The Flood of 1844 in Buffalo. - This flood occurred October 18, 1844. It was the most disastrous that has ever occurred since the city was founded. It came without warning, an avalanche of waters upon a sleeping community, many of whom were drowned and many of whom had narrow escapes from a similar fate.
For several days before the occurrence of the flood a strong north- east wind had been driving the water up the lake, but on the evening of the 18th a sudden shift of the wind took place, and it blew from the opposite direction with a tremendous force, never before or since known to the inhabitants of Buffalo. It brought with it immense volumes of water, which overflowed the lower districts of the city and vicinity, demolishing scores of buildings, and spreading ruin along the harbor front, playing havoc with shipping, and causing an awful destruction of human life.
The municipal rooms over Terrance market were filled with agonized people scanning dead bodies, fearfully expectant of finding the familiar forms of relatives and friends. A similar situation existed at the court house on Washington street, where the dead bodies were laid in windrows awaiting identification. At Huff's hotel, at the corner of Main and Scott streets, the water was six feet deep, and there the bodies of several young women, in their night clothes, were fished out of the basement windows. They were hotel waiters, drowned in their beds. In the lower districts there were many harbor craft and canal boats left by the receding waters, many canal boats being out on the commons, on Division, Eagle and Clinton streets. South Buffalo was strewn with miscellaneous wreckage of all kinds. At the corner of Main and Ohio streets the water was six feet deep and at Michigan and Exchange streets it was five feet deep. The onrush of waters made a break in the south pier, through which a schooner leaped without injury and ran aground at the foot of Ferry street.
In the evening before the storm the steamers St. Louis, Robert Fulton, Indian Queen and Julia Palmer left the port of Buffalo, for the upper end of the lakes with a full complement of passengers. When the St. Louis was opposite Dunkirk she broke her shaft, and when paying out into the trough of the sea four of her passengers were swept overboard and lost. With the power of one wheel aided by a jib and staysail together with good seamanship, she reached the Niagara river at daybreak next morning, and was blown into the river without regard to channel, the river being all channel on account of the height of the waters. She went in with her side and end alternately to the front. Capt. James Haggart came out with his steam ferry boat, which he had then been running four years, and brought in the disabled St. Louis to the foot of Ferry street.
The Indian Queen, the smallest of the four that went out into the lake on the evening before, was the only one able to reach the port of Buffalo on her return. The Robert Fulton, after losing two or three passengers, who were washed overboard, was piled upon the sand beach above Sturgeon point.
The Julia Palmer, with 300 passengers on board, was driven help- lessly down the lake into Buffalo bay, but when she was opposite the foot of Main street her anchors caught and held her fast, and there she rolled and pitched in a manner fearful to behold all the next day. On the morning of the 20th, the sea having gone down sufficiently, a relief boat went out and brought her safely into port, much to the relief of the passengers and the worn-out crew.
Among the other damages were the following: Schooners Potomac, G. H. Walker and Brandywine ashore at Erie. Schooner John Grant ashore at Erie. Schooner Henry Clay ashore near Erie. Schooner Lodi disabled and taken in tow by the Missouri. Schooner John Marshall wrecked near Mexico bay. Schooners Maria Hilliard, Wyandot, Mariam and Georgiana sustain injuries off Erie. The iron steamer Abert driven upon the beach at Buffalo and got off. Steamer Commodore Perry arrived at Buffalo in a shattered condition, losing one man, and ran into the steamers Great Western and Wayne. Steamer Chautauque ashore on her beam's end near Black Rock. Steamer Columbus driven into a pasture 200 feet from the creek. Brig Europe reached Buffalo damaged in her hull and outfit. Brig Uncle Sam, Capt. John Vail, and schooner Marion, Capt. Jerry Oliver, arrived at Buffalo during the gale with outfit badly damaged. Schooner Robert Wood, Captain Miner, of Oswego, damaged a cargo of merchandise in the gale on Lake Erie. The amount of merchandise, books and papers on the docks damaged and lost was over $10,000. A horse swam ashore from the Julia Palmer with a letter attached to its mane stating that they had burned all the wood and were "now burning the furniture." Fifty canal boats went ashore between Buffalo and Black Rock. Schooner Ashland beached near Erie street, Buffalo; got off. Steamer G. W. Dale was floated across Ohio street, Buffalo. Steamer Bunker Hill high and dry up the creek. Schooner Hannah, of Oswego, with merchandise for Detroit, wrecked 20 miles below Malden and went to pieces, crew saved. Schooner Ottawa lost anchor and sails on Lake Erie, arrived at Detroit. Schooner Marengo arrived at Detroit from Lake Erie with the sails gone. Schooner Big Z ashore on Hog island, Detroit river; got off. Schooner Congress went ashore two miles below Malden. Brig John Dougall, Canadian, bilged on Peach island, Lake St. Clair. Schooner Pacific wrecked and went to pieces near Dunkirk. Propeller Emigrant sustained serious damage on Lake Erie.
The gale was terrific, blowing from northwest, followed by cold. At Buffalo the loss of life and property was greater than all other ports combined, the water rising within the space of two hours to 22 feet. On Lake Ontario the schooner Charlton, owned by Fitzhugh & Company, while on the passage from the Welland canal, made Sodus harbor during the night, stranded on the bar, bilged, and filled with water. The mate of the schooner Nicholas Biddle was lost overboard in Lake Erie. Schooner Pennsylvania was wrecked on the north shore of Lake Erie and all lost, ten lives. A Canadian craft, name unknown, founded in Lake Erie with loss of thirteen lives. The small schooner Governor Marcy was wrecked near Point Albino with five lives lost. The schooner United States, laden with merchandise for Detroit, was driven ashore on Point Monyea, near Detroit river.
The number of lives lost at Buffalo were fifty-three and those on the lake twenty-five. The Fulton was a high-pressure boat, of 308 tons, and had been nine years in service. She had a large load of passengers on board and a full cargo of freight. The total number of casualties was eighty-five.
Copper Rock is Removed. -- The celebrated rock of pure copper on Lake Superior, and which caused so much speculation among scientists, arrived at Buffalo, in October, 1844, on board the revenue cutter Erie, Capt. Gilbert Knapp. It was brought from the shore of Lake Superior through the enterprise of Julius Eldred, of Detroit, to be placed in the National Institute at Washington. It was first shipped on board the schooner Algonquin, and transported over 300 miles to the head of the falls of Sault Ste. Marie. It was then transferred to a Mackinac boat, and after passing through the canal around the rapids, it was shipped on board the schooner William Brewster for Detroit, where it arrived October 11. At Detroit it was placed on board the revenue cutter and taken to Buffalo as above stated. Thence it was transferred on cars to its destination. It was pure native copper without alloy. The weight of the rock was never definitely ascertained, but was estimated at 2,200 pounds. Its dimensions were 3 feet 4 inches broad by 3 feet 8 inches long. It was the largest specimen of native copper in the world.
Other Events of 1844. - In 1844 a new departure was made in the management of certain lines, for the "new and fast sailing packet Prince Edward carried reverend gentlemen of all denominations free." However it appears that accommodations on board of passenger vessels were not always of the best, for Bonnycastle complains that the charge for wine "was shameful, 7s 6d per bottle, and stuff of most inferior quality." The first sad casualty of the season was the loss of the schooner Wave, on Lake Michigan, with 13 lives, followed about the same time by the foundering of the Victor and loss of 8 lives on that lake. Three vessels were simultaneously wrecked near St. Joseph, Lake Michigan, during a severe gale March 27, the schooner Jefferson, Captain Dougall; Ocean, Captain Davis, and brig Rosa, Captain Whiting. The two former had cargoes of stone, the latter no cargo. During this storm the wreck of the ill-fated schooner Wave drifted ashore at Racine, and three bodies were recovered. A party from Buffalo in search of sunken wrecks in Lake Erie discovered the schooner Young Sion, laden with railroad iron, off Walnut creek, also the steamer Erie, six miles off Silver creek, but were unsuccessful in raising them. On May 4 the schooner Freedom, Captain Ward, capsized 15 miles above Fort Gratiot lighthouse and 3 miles off shore. There were six persons on board, three of whom were drowned. The vessel was loaded with lumber and shingles. On the 18th of the same month the schooner Nicholas Biddle, lying under bare poles, capsized about two miles above Cleveland; the crew was all saved and the vessel subsequently recovered. The schooner Shamrock, laden with pork and flour from Toledo, capsized eight miles above Gravelly bay, and one man was lost; the vessel was recovered a few days afterward. The new survey steamer Colonel Abert made her trial trip at Buffalo May 18, and gave the utmost satisfaction. January 1: Steamer St. Clair left Cleveland for Detroit, the first clearance of the season; 4, scow Flat Foot ashore at Madison, Lake Erie. May: Schooner Smead capsized off Port Stanley; schooner Aurora capsized on Lake Ontario during a storm; two lives lost. June 5: The Empire launched in Cleveland from the shipyard of G.W. Jones, 1,200 tons burnen;(sic) schooner Edwin Jenny sunk on Lake Erie by collision. July: Schooner Argyle, in command of Captain Teal, damaged during a storm near Gravelly bay; saved from being wrecked by the schooner Tom Corwin, in command of Captain Cannon; 15, british schooner Kent ashore near Grand River. August: Schooner Daniel Whitney, from Kalamazoo, in command of Captain Crooker, wrecked on Lake Michigan and all hands lost. September: Steamer Perry sustains injuries from collision with piers at Huron harbor during a severe storm; equinoxial storm accompanied with snow at Cleveland. October: Steamer Fairport burned at the dock in Newport, St. Clair river; barge Sandusky ashore at Cattaraugus creek, becomes a total wreck; schooner Hannah wrecked near Malden; propeller Emigrant, with 9,000 bushels of wheat from Chicago, ashore at Goderich; brig Alert, in command of Captain Scovill, ashore at Point Wabashanks; 29, schooner Philadelphia, in command of Captain Conner, ashore at Cleveland; schooners Ainsworth, Juliet and Cambridge ashore at Huron during a gale on Lake Erie; schooner Pennsylvania wrecked at Point Albino; schooner Highlander, in command of Captain Jacques, wrecked on Lake Erie. November: Brig Clarion and schooner Wabash ashore near Buffalo; 20, schooner Essex with cargo of wheat from Sandusky, ashore at the mouth of the Niagara river; owned by Doolittle, Mills & Co.; 24, steamer Rochester ashore near Oswego; passengers taken off by the Telegraph; schooner Gates ashore near Oswego; 23, schooner Charleston ashore and full of water, Sodus harbor. December 6: Schooner H. M. Kinne ashore near Goderick, after running on Point Wabashank reef; schooner W. Foster ashore near Ft. Gratiot; schooner Champion ashore near Point Wabashank; schooner Jenny wrecked at Buffalo; crew saved; schooner Richmond lost on Lake Michigan.
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Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.