Burning of the Griffith. - The navigation season of 1850 was long remembered as the most disastrous in loss of life that had yet been recorded. By the burning of the steamer G. P. Griffith of Chagrin, 20 miles east of Cleveland, June 17, 286 lives were lost, one of the greatest casualties that has ever occurred on the lakes.
The Griffith had just been purchased by Capt. C. C. Roby and W. Studdiford, his brother-in-law, of Detroit, and took her departure from Buffalo on Sunday morning, the day before the fire, for Chicago. There were 256 in the steerage, 45 in the cabin, and a crew of 25. Not a woman or child was saved except the barber's wife. The steamer was about three miles from shore when she took fire, at four o'clock in the morning. When the first alarm was given the passengers were cool and collected. It was thought that the boat could reach land, for which she was steering, and that thus all would be saved. But the steamer struck upon a sand-bar half a mile off shore and then panic reigned. The passengers became wild with despair and a great number of them plunged madly into the water. Captain Roby, his wife, two children, and mother were of the lost. As soon as the boat struck he gave the command "overboard all," threw his wife overboard and then jumped after her, when both were drowned together. The mate swam ashore and obtained boats, by means of which several of the survivors escaped, but over 100 of the passengers were drowned soon after jumping overboard.
A searching party set out at once for the bodies of the lost, and in a short time the beach was strewn with 100 of them. So closely had they sunk that at one time 8 bodies were recovered by drawing one to the surface with a hook. The boat was insured in Buffalo for $27,775. The propeller Delaware reached the burning wreck and towed it ashore.
Wreck of the Anthony Wayne. - The explosion of the boilers of the steamer Anthony Wayne, early on the morning of April 28, resulted in the complete destruction of the vessel and in the loss of many lives. The vessel left Toledo the previous morning with 25 passengers, and reached Sandusky the same day, - there adding about 40 to the list. At 10 P.M. she left Sandusky and after about two and a half hours, when about 8 miles from Vermilion, met with the disaster, which resulted in the drowning of eleven members of the crew, and a large number of the passengers.
Fortunately the hurricane deck aft was cleft in two so that it floated, allowing several people to stand upon it. It was kept stationary by the tiller ropes, which still hung to the rudder and the forward part of the foremast. But a short time after the explosion, most of the passengers were seized with fright and jumped into the water, having just caught hold of anything that might lend an aid in floating. The night was clear and the sea not rough, but all who were wet suffered intensely with the cold, and they who had been scalded made piteous moans, crying for help and for water.
The captain, the clerk, H.D. Vance, one fireman and two passengers launched the lifeboat and drifted ashore, and started two sail vessels from Vermilion, which brought aid to some who had thus far remained afloat.
It was the two starboard boilers that exploded, throwing them into a perpendicular position, tearing away the steerage cabin above, and shattering the hull badly. The steamer sunk in 15 minutes, going down head first, and carrying away the steerage cabin and the foremast, on which were six persons. The yawl was launched and 12 persons reached the shore in it. The lifeboat half filled on launching and leaked badly, but with its six occupants got ashore after six hours constant bailing. The stateroom of the captain, next to the steerage, was blown to pieces and his bed blown upside down, but he was unhurt. When the steamer went down she was on fire. Three-fourths of the boat was owned by Charles Howard, of Detroit, and one-fourth by Capt. E.C. Gore, who was in command. She was valued at $20,000, and insured in part. She had but little freight on board, but 300 barrels of high wines and whiskey from Sandusky. The Anthony Wayne was built in 1837, and rebuilt in the winter of 1849. The number of lives lost has been variously estimated and has been placed as high as 69.
Many Lives Lost on the Troy. - The steamer Troy, commanded by Capt. Thomas Wilkins, exploded her boiler on her way to Black Rock and opposite Bird island pier, near that place, on March 23. A number were killed outright, while others jumped overboard and were drowned, besides several who died from injuries. Twenty-two perished.
Extent of the Losses in 1850. - The loss in value on steamboats in 1850 was $265,7000, on propellers $30,444 and on sail vessels $262,782, making a total loss of property of $558,926. Ten steamboats, including two tugs, 21 sail craft, and one propeller, the Petrel, passed out of existence. The loss on propellers was exceedingly light, but on sail vessels large in proportion to the value and number of the craft; the aggregate loss was the largest and accidents most frequent among steamboats.
The loss of life aggregated 431; 29 on the steamer Troy, 65 on the steamer Anthony Wayne, 38 on the steamer Commerce, 280 on the steamer G.P. Griffith, 11 on the steamer America, one on the steamer Canada, one on the Calumet, one on the scow H.M. Eddie and one on the scow which capsized at the wreck of the Griffith.
Other Events of 1850. - January 19: Steamer Oregon burned at Chicago. March 2: Navigation opened at Cleveland by the steamer Arrow; 25, navigation opened at Buffalo, the steamer Southerner, Capt. J.L. Edmunds, being the first boat to leave. April: Schooner Lawrence sunk near St. Helena by collision with the pier. May: Canadian steamer Commerce a total loss by collision with the steamer Despatch off Grand River, Canada, and about 40 lives were lost; the Commerce had aboard a detachment of the 23d Regiment; steamer America considerably damaged by fire on Lake Erie, near Buffalo. June: Brig Flora collides with steamer Baltic near Buffalo, and sustains severe injuries. July: Steamer America damaged by explosion of her boilers, and towed to Erie by the Alabama; several lives lost. August: Steamer Lexington sunk on Lake Erie near Conneaut by collision with the propeller Allegheny; schooner Neckeck capsized on Lake Ontario and towed to Cape Vincent; propeller Globe sunk near Point Albino, last fall sold to Messrs. Nott, of Cleveland, for $9,000; schooner Howard sunk at Racine; brig Maurice wrecked at Wind Point; schooner Thornton wrecked on Lake Michigan; several lives lost. October: Brig Europe wrecked on an island in Green bay, a total loss; brig S.F. Gale collides with and is sunk by the schooner Telegraph on Lake Huron. December: Brig Henry Clay sunk in the Straits of Mackinac; schooner Columbia ashore near the Henry Clay; schooner Sea Bird sunk on Lake Erie off Black River. The steamer Southerner was during this season put between Detroit and Cleveland, in connection with the steamer Baltimore, which was the inauguration of that route.
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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.