Potomac River, MD & VA Steamer WAWASSET Disaster, Aug 1873


Fredericksburg, Aug. 8.
The Steamer Wawasset, running on the Potomac river, between Washington and Curriman, took fire about twelve o'clock to-day, at Chatalon Landing, and was destroyed. She had about 150 passengers on board. Six bodies were found up to two o'clock, three white ladies, one child and two colored children. MISS VIRGINIA WARBURY, of Glymont, MISS BETTIE SANDERS, and a child from Curriman, are among the dead.

The others have not been recognized. GEORGE W. COOK, Warsaw, Va., is missing. Captain WOOD did not leave the boat until forced to do so by the flames. The fire was first discovered in the engine room.

A Washington Reporter of the Associated Press, at midnight, had interviewed "DOC" KENNEY, barkeeper of the Wawasset, who is the one of the passengers or crew of that vessel that reached Washington to-night. He came up to this city on the steamer Express, with an excursion party form Tiney Point. The latter vessel sighted the wreck about four o'clock this afternoon and picked up KENNEY, who had been sent out in a small boat to come up to Washington.

The passengers and crew of the Wawasset were at that time all cared for at Stewart's wharf, near the scene of the disaster. KENNEY states that the Wawasset left here at six o'clock this morning, on her regular weekly trip to Cove river, with 117 registered passengers and quite a large cargo of freight for river landing. Just before reaching Chatterton's Landing, on the Virginia side of the Potomac, about five miles below Aquaia Creek, and after the whistle of the boat had been blown, as a signal of her landing, the steamer at the time being about a third of a mile from shore, a fire was discovered in the hold, and the hose was attached immediately, but before the men could reach it, the conflagration became general, as the fire had been burning for some time. The fire had been smouldering, it is supposed, for some hours, and upon opening the hatches it burst forth with great fury, driving the men from the hold and completely baffiling[sic] all attempts to subdue it. In an instant the wildest confusion prevailed on the vessel, the passengers becoming panic-stricken and frantic with fear, very few having presence of mind sufficient to take care of themselves. The steamer was without a second's delay, headed for the shore on the Virginia side, and in a few minutes ran aground, about two hundred yards from the shore.

At this time the flames had spread with fearful rapidity, and in the excitement many jumped overboard in the water before the steamer stranded. She was provided with but two small boats, and in the frenzy of the moment one of those were thrown overboard and lost by the passengers, who were endeavoring to launch her. Capt. WOOD of the ill-fated steamer, and his assistants, are said to have used every effort to control the passengers, but without avail, and but for their disobedience of orders, many who were lost would have been saved. The vessel was well provided with life preservers, but in the panic it seems that none of the passengers secured them, and this also added to the loss of life. Over 40 passengers were drowned, among them MRS. REED and three children, wife and children of policeman REED of this city, and his nieces names not ascertained; MRS. VIRGINIA MARBURY of Glymont; MRS. BERTIE SANDERS, and a child of MR. CYRRIAMAN, Va.

Up to the time that the Express in which the narrator arrived, left the scene of the wreck but five or six bodies had been recovered, and the confusion was so great that a further list of the names of the lost could not be obtained. Among those saved was MR. WISE, of this city, and J. WILKIE MASSAY. KENNEY states that Captain WOOD was the last man to leave the steamer and the pilot, MR. BOSWELL, was surrounded by flames, before he left the pilot-box, thought[sic] not until after he had the steamer aground. The flames had spread with such rapidity that the tiller ropes were on fire before the vessel struck. All of those lost were it is supposed, drowned, having jumped overboard to escape the flames. The fire was first discovered about twenty minutes before eleven o'clock, and KENNEY states that in less than ten minutes the vessel was enveloped in flames and burned to the water's edge.

Chatteron's Point, is just opposite to Maryland Point, and the survivors of the disaster have been made as comfortable as possible at Stewart's near that place, where they will remain till about 9 A. M. this, Saturday, when the steamer Georgiana will take them on board, expecting to reach this city about nine o'clock P. M. About one half the passengers on the Wawasset were women and children. There were quite a number of colored people among the passengers. Wawasset was a side wheel steamer, about 350 tons, and was running between Washington and landings along the Potomac. She was insured for $28,000. When she left here this morning it was supposed she was in perfect order and the origin of the fire is unknown.

The crew of the Wawasset consisted of Capt. WOOD, clerk, two engineers, two firemen, barkeeper, four deck hands and a chambermaid. As soon as the particulars of the disaster became known to-night, 1:15 A. M., great crowds collected about the wharves. The steamer Express was boarded by hundreds of persons anxious to learn the fate of friends on the ill-fated steamer, but as the registry list was destroyed, no positive particulars as to names could be obtained unless they obtain a current list before the arrival of the survivors on the Georgiana, which is expected at 9 o'clock P. M. to-day.
Later Particulars.

Washington, Aug. 9 -- The Wawasset drew only four feet of water, and a few weeks ago was thoroughly overhauled and repaired. She was regarded as an excellent river boat, and her boilers and machinery were in first class order. She was owned by the Potomac Ferry Company, and had been plying on the Potomac river as an excursion passenger and freight steamer for the past five or six years. There is no prospect of further particulars, before the arrival of the passengers.
Information obtained shows the number of lives lost by the burning of the steamer Wawasset to probably be over twenty-three. There is no wharf at Chatteron's Point, where the steamer was burned and landing is made by the use of small boats. One of them was being unshipped for this purpose when the cry of fire was heard and the flames came with such force that a panic ensued at once. The passengers made a rush for the boat that was being lowered, crowding it full, when the moorings broke or became unhitched, and all were participated into the river. The terror-stricken passengers were forced to jump overboard, when Captain WOOD and his crew threw the life preservers, calling upon those struggling in the water to seize them and save themselves. The people on shore did all they could to assist in saving life, but their means of rescue were very unequal to the terrible extremity.

The Lowville Journal & Republican New York 1873-08-13