Natchez, MS Area Steamer JOHN L. AVERY Sinking, Mar 1854


The J. L. Avery, J. L. Robertson commander, was a new boat, built in the most substantial manner, and furnished with every necessary equipment for a first class passenger boat, being designed as a regular packet between New Orleans and Natchez. She left New Orleans, on her customary trip up the river, on March 7th, 1854. She stopped at Point Coupee and took in a large quantity of sugar and molasses ; and on the 9th of the same month she passed the steamer Sultana, off Black Hawk point, forty miles below Natchez ; and having left the Sultana, (with which she appears to have been racing,) about a mile astern, she struck what was supposed to be a tree washed from the shore by a recent freshet. A very large leak in the bottom of the boat was the consequence of this accident, and although the pilot immediately steered for the shore, the steamer sunk before she could get near enough to land the passengers. Mr. J. V. Guthrie, an engineer, and the carpenter, were standing just forward of the boilers when they beard the crash—the boat at the same time making a sudden surge to one side. The carpenter immediately lifted the scuttle-hatch and leaped into the held, but finding thc water pouring in too fast to admit of any attempt at repairing the damage, hc made haste to get out again, at the same time giving notice to the engineer that the boat had snagged. Mr. Guthrie, perceiving that the boat was going down, hastened to the engine, but before he got there, he was up to his knees in water. The cabin passengers were hurried up to the hurricane-deck. Soon after, the boat righted, and the hull separated from the cabin and sunk in sixty feet of water.

As the hull parted from the upper works, the surging of the waters caused the cabin floor to rise up against the hurricane roof, and six persons who remained in the cabin were dragged out through the skylights by Capt. Robertson and his two clerks. Mrs. Parmin, one of the six passengers rescued from that perilous situation, had her eldest child in her arms at the time, and was with difficulty prevented from plunging in again, as her babe was left asleep on the bed. But the situation of the deck passengers was the most calamitous ; there was a large number of them crowded in their allotted place, where they were walled in by hogsheads of sugar, which would have prevented their escape, if escape had been otherwise possible. These unfortunate people were nearly all drowned.