Natchez, MS Sinking of the Steamer TENNESSEE, Feb 1823

Steamer Tennessee


About ten o'clock, on a dark night, in the midst of a tremendous snow storm, on the 8th of February, 1823, when the steamer Tennessee, under a full press of steam, was ploughing her way up the turbulent Mississippi river, near Natchez, she struck a snag, and immediately commenced filling with water. The Tennessee was crowded with passengers, and the confusion and excitement were great among them all. The deck passengers had retired to bed. Most of those in the cabin were spending a cheerful evening together, in the enjoyment of social intercourse. The shock was great, and called every one instantly to the deck, Some supposed the boat had run into the bank, and would bound off again without injury. But the fatal truth was soon known, and in the confusion many leaped overboard and perished. Capt, Campbell gave orders instantly to stop the leak ; but the plot, who had been down to examine the damage, with difficulty escaped from the hold, in consequence of the water so rapidly rushing in. A hole as large as a common door was torn in the hull, and the truth was soon told—the Tennessee was going down. The shrieks of the women were heart-rending at this awful news. The night was dark, and the wind howling around in its fury made the scene doubly terrible. Every one inquired of his neighbor what was to be done, and every one was anxious to provide for his own safety, The yawl and long boat were lowered, and into it the passengers, nearly two hundred in number, crowded, till it was on the eve of sinking. Those in the boat shoved off, and with one oar could not reach the shore in time to return to assist those left behind. Some, finding there was no chance in the long boat, jumped into the river and swam ashore ; others pulled off the cabin doors and floated on them ; some got among the fire wood, and were lost by slipping through and being covered by it ; some clung to parts of the boat, which floated off with them. Mr. Keiser got upon the carpenter's bench, and Mr. A. Logan, who had fallen into the water and sunk nearly to the bottom, on coming up, fortunately caught hold of the way-plank, which formed a raft, and on which he floated down stream. Mr. Keiser soon came up with him, and leaving the work-bench joined him on his raft. They floated in company about eight miles, when, seeing a light on shore, they called for aid, and were taken up by a young man named Gibson, who conveyed them to the house of Mr. Randolph, where they were kindly treated. One man swam with his hat and cloak on, until he reached the willows, when he deliberately relieved himself from the burthen of those outside garments, leaving them on the tree till next morning, and swimming safely to shore.

Another passenger swam out with a small bag in his mouth, containing $3000 in gold, which proved of essential service to him ; for on getting hold of a plank, and throwing his arms over it, he found the weight of his specie, which he then carried in his hand, admirably calculated to preserve his equilibrium. One man was sick in his berth, and being told of the danger, observed that he was too weak to save himself from drowning, and appeared reluctant to get up ; but on being reminded that his father was on board, and required his assistance, he sprang from his bed, and not only saved his own life, but was instrumental in saving others. A young married lady, when her husband was about recklessly to throw himself into the Mississippi, caught hold of him, and by her presence of mind took off some shutters and made a raft, upon which they both floated down the river, and were picked up by a skiff.