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Sep 17, 2009

The 1859 Explosion of the River Boat "Princess"

[I have just read the most sad, true, account of the explosion and fire of the river boat  "Princess" on Feb. 27 1859. I would like to post the complete text of the account, but I fear copyright infractions. Here it is in my wording.] 


The Princess shortly after leaving the Baton Rouge wharf with a cargo of passengers and cotton departed for New Orleans, most passenger's was going to Mardi Gras or carnival, as they referred to it then. A short time later the people of Baton Rouge saw a white cloud of smoke down river - it was the Princess, her boilers blew, and the boat was on fire. she burned down to the waters edge. Burning bales of cotton floating on the Mississippi with people clinging to them.

The location of this tragedy happen at the spot of the river adjacent to the Cottage plantation 6 miles south of the city at Conrad Point The plantation slaves pulled the passenger ashore, Frederick Conrad owner of the Cottage had many bed sheets laid out and they poured flour on top of them. This was for the burn victims to be rolled in flour for their burns. Mr. Conrad had 250 slaves

A 16 year old boy got to the Mississippi River as soon as he could to see what was the commotion and when he got down to the plantation he saw things that he carried to his grave in which he wrote in his book, "Recollections of a Rebel Reefer".

He writes that as he watched this tragedy unfold and one of the victims approach him, he was wrapped in a sheet with flour covering his face, he writes he looked like a ghost, "...before I could run away from the hideous object it extended its arms toward me and quietly said, "Don't be afraid, Jimmie. It is me, Mr. Cheatham. I am dying -- hold my hand!". And he sank upon the turf beside me. Although dreadfully frightened, I managed between sobs to ask the question uppermost in my mind: "Can you tell me where I can find my father and mother?"  (Jimmy's parents  took passage to New Orleans of another steamer just the night before the Princess, Jimmy thinking that  they were aboard the Princess). The ghostlike man only replied with a cry which seemed to wrench his soul from his body. He shivered for an instant, and then lay still. A slave passing by pointed to the body and casually remarked, "He done dead." Source 

Personal note: I can't get Mr. Cheatham out of my mind.


The ruins of the Cottage Plantation 
River Road, 6 mi. from Baton Rouge


Here is a post I came across on the web with photos and map.
 The Cottage Plantation: A Ghost Story.

Postcard depicting the Cottage before fire destroyed it.
A large number of passenger's on board were women. The steamboat exploded her boiler, caught fire and burned to the waters edge. Source NY Times 

There was children on board.

There was at the time of the above incident a "wharf  boat" permanently moored at the river front wharf in Baton Rouge that was not river-worthy. This boat was used as a hotel, depot, and storehouse. The disabled boat was 315 feet long with  the upper deck being 30 feet long. When the Princess exploded and they had numerous burn victims they turn the wharf boat into a floating hospital to treat the victims.

Exploded at Conrad Point, Mississippi River,  below Baton Rouge, 70 lives lost. Line Source

In the forty years to the mid-century mark, there were some 4,000 fatalities on the river due to boiler explosions. Some 500 vessels were wrecked by the peril. Early boilers were riveted of weak iron plate. Vessels at the time were not inspected, or insured. Passengers were on their own. Source

Two Articles (one w/injured and death list)

Links on the Cottage
(Reported paranormal activity there, if you believe in that sort of stuff.)  
Link 1

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