intends to have the river dragged to-day, as it is known that many jumped overboard.

The Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Apr 15, 1845


Steamboat Swallow

This next article was rather blurry and hard to read, so there are some blanks where I couldn’t make out, or figure out what it said.

Appalling Disaster!

From the Albany Evening Journal, of Tuesday.

The steamboat Swallow, Captain Squires, which lies between Troy and New York, on her way down the river last nigh, met with an accident of the most serious nature. She left here at 6 o’clock with a considerable load of passengers, and when opposite Athens, ?0 miles below the city, ran upon a small island while going at full speed. The violence of the _________ was so great that the bow of the Swallow was bent nearly at right angles with the hull, and almost immediately after she struck, the water came pouring in through the openings in the bottom plank. It was nearly nine o’clock when the accident occured, and the passengers had all taken ___ and were mostly on the main and upper decks. A few, however, remained in the after cabin below deck.

The waiters and hands were taking supper in the forward cabin. Alarmed by the shock, they rushed aft, the chambermaid passing through the entire length of the two cabins, and ascending by the after stairs to the Ladies’ Cabin, on the main deck. The water followed with great rapidity, and within three or four minutes after the accident, the lower cabin was filled with water. The greatest alarm now prevailed, and every body hurried to the state-room deck. an opening was cut through the roofing of the state-rooms, and many clambered up on that, as the boat continued to fill and settle rapidly.

At this moment Captain Squires heard some calls for help below, and decending the main deck, then under water, rescued Mrs. and Miss Starbuck, of Troy from imminent danger. Mrs. Starbuck, an aged lady, was immediately carried on shore in a small boat, and every attention paid to her, but the exposure and alarm proved too much for her enfeebled frame and she died shortly after reaching shore. This is the only life yet known to have been lost, though great fears are ___tained that several persons have been drowned in the main cabin. The chambermaid, however, who ran through this cabin, after the boat struck, thinks that everyone had left it; and such we hope will prove to be the fact.

The rock or island on which the Swallow struck is on the west side of the channel and within a stone’s throw of the Athens shore. The night was dark and tempestuous. Within a very few moments after the accident the Express first, and then the Rochester came alongside the wreck and took off the passengers and luggage. There were several sloops and small boats engaged in the same way.

From the Albany Advertiser, Wednesday morning.

THE DISASTER AT ATHENS. — We regret that the worst anticipations of our citizens — ___nding the loss of the Swallow at Athens, on Monday night, are realized. Life has been lost and it is feared to a great extent.

The steamer John Mason returned from the wreck at 11 o’clock last night with the bodies of six persons which had been recovered. Two were landed here — the sisters of Dr. War__d of this city. The others were washed from the wreck.

If the snow storm was so dense as to prevent the running of the boat, she should have anchored. That is no excuse. The storm was so heavy when the boat passed Hudson that the South America could not land. So we have no more news by her from the Swallow.

The Express of last evening publishes a list of 199 saved, of the 250 passengers said to be on board. Amongst them we see the names of Jas Dickson and Mrs. and two Miss Conkline [Conkling] of this city. It is doubtful if Mrs. C. is saved. Mr. Hard of the state Senate, and Mr. Frisbee of the House, are among the passengers.

Mrs. ? Starbuck, of Troy, said to have been drowned, is saved.

P.S. Some of the passengers that came in the morning train, state that four more bodies, all females — have been found. It was the general impression at Albany, that not less than 30 or 60 persons were drowned.

Further from the Swallow.

We glean to-day a few more particulars about this most distressing casualty, although it seems impossible to obtain full and accurate accounts. An extra from the Columbia Republican, dated at Hudson yesterday, mentions the recovery of five more bodies, all females, making ELEVEN in all, who are — known to have perished. Of the last five, three, we understand, have been recognized: Mrs. Conklin [Conkling] of Bennington, Vt., Mrs. Coffin of West Troy, and Mrs. Walker of New York.

Mr. Walker in his testimony before the coroners jury at Hudson yesterday, stated that he could have saved his wife, and was taking her forward towards the bow of the boat, but the Captain stopped him, saying “be easy, there’s no danger.” He accordingly remained where he was and in a moment or two his wife was swept from his side by the rush of the water.

Up to yesterday evening, no entrance had yet been affected into the Ladies’ Cabin or the Main Cabin below deck. There is every reason to fear that many were drowned in their Cabins, in the attempt to escape. Many, too, were swept off the deck when the stern sunk, and it is not probable, or even possible, that all of them were saved.
There is a great disparity in the various statements as to the number of passengers on board — it is estimated by some at high as 300 and by others as low as 150. Why will not the owners of the boat ______ something towards allaying the _____ _____ of the public by publishing the list of passengers! This should be done at once.

We hear that at the Coroner’s inquest held in Athens, immediately after the accident, not a single passenger was sworn as a witness. — No wonder that the Jury returned a verdict _____pating the officers of the boat from all blame. The Columbia Republican, however, states that it appeared in evidence yesterday, before the Coroner’s Jury now –ing, that the Swallow was in charge of the first pilot Mr. BURNETT, at the moment it struck. He had just come up from tea, and as soon as he stepped ___ the wheel house, said to the second pilot, then at the wheel, “You are out of your ?mind?.” He immediately seized the wheel, and was in the act of turning it, when the boat struck. This is a very different story from the one first told in explanation of the disaster which was that a snow squall came up, a few moments before the accident and prevented the pilot from seeing the shore. As the case now stands, it would appear that a pilot was in charge of the boat, at the time of the wreck, who did not know the channel. — If this shall prove to be the fact, what a weight of responsibility rests upon the owners!

A correspondent in to-day’s Journal, over his proper signature, gives some particulars of the disaster, that had not before _____ed. Thousands will concur in the opinion expressed by him, that there should have been some person on board the boat to proclaim to the passengers the precise situation of things, and to have directed them to the bow, where all might have been saved.

Very deep and general interest has been felt here in the fate of Gen. MATHER’S interesting little __y. The report came up last night that the little fellow had been ____, floating on a plank; and all were eager to believe the story. But we fear that it was without foundation. It is but too probable that he is one of the many victims of the most appalling catastrophe that has occurred upon the waters of the Hudson within our recollection.

Correspondence of the Evening Journal.

DEAR SIR — There being many contradictory statements in circulation in regard to the loss of the steamer Swallow, I take the first opportunity of furnishing you with a relation of the facts which occurred under my own observation. At the time the boat struck I was sitting near the Captain’s office on the main deck. Great confusion of course at once ensued — passengers rushing one way and another, to inquire the cause, ladies — screaming, &c, when Capt. Squires came aft, near to where most of the passengers were congregated, and said, “[Ladies and gentlemen, be quiet, all is safe.”] This word was immediately passed about the boat, and our fears had become somewhat allayed, when the Captain again appeared in the crowd, holding a signal lamp over his head, and called upon all to go forward. A general rush was then made forward, in which I was forced along, but when I had got to within reach of the door which opened out on to the forward deck, (about 100, perhaps, having passed — through,) a cry came from forward of “Go back, go back.” We were then forced back again towards the centre of the boat, and as we passed the stairway, the cabin at that point was nearly full. I then discovered that the ladies saloon aft was filling, and the stern sinking. At this moment a cry of “fire” went through the vessel, and the smoke, sparks and coal dust rushed up from the fireplaces. The water by this time had reached to where I stood, and was fast rising around my feet. Up to this time we had no knowledge of the nature or cause of the calamity, nor had any intimation been given in my hearing that we were aground, or that we were near land; but on the contrary the work was several time passed around that we had run on to a raft. Being thus [hemmed’ is driven back by the crowd from before, prevented from going aft by the water and fire, and there being no stairway or other passage to the upper deck within this space — I and those around me endeavored to compose ourselves for death, which we believed inevitably and speedily approaching, when the crowd in which I stood moved again forward, and we passed out to the forward deck, and I was carried along up a stepp aclivity, which I supposed, (it being very dark,) was a gang plank leading up on to the vessel, or whatever else we had run into, until i came to get hold of the net-work or cordage which surrounded the bow; it then occurred to me that the boat was broken in two. I then saw those forward of me, near the bowscript, — throwing themselves over this bulwark, and upon following their example found myself upon the ground — This was the first intimation I received that we were aground. On examination by day-light, this island on which we struck proved to be a rock, covered partly with grass, about 30 by 50 feet in size, and 10 or 15 feet above the water.

The boat is broken a little forward of the wheels, the forward part running up on the island at an angle of 45 degrees. Shortly after I tumbled over, (a fall of about 15 feet,) a ladder was brought, and in all I think about 100 persons escaped that way.

The Rochester and Express, which were known to be close behind, soon came in to the channel, and most of the passengers were supposed to have gone on board of them, by aid of boats from Athens and Hudson, upon either side of us. After remaining on the island until half past 6, I finally got off on the Athens shore, where I remained until last evening. During yesterday efforts were made to search the boat, which resulted in obtaining most of the baggage and 6 bodies — 2 Misses Woods of Albany, Miss Briggs and Mrs. Coffin of Troy, Mr. Davis of Albany, and a lady unknown, having the initials of “W.M.C.” on her thimble. Upon going on board of the John Mason last evening, I was informed that the Coroner’s jury had just returned a verdict either acquitting the pilot of, or not charging him with blame. This verdict has not been satisfactory to any one of the passengers with whom I have conversed. Indeed the question of negligence seems to me to lie in a very small — compass, for if it were so dark as to prevent the pilot from seeing, he should have stopped, while on the other hand, if he could see, he was bound to know better than to leave a straight, fair channel — 1 of a mile wide — and run his boat upon a well known island, at an angle with the channel of 20 to 25 degrees, and pointing almost into the village of Athen. — If is said that he had just come up from supper, the above remark will apply to the person left in charge, for on such a night as that, (if ever) none but persons of known skill and prudence, should be at the wheel. —

Great praise is due to Mr. J.P. Hinsdale of New York, who, with the aid of a small board, supported Miss Platt of Detroit for a long time in the water, and until they were picked up and taken ashore in a small boat, quite helpless. Mr. J.A. Hicks of Detroit, Chandler Root of Cooperstown, and Osborn ______ of Albany, also deserve honorable mention. Mr. Hinsdale was obliged to cast from his arm a satchel, which contained $1,500 in gold, belonging to Miss Platt, which was lost. From a careful examination of the above named persons and others who were in the water, (each of whom left different parts of the boat) who state that a number of persons were around them, crying for help, saying they could not swim, &c. I am of opinion that not less than 30, and probably 40, lives were lost. No search had yet been made in the river, nor had that part of the boat where the ladies would most likely be found, been reached when I left last evening — the ladies’ saloon being entirely submerged. I have yet heard no blame attached in Captain Squires, but would be glad to know who it was who started that unfortunate cry which sent them back to perish who might otherwise have been saved. It also seems to me that some one ought to have known that one end of the boat was high and dry and therefore safe, and to have made known that fact to the passengers — in which event I verily believe not a life need to have been lost. Being aware that those interested have made statements and arrived at conclusions entirely exculpatory of the officers, I have thought best to attach to this hasty and very imperfectly written — sketch, the proper name of your friend and servant,

ALBERT. I. RANES, (name hard to read, so not sure last name correct)
Greenwich, Washington co., N.Y.

From the Albany Advertiser.
Further from the Swallow.

In addition to the six bodies brought up by the Mason on Tuesday, the following are to be added to the melancholy list, and embrace all that were found at 8 P.M. yesterday.

Mrs. Concklin, [Conkling] of Bennington, Vt.

Mrs. Coffin, mother of Mr. C of West Troy, __ __ his wife.

Mrs. Walker of New York

A female who had in her possession a berth ticket marked “C. Ve____” this gives no clue to her name, as it is probably that of the agent of the Swallow in this city.
A female, name unknown, dressed in a light colored mouselain __ ____ gown; had in her possession $41 — $37 of which were in notes of the Mohawk Valley Bank.
Among the saved we see the names of Miss Cornelia Platt of Detroit, and C. H. Hicks of New York. They were picked up on a netting.

Leroy Gazette Apr 16, 1845

The Hudson River Calamity.

Albany papers of Saturday state that the wreck of the Swallow remains in the position it was left at the time of the accident except that the stern has settled to a greater depth in the water. The cabins, (with the exception of the forward cabin,) the state rooms on the main deck on a line with the ladies’ cabin, and the upper state rooms, not washed away by the tide, are all submerged, and have not been examined, nor can they be until the wreck is raised. The stern of the boat is supposed to be in forty feet water.

No effort had been made to raise the boat, up to Saturday, although the accident occurred on Monday night, and it is supposed many bodies are coffined in the wreck. A culpable negligence is manifested by the Troy owners of the Swallow, for they have not even published the Clerk’s list of passengers, although one of the Troy editors says he has seen it, and expresses the opinion that not more than 15 or 20 perished by the dreadful accident. An effort to conceal the full extent of the terrible calamity is apparent.

Two more bodies were recovered on Friday, making 13 in all. The two last, Mrs. Parker, of Utica, and Mrs. Torry, of Pottsville, Pa., were taken from the river by drags. The river was dragged both above and below the wreck, but no other bodies discovered. By a statement in the Albany papers, it appears to have been ascertained that 201 passengers were saved on the Swallow. The lowest estimate of the number on board is 250, and the Clerk’s list is said to show full that number, and he supposes that there were at least 50 others on board. Several are yet missing who were known to have been on board, among them the son of Gen. Mather, the wife of Mr. Gelston, of Schenectady and Mr. Bracklin, of Albany. In the pockets of the young man recovered was found a handkerchief marked “Sarah Brundage,” a large roll of bank bills, and memorandums for the purchase of hardware — a Western merchant probably. The body of the lady found with bills of the Mohawk Valley Bank in her pocket book, proves to be that of Mrs. F. Bassett, of Mohawk.

The circumstances attending the loss of the Swallow are such as show gross negligence on the part of the pilot at least, and the Senate of New York have appointed Messrs. Beckman, Barlow and Chamberlain to investigate the matter. They are authorized to send for persons and papers, and a full and close investigation will be had.

The Albany Atlas has published a diagram of the river at the place of the disaster, which shows that the boat was piloted as an angel of 20 or 25 degrees directly out of a channel half a mile wide, and the Atlas says, “of all the navigation, this reach of the river is considered the least difficult.” The customary track of steamboats through it is but slightly curved. It was not so dark but what the Express and Rochester, just behind the Swallow, kept the usual course, and the lights and landmarks were plainly visible. It appears too that Burnett, the pilot, took the wheel some three miles above where she struck, and had charge at the time. Burnett is an old river pilot, and has heretofore been discharged for intemperance. — When the facts all come out, we presume it will be found that the sad calamity was owing to the influence of that bane of human life, alcohol.

Clev. Herald.

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Apr 22,  1845


From The Wreck of the Swallow.

The Senate committee returned yesterday afternoon from the wreck. From the chairman, Judge Barlow, we understand that no more bodies were found yesterday, though men are still raking the river for some distance below the rock on which the Swallow struck. The great depth of the water in the channel, from 30 to 60 feet, renders the chances of raking up the dead, very uncertain.

The time — a consideration of some importance — in which the Swallow was sinking, seems to be in much doubt. — The testimony of those present, ranges between ten and fifteen minutes. The instinct of self-preservation is so strong and active under such an emergency, that the hope may be indulged that there are not so many souls in that ill-fated wreck, as natural apprehensions suggested.

Whether this be a well-grounded hope or not, is not likely to be very soon ascertained so far as the interior of the boat can show it, for there is yet, notwithstanding the public anxiety, no preparation for raising the wreck. — Alb. Arg.

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Apr 22, 1845


The Swallow.

At our latest dates from the east, no attempt had been made to raise the wreck of the Swallow. The number of individuals known to be lost, is 14. It is thought by some of the papers in the neighborhood of the disaster, that nearly all, if not every one of the passengers left the cabin of the boat before it sunk, and that but very few if any more bodies will be found. Some of the persons who escaped say that fifteen minutes elapsed after the boat struck before the stern sunk beneath the water, which gave the passengers who were in the cabin an opportunity to reach the deck. The number of passengers lost, will probably never be correctly ascertained.

The Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Apr 22, 1845

The steamboat Albany has been placed on the night line on the North River, in place of the ill-fated Swallow. Capt. Squier has been put in command of the Albany, showing that the proprietors of the line, the parties most deeply interested, have not lost their confidence in his skill and fidelity.

THE SWALLOW DISASTER — The Senate of the State of New York have referred the matter of the disaster of the Swallow to a select committee for a thorough investigation, as is the practice of the English Parliament.

Milwaukie Daily Sentinel Apr 24, 1845

From the Albany Evening Journal of April 12.

In company with a large number of our citizens, we went to Athens, yesterday, in the steamer Sandusky, for the purpose of examining the wreck, and satisfying ourselves as to the position of the ill-fated Swallow. It is hardly possible to convey by words, a correct idea of the spectacle she presents. We have rarely looked upon a more appalling sight. the rock upon which the Swallow struck, is about 15 feet high, and some 40 feet long, by 30 broad. On the inner or west side, there is a thin sheet of water, perhaps four rods across, which at low tide a man can easily wade. On the outer or eastern side of the rock, the water is deep, the channel running within a rod or two. Looking to the south, the rock is just in the line of Athens docks, distant about 15 rods. To the north, however, the channel inclines somewhat to the westward of this range.

The entire bow of the Swallow rests upon this rock, her stern being about 30 feet above the water’s level. The whole of the after part of the boat — say 80 to 100 feet — is under water. This includes the ladies’ cabin on the main deck, and a few of the state-rooms on the upper deck. The gentlemen’s cabins below are, of course, full of water. The Swallow lies with her head pointing [in shore], making an angle with the direction of the channel, of some 25 degrees. If the rock had not been there, the Swallow, from the course she was taking, much have run up high and dry on the Athens shore. The channel runs close to the rock, and the Swallow could have passed it safely, had she been a length to the eastward.

It has been said that the Swallow was not in the usual channel. This is an error. The Athens, or west channel, is much the most direct, the widest and the deepest, and is always preferred by steamboats which do not land at Hudson. It has also been stated that the second pilot was at the wheel when the boat struck. — This is equally a mistake. We had it yesterday from Mr. Burnett’s own lips, that he took the wheel about six miles above Hudson, and was at his post when the disaster occurred. He can give no other account or explanation of it, than that the night was so dark as to deceive him as to the lay of the land. He states, however, that he could see the lights on the shore.

A wide difference of opinion exists as to the rate at which the Swallow was going when she struck the rock. The engineer, fireman and pilots, as we were informed at Athens yesterday, all swore before the coroner’s jury, that the boat was not going much over [six miles an hour], when she struck. No man can look at the wreck, with the bow forced nearly forty or fifty feet up on to the rock, without an instant and unchangeable conviction that her speed must have been very much greater than this testimony makes it out. According to Mr. George Pomeroy, who looked at his watch an instant before the accident occurred, the Swallow must have struck the rock about 5 minutes before 8. As she left here, in company with the Rochester and Express, at 6 P.M., it will be seen that she had accomplished the many miles from Albany to Hudson, in about two hours; thus running at the rate of fifteen miles an hour. Her speed could not have been much, if any, short of this, at the moment of the accident.

Upon the whole, after a dispassionate examination of the localities, the conviction forces itself upon our mind, that the accident was the result of the most unpardonable carelessness. No excuse can be offered for the pilot, who was at the wheel when the Swallow struck. He must have been ignorant or his position, or [dozing] at his post. In either event, he was deeply culpable.

After the boat ran on the rock, there seems to have been a want of presence of mind and efficient management among the officers of the boat. Their first duty was to have ascertained her exact condition; their next, to have proclaimed it to the passengers. Had this been done immediately after the accident, all on board, with very few if any exceptions, might have been safely gathered on the forward and upper decks.

After all, however, the heaviest charge remains to be brought against the proprietors of the boat. Five nights and as many days have passed since the accident occurred, and the Swallow still remains with the ladies’ saloon and main cabins entirely under water. God only knows how many human beings have found a watery grave within these narrow limits. The lapse of every hour will render it more and more difficult to identify the bodies that may be found. And yet nothing has been done to raise the sunken hull.

Not a single proprietor of the boat has been near the fatal spot. Even the captain and hands of the Swallow, (with the exception of Burnett, the pilot, and two others,) have abandoned her, and gone off to New York to fit up another boat, which is to take her place.

Many persons are still at Hudson and Athens, endeavoring to ascertain the fate of missing relatives or friends. No traces have been discovered of Gen. Mather’s little boy. A letter, received in this city yesterday, from a young lady who was drawn from the river about fifteen minutes after the Swallow struck, states, that just after being washed off the boat, she was clasped round the neck by a little girl, and that they sank together; but the child losing her hold, she rose again, and happening to strike against a settee, clung to it until rescued. The river, it is feared, has not yet given up all its victims. A large number of boats, however, are constantly employed in dragging the bottom for a mile or more below the fatal rock.

Sandusky Clarion (Sandusky, Ohio) Apr 26, 1845


The grand jury of the U.S. circuit court, in session at New York, on Friday last brought in a true bill against William Burnett, pilot of the Swallow, at the time of the disaster, charging him with manslaughter.

— Buff. Com. Adv., April 21.

Sandusky Clarion Apr 1845


The Pilot of the Swallow.

The New York Morning News of Saturday says: “The grand jury of the United States Circuit Court yesterday brought in a true bill against William Burnett, late pilot of the Swallow, charging him with manslaughter. The indictment charges that “the said William Burnett did by his misconduct, negligence or inattention, cause the death, on the night of the 7th of April last, by drowning or suffocation,” &c. We are glad to find that the grand jury have so promptly done their duty. Their action will have more influence on steamboat officers than any legislative report whatever.

Guernsey Jeffersonian (Washington, Ohio) May 1,  1845

William Burnett, the pilot of the ill-fated Swallow, and who was indicted for manslaughter before the U.S. Circuit Court has been admitted to bail in the sum of ___ Thousand Dollars. It is said that, at the time of the disaster, he was intoxicated. Those who furnished him the liquor should also be made to suffer with him. They are as guilty of the death of all who perished by the disaster.

Alton Telegraph And Democratic Review (Alton, Illinois) May 10,  1845


We have seen a letter from Capt. Squires to the agent in this city, written from the Swallow yesterday afternoon. The water in the hold was reduced yesterday to less than four feet, when several articles were discovered from the cabin — consisting of three valises, one marked A.P. Rayner, Troy, N.Y.; another containing a small sum of money; and a third, with wearing apparel, marked J.S. Patten. Also, thirteen overcoats, of different descriptions; also, a lady’s satchel, containing wearing apparel, and a letter addressed to Ebenezer Clark, No. 18 Mercer st., New York. No bodies have been found in any part of the boat.

Troy Budget.

Sandusky Clarion Jun 7, 1845



The editor of the American Protestant who knows this young lady and her family, gives the following facts in a case which has excited great public interest:

Miss P. left Detroit on board a steamboat for the nunnery at Georgetown, without the knowledge or consent of her parents. When her father, Judge Platt, heard that she was gone, he, in company with some of the most respectable gentlemen in Detroit, called upon the Roman Catholic Bishop in order to make some inquiries concerning this sudden and mysterious disappearance of his daughter and also to request of the bishop a letter of introduction to the superior of the convent in Georgetown. Judge Platt inquired of the bishop how his daughter had obtained money to defray her expenses. — The bishop gave him on definite nor satisfactory answer to this inquiry. Judge Platt wished to know whether any thing had been said on the subject of money. — The bishop recollected that something had been said on the initiation fee. This he said was $1,500. Judge P. said if the bishop would inform him who had given that sum or any sum to his daughter he would immediately refund it. He very honorably declared that painful as it was to him to have his daughter leave under such circumstances, yet he preferred to defray all the expenses himself. But he did not learn whence came the trunk of Nun’s clothing for his daughter, that was put on board the steamboat at Detroit.

Miss P. has letters of introduction from the bishop and nuns of Detroit, to the archbishop of the Roman Catholic church in the United States, and also to the superior of the convent in Georgetown. Those who have read these letters have told us that they speak of Miss P. as belonging to a highly respectable family, as going to the convent without the consent of her parents, and that when it shall be known, it will produce some sensation or stir in the community. Such is a brief statement of facts, which we have received from those who know.

Sandusky Clarion Jun 28, 1845

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4 Responses to “The Wreck of the Steamboat “Swallow””

  1. Wende brock Says:

    A misspelling above… One of those lost was Mrs. Harriet Conkling, wife of Daniel, from Bennington, VT.

  2. Sarah Spalding Says:

    OMG i am doing a assessment of the history of Brisbane thank you so much for the information

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