Wilmington, DE DuPont powder mill explosion, May 1854



Five Killed - Two Others Missing.

Fifteen Horses Killed - $80,000 Damage.

WILMINGTON, Del., Wednesday, May 31.

About 10:45 o'clock this morning, three wagons loaded with five tons of gunpowder, belonging to Messrs. DUPONT & Co., exploded at the corner of Fourteenth and Orange-streets, killing seven persons and fifteen horses.

The following is a list of the killed: JOHN KEENE, THOS. TALLEY, and THOS. CHAMBERS, the wagon drivers; a young man in the employ of THOS. HUGHES; a colored waiter named HENRY, in the employ of JAS. E. PRICE; and a colored female servant at Bishop LEE's. A child of JOHN MCLAUGHLIN is missing.

LIST OF WOUNDED. - THOS. HUGHES, wife and child, seriously hurt. WM. MCCOY AND Mrs. RICHARD REYNOLDS, badly hurt; and numerous others more or less injured.

The residences of Bishop LEE and JAS. E. PRICE, together with five others, and six stables were destroyed.

About 75 other houses were badly damaged.

The total loss is estimated at about $50,000.


The scene in the neighborhood of the explosion, this forenoon, exceeds all description, and looks as though an earthquake had taken place.

There were three large teams, each containingfour hundred and fifty kegs of powder, from DUPONT's mills, the whole estimated at about five tons. The powder was being conveyed from the mills to the wharf for shipment. The teams were passing along Fourteenth-street at the time of the explosion took place, the last wagon being opposite Orange-street and immediately opposite the elegant residence of Bishop LEE. The other wagons were a short distance ahead. It is not known which load first exploded. The Bishop's house was terribly shattered; the roof was lifted up badly and broken into fragments. The front wall fell into the street. The floors were broken up, and every window and door in the house was torn away and broken to pieces. The Bishop's beautiful garden was entirely destroyed.

There was, fortunately, only one servant and a child in the house - the Bishop and his family being absent attending a Convention of the Diocese in St. Andrew's Church, a few squares off. The servant wman was very badly injured, but the child escaped injury nearly unharmed.

Three houses on Orange-street, below Fourteenth-street, were complely destroyed. One of the houses was a wooden structure, and it was utterly demolished to its very foundation. A young Irishman, a boarder which JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, was fatally injured, and died shortly after the disaster.

MCLAUGHLIN was very badly cut, and his clothes were torn off. His wife was also very seriously injured. Their child fell into a cellar, and was taken out uninjured. The families of WM. MCCOY and RICHARD REYNOLDS, living in other houses, were all more or less injured - the wife of the latter quite badly.

The residence of JAMES CANBY, corner of Market and Fourteenth-streets, was terribly shattered, and the inmates were badly cut with glass, &c. His stables and barn, together with carriages and fine garden, were all destroyed. On the opposite side, the elegant residence of Mr. JAMES E. PRICE was so much injured, that it will have to be rebuilt.

On the south side of Fourteenth-street, the barns and stables of JOSEPH PRICE, JAMES E. PRICE, and JOHN H. PRICE, were all completely destroyed. In the latter, the colored man, HENRY, was killed. Many trees were torn up by the roots.

The fragments of the wagons, horses, and drivers were blown in all directions. A human arm was found 300 feet from the place of explosion, and one of the drivers was lodged on the shore of the Brandywine. The tire of one wagon, weighing one hundred pounds, was thrown a distance of two hundred feet, and a fragment of another tire was driven nearly through the trunk of a large tree.

Nearly all the houses along Orange-street, as far south as Tenth, have glass broken, and plaster shattered from the walls.

On Market-street, adjoining the residence of JAMES E. PRICE, the dwellings of JOHN R. PRICE, JOHN H. PRICE, and JOSEPH T. PRICE, were greatly injured, and furniture, glassware, &c., broken.

Seven dwellings on Thirteenth-street, called Bright's Row, were much damaged.

Th explosion caused a terrible sensation through the city, people rushing from their houses in great terror.

One gentleman riding on horseback some distance ahead of the wagons, felt the ground trembling, and at the same moment was lifted from his horse, and seeing the windows falling into the street, thought an earthquake had occurred.

Thus far only five persons are known to have been killed, and the bodies, or fragments of four, have been found and an inquest held on their remains. The following are their names: JOHN KEYS, ROBERT CHAMBERS, THOMAS TALLEY, the drivers of the teams; PRICE'S colored man, and another, names not known.

The explosion was felt at a brick meeting-house 35 miles south of Wilmington.

The total loss is estimated at not less than $75,000, including the powder and teams, valued at about $5,000. Messrs. DUPONT were on the ground actively engaged in doing all they could to relieve the sufferers. They declare their intention of paying for all the damage done to property.

The New York Times, New York, NY 1 Jun 1854
The Wilmington Explosion.

From the Delaware Republican.

So far as can be ascertained there were only five persons killed by the late explosion in our city. An arm was found which was thought to belong to a female, but so far we have heard of no one being missed. The report that a carriage was near at the time, is certainly without foundation. If it had been before the wagons, it would not have been entirely demolished, as the lead horse was not killed by the explosion, and had it not been that one of his legs were broken, it is highly prbable that he would have been alive to-day. If it had been behind the wagons, it would most probably have been torn to atoms, but certainly, even if no traces of it were perceptible, those riding in it, would have been mised by their friends or neighbors. It may be set down, therefore, that the story is without foundation. The report also of a beggar woman having been seen in the vicinity, whith a little child in her arms, immediately before the accident occurred, must also be regarded as one of the many false rumors originated on the occasion. In this connection we may observe that it is generally conceded that the explosion was occasioned by the powder leaking out of the kegs, when it was ignited by the horses or wagon following. It is said that on the previous day nearly two kegs of powder were lost by leakage, and on more than one occasion the combustible material had been fired by other teams which passed along the pike.

A horse belonging to Mr. CHALFONT, it is reported, was considerably scorched in this way, and the wgon [sic] set on fire. Had it been loaded with powder, instead of flour, it would most likely have been torn to pieces. A few days preceding the explosion, a team of the Messrs. DUPONT was coming down the pike some distance behind one of the powder wagons, when the powder took fire, and considerably alarmed a man who was walking with the driver. Indeed, they both started to run, but, recollecting the vehicle they were accompanying was empty, they returned, and soon recoved [sic] from their fright. On the Thursday following the accident, the regular carriers fearing to drive, two or three other persons in the vicinity of the works were employed, and they found that on the journey to the magazine they lost half of the powder in one of the kegs. On returning in the evening, they declined hauling any more, unless the powder which had been put up was repacked in other kegs which were perfectly tight. We give this story without vouching for its truth, but think it came from a reliable source. True or false, however, there is a positive necessity for having kegs perfectly tight, to render them secure against accident; and the Messrs. DUPONT will no doubt look well to this matter hereafter.

The New York Times, New York, NY 14 Jun 1854