Eaton's Neck, Long Island, NY, (Off Shore) Steamboat LEXINGTON Disaster, Jan 1840

Etching Of Lexington Disaster Etching of Lexington Disaster



The New York papers of yesterday say -- "Our city was thrown into a fearful state of excitement yesterday afternoon about 3 o'clock by the news brought by the steamer Nimrod, Captain BROOKS, from Bridgeport, that the steamboat Lexington, had been destroyed by fire in Long Island Sound. The Lexington left New York at 3 o'clock on Monday afternoon, with about 70 passengers, and 29 persons connected with the boat. She had a heavy deck load of cotton, and when about two miles from Eaton's Neck, and not far from Huntingdon, Long Island, the cotton and wood work round the flues were discovered to be on fire, and in one hour she was burnt to the waters edge and all but three persons perished, viz: ___________ HEMPSTEAD, engineer, of the boat, CHARLES SMITH, a fireman, and Captain CHESTER HILLARD a passenger."

Office of the Republican Standard.
Bridgeport, (Tuesday Evening, Jan. 11, 1840.)

The Lexington left New York for Stonington on Monday, at 3 o'clock, P. M., having, it is believed, about one hundred and fifty passengers. A large quantity of Cotton was placed upon her decks. At 7 o'clock, when about two miles from Eaton's Neck, the cotton took fire near the smoke pipe.
The boat was headed, for the shore as soon as the efforts to extinguish the fire proved unsuccessful. She was provided with three boats -- yet such was there the panic which took possession of all minds, that they were hoisted out while the boat was still under headway and immediately swamped.
The engine a few minutes after gave way, leaving her utterly unmanageable. The scene which then ensued, is described as most appalling.
Captain CHESTER HILLARD, of Norwhich, a passenger on board, from whom we have gathered these few particulars, state that soon after the engine stopped, the passengers began to leave the boat on boxes, bales, &c. In company with one of the firemen, he was unfortunate as to secure a cotton bale, to which he lashed himself. He remained upon this bale, the wind blowing off Long Island shore, until, 11 o'clock this morning, when he was taken up by the sloop Merchant of Southport.
His companion, in the mean time, had been released by death from his sufferings. Two others were taken up by the sloop, a fireman and the pilot of the boat. Both were nearely insensible. It is surprising that any should have survived the exposure. There is too much reason to fear that these 3 are the only survivors. It is, however, possible that others may have been saved.
The boat drifted up the Sound with the tide, and was off the harbor about midnight. Captain H. states that she sunk at 3 o'clock, as he marked the time by his watch.
The efforts which last night were made, in this vicinity and at Southport, to go in aid of the sufferers, proved, owing to the ice in the harbor, and to other untoward circumstances, entirely unavailing.
We learn that a boat, which succeeded in getting out of Southport harbor, after reaching the middle of the Sound, was compelled to return.
The account which we have given of this awful catastrophe, is exceedingly imperfect. It may be well imagined that our informant is hardly in a situation to furnish many details.
It addition to the above, we give the following received in an extra from a Bridgeport paper:
Our citizens were alarmed on Monday evening by the appearance of a great light at some distance west, on the Sound, which was generally believed to be a steamboat on fire. Nothing conclusive, however was heard, in regard to it till the arrival of our boat from New York on Tuesday afternoon, which brought the melancholy intelligence that the light, was occasioned by the conflagration of the Steamboat Lexington, which was entirely destroyed, and that all on board except three perished.
One of the survivors, Capt. HILLIARD, of Norwich, this State, whom we have seen and conversed with came on here in the boat.
The Lexington left New York at 3 o'clock, P. M. for Stonington. About half past 7 o'clock, when off Eaton's Neck, L. I., the wood work, casings, &c. about the flues, were discovered to be on fire. An alarm was immediately given, and all efforts to subdue the flames proving unavailing, the pilot headed the boat directly for Long Island shore. In about 15 minutes it was found the tiller ropes were burnt in two, and the boat consequently unmanageable. The engine, however, kept in operation, under a heavy head of steam. The three small boats were got out with all possible haste, but they swamped soon after they struck the water, in consequence of the speed at which the steamer was going towards the shore. A life boat, which was aboard, was also launched, but by some means was in a few minutes unfortunately lost. No relief, therefore, was obtained from either of the boats.
When the Lexington had got within about two miles of the shore, her engine suddenly stopped. ALl hopes of escape to those on board, except by clinging to such articles of freight as would sustain them, were now cut off. The freight of the Lexington consisted principally of cotton, on which some of the passengers tried to save themselves, but none succeeded except Capt. HILLIARD and a fellow passenger, both of whom got astride of a single bale on which they kept together till 6 o'clock in the morning when the strength of Capt. HILLIARD'S companion failed him and he fell off and was drowned.
Capt. H. continued upon his bale of cotton till 11 o'clock, A. M. Tuesday, when he was taken off by a sloop which went out from Southport, having been thus exposed about 15 hours. Two others, clinging to a fragment of the boat, were also rescued by this sloop, one the engineer, the other a fireman of the unfortunate boat. The bodies of two others, one a colored woman, were likewise taken from a part of the wreck, on which they had perished from cold.
The number on board, Capt. H. thinks, was not less than 175, of whom 150 were passengers, out of which, he believes, himself to be the only one saved. Among the number, were five or six women, and two or three children. The scene on board was awful beyond description. The fire being midway of the boat cut off all communication from one end to the other. The passengers crowded together in the bow and stern, moaning and bewailing their fate, till, compelled to cast themselves into the watery deep, to escape the flames.
We have heard particulars frightful enough to appal the stoutest heart although imperfectly detailed. One account says that the fire was discovered under a tier of cotton bales, piled amidships, against the wooden box or frame which enclosed the pipe leading from the fire room below, this boat having her boiler on her kelson or under deck. This pipe led through the freight above, and the ignition of the cotton had become so extensive before the fire engine and hose of the boat could be put in operation, that both crew and passengers were so overwhelmed in smoke, and the natural agitation of the moment, that all efforts to subdue the fire were unavailable. A rush was then made for the boats -- but in the agitation of the time, they were filled to overflowing, and were swamped alongside of the burning boat.
So far as we can learn not a soul but the three above mentioned were saved. The deaths of the sufferers were awful -- fire water! frost and cold! Oh God! Oh God! can human imagination picture a death more horrible?
The Lexington had $60,000 in specie on board; $16,000 of this was owned by the Merchants' bank of Boston. She was insured against fire, $10,000 in the Eagle office, and $10,000 in the North American. We are told that this boat had been condemned, some months since, as unseaworthy, but the company insisted on running her.
When she came on last Friday, she took fire, and the passengers never expected to reach New York alive; and yet she was sent on another trip, crowded with freight and passengers, unseaworthy, with tiller ropes, and unskilful men, and she had been destroyed by fire, with 100 precious lives.
We think that the Directors of this Company ought to be indicted by the Grand Jury, for putting their worst boat on the line during the worst weather, and overloading her with freight.
Capt. VANDERBILT was lying sick at home or he would have been in her.
We never saw public indignation so much aroused, and all the Directors are deply censured: one of them, a brother of THADDEUS PHELPSWAS burnt up. CHILDS, the Captain of the boat and his brother, were both lost. The Lexington has been fined for not having wires to her tillers, and yet she evaded the law again. Over thirty stores were shut in the city as soon as the news was received.
Captain HILLARD was saved from perishing by frost, because his body was in the water, and his head only out. He is now at the United States Hotel.
The boat drifted with the tide, and sank at 3 o'clock on Tuesday morning, off Bridgeport harbor.
Such is the fate of the Lexington and the hundred bright, brave, beautiful, learned and gallant spirits that left New York in her full of life, hope, and joy, no later than Monday last. It is feared that Professor LONGFELLOW is lost in her; the most correct list was burnt up on board the boat; perhaps no one will ever know all that were lost in her. The thought is awful. FINN, the comedian, the wit, the humorist, died this awful death. The German Professor in Harvard University, was there Captains KIMBALL and FOSTER, had just arrived from South America, and were going on a visit to their friends. Two brothers named WINSLOW, (with their sister and mother) were taking, to Boston, the corpse of their brother, who died here a few days since. In fact, we might fill our paper with interesting particulars, and touching domestic anecdotes of each one of the sufferers. It is possible that some one or two others may be saved, but it is hardly probable. The thought is heart-rending.

Tioga Eagle Pennsylvania 1840-01-12

Transcriber's Note: Of the 143 people on board, only 4 survived. They were:
CHESTER HILLIARD, 24, only passenger to survive.
STEPHEN MANCHESTER, the ships pilot.
CHARLES SMITH, one of the firemen.
DAVID CROWLEY, second mate. (He drifted 50 miles to Baiting Hollow Long Island.)


List of passengers and crew lost in disaster

Crew list of passengers and crew of the "Lexington" .p.p.274-281