Early Louisiana

A steamboat explosion in 1817

Poor Thomas Brown.

Born in Scotland, he crossed an ocean and settled in Massachusetts only to die in a steamboat explosion near the village of St. Francisville. The local priest kindly buried him and 10 other victims in Pointe Coupee Parish, which is across the river from St. Francisville.

I came across the burials in the Diocese of Baton Rouge’s published records, and they reminded me of reading long ago about the perils of steamboat traveling. Sometimes captains would recklessly push a steamboat boiler beyond its limits by racing another steamboat. It was drag racing on the river.

The passengers aboard the Constitution were at breakfast in 1817 when the crew tried to outsail another steamboat from the same company. The race didn’t end well. The Constitution’s boiler burst, scalding to death 11 people.

Besides Mr. Brown, who was just 27, the dead were:

James Carpenter, 36.

Eliphaler Frazer, 41, who was born in New Jersey but had a wife and family in Franklin, Ohio.

Peter Hebert, a 27-year-old engineer from Mantz, France.

John Larkin, a Natchez silversmith.

A Mr. McFarland, 26, of Pittsburgh.

Alexander Phillpot, 22, of Henry County, Va.

Robert Robinson, 18.

William Steel, a 25-year-old Montana merchant.

George Wilson, 28, who was born in Virginia.

William Yowell, 30, who was born in Virginia but lived in Washington County, Ky.

1 thought on “A steamboat explosion in 1817”

  1. I had no idea about river drag racing — or, as the article puts it, “impudent strife.” It’s terrible that the passengers had to pay the painful price for this imprudence.

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