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Over 100 Lost When Steamer Lexington Caught Fire in 1841

February 13, 1964

 

Over 100 Lost When Steamer Lexington Caught Fire in 1841

By Thomas R. Bayles


Over 100 Lost When Steamer Lexington Caught Fire in 1841

It was 3 o'clock in the afternoon on January 20, 1841, that the steamer Lexington left New York bound for Stonington, Conn., loaded with a cargo of bales of
cotton for the textile mills, and III passengers. The shoreline of the NYNH & Hanford Railroad had not been built then, and the railroad ran between Stonington, Conn., and Boston. Passengers for Boston took the steamer and connected at Stonington with the railroad.

Early in the evening when the ship was off Eaton's Neck, Huntington, the woodwork amidships was discovered to be on fire. Efforts to subdue the fire were unsuccessful and the ship was headed for the Long Island shore.

Within 15 minutes the tiller ropes were burned off and the boat became unmanageable. The engine was kept going at full speed and four life boars were, launched as fast as possible, but they were soon swamped on account of the speed with which the ship was going, and all the passengers drowned.

As the fire was amidships of the steamer all communication was cut off between one end and the other, and the passengers huddled together in the bow and stern until they were compelled to jump into the icy water to escape the flames. Within two miles of shore the engines stopped, which prevented any further chance of escape. Some of the passengers tried to save them-selves by throwing overboard bales of cotton and jumping on them, but only four were saved out of the 111 on board.

Capt. Chester Hillard and a fellow passenger floated all night on a bale of cotton in the freezing weather, and when morning came the captain's companion fell off, overcome by the cold. The captain was taken off about 11 o clock by the sloop Merchant: which sailed out of Southport, Conn., to rescue any survivors it could.

David Crowley drifted ashore near Wading River after floating all night and the next day on a bale of cotton, exposed to one of the worst bitter cold spells of the winter.

He worked his way ashore through porridge Ice and crept along the shore on his hands and knees towards a light he saw through the trees. He managed to call out and attract the attention of the people inside, who took him in and kept him for four months before he was able to leave, as both hands and feet were frozen and he lost all his toes. He finally recovered and worked for several years as baggage agent on the Stonington steamboat line.

The hull of the steamer drifted with the tide to a point off Crane Neck, L.I., where it overturned and sank in deep water. A safe full of money was on board, but it was never found.

A small boat was found in the ice off the shore at St. James a few days later by Nathaniel Brown, and In It were the bodies of two men encased in ice. One of them was a Mr. Green from Providence, and in his pockets was $15,000, which was later claimed by members of his family, One boat went ashore near Rocky Point with three frozen bodies, and the steamer Statesman went out from New York and recovered several bodies frozen in the ice.

Capt. Lewis S. Davis of Stony Brook said, "A number of us boys were sliding down hill that night and saw the flames of the burning ship so plainly that we could see the steamer as she moved along, although she was several miles away."

The night was clear and cold and many could have been saved except for the intense cold, as were plenty of bales of cotton to have floated on.

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