Steamboat "Lucy Walker"
I am researching and writing a Wikipedia article about the explosion, fire, and sinking of the "Lucy Walker" on the Ohio River near New Albany,IN on Oct. 23, 1844. I am looking for names of victims and survivors, cause(s) of the explosion, news accounts, etc. The owner and captain of the "Lucy Walker" was a Cherokee Indian known as "Rich Joe" Vann and his crew were slaves.
According to Way's Packet Directory, the LUCY WALKER exploded below New Albany on October 25, 1844. The listing goes on to say that Joe Vann was a Cherokee Indian, quite well to do and from Webber Falls on the Upper Arkansas. He acquired the famed racehorse, Lucy Walker, considered the fastest quarter-mile horse in the world. Vann built the sidewheeler LUCY WALKER at Cincinnati in 1843 to run Webber Falls - Louisville. He procured a Capt. Halderman as master for the first trip, then personally took charge for the second. It was on the second trip that the boilers exploded with the loss of 18 lives. Joe Vann's remains were never found. Eight of the victims are buried in Fairview Cemetery at New Albany.
You might wish to contact the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library. The Indiana History Room contains extensive files on regional history and there is much on area steamboating. Click on New Albany-Floyd County Public Library - Homepage for further information.
Good luck with your project!
Where did you get your information that the crew were slaves? I believe the idea that steamboats used slaves for crews is a myth. How could an Ohio River boat use slaves when the northern states that border the river were free states? Slaves were much too valuable to use as deck crew. White immigrant labor made up the majority of deck crews on antebellum steamboats.
Look on pages 142 through 145 of Lloyd's Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters, 1858. The article gives full coverage to the gore, the missing, the killed and the wounded. His date is given as October 25, 1844. Some victims were buried at West Point, Ky. Lloyd makes no mention of slaves.
There is ample documentation of slaves as riverboat crew, mostly on the lower river though. There is record of boats with slaves in the crew who worked up onto the Ohio however. It was a not uncommon practice to lodge the slaves in the town jail while the boat was in port so that thley couldn't run. Slaves seldom seem to have been owned by the boat owners, but were more commonly let out to the boat by their owner. It generated cash flow for them in an economy that was short of cash. More interestingly, some slaves seem to have operated as semi-independent contractors, finding their own work and paying a percentage of their wages to their owner. They were mostly deck hands and roustabouts, but they also worked as firemen, cooks, strikers, cabin stewards and attendents, laundry workers, etc. Some boats would not take on slaves, either from opposition to the practice or fear of liability. I ran across a statement from a captain to the effect that (paraphraisng) "If I lose a n****er overboard, I've got to pay for him, but if I lose an Irishman, who will notice."
That was my point exactly....most people assume that a boat owner or captain would use his slaves as deck crew, but that just didn't happen very often. If a boat owner contracted slaves from a slave owner, I would think that would be classified as contract labor and not slave labor in historic meaning of the term.
In his book, OLD TIMES ON THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI, George Byron Merrick states,"If he (a slave) were owned by a man from ST. Louis or below, he was worth from eight to fifteen hundred dollars, and was therefore too valuable to be used in the make up of a boat's crew running north. The inclemency of the weather, or the strenuousness of the mate, might result in serious physical deterioration that would greatly depreciate him as chattel." (page 64)
He went on to say, "Of free negroes there were not enough to man the hundreds of steamboats plying the upper river. Thus it came about that cabin crews on some boats, firemen on others, were colored while the deck crews were white".
Thanks for all of the replies. The Lucy Walker's 3 boilers exploded about 5pm on Oct. 23, 1844 (nearly all reference books have Oct. 25). Joseph Vann, a.k.a. "Rich Joe" Vann owned several hundred slaves at Webber's Falls, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory. In 1937 the WPA interviewed a number of Oklahoma old timers, including several former slaves. A Mrs. Betty Robinson said her father Kalet (or Caleb) Vann was killed on the Lucy Walker along with his master Capt. Vann. Another, Lucinda Vann, said a slave named Jim Vann was the boat's engineer at was forced at gunpoint by Capt. Vann to throw slabs of meat into the boilers in order to win a race with another boat. Rich Joe's grandson Robert P. Vann told the same story, without the name of the slave engineer who was supposed to be the only survivor. However, a number of persons survived (including most of the women and children passgengers) according to several newspaper account. The papers mention the presence of slave crewmen but not their names. I have contacted the New Albany Library but they ask for a lot of money up front to make copies.
By the way, Thomas J. Halderman of Cincinnati and Louisville was a very experienced riverman who later was one of the complainant's witnesses in a famous Supreme Court case: "Pennsylvania vs. Wheeling Bridge Co.", 1854. According to his testamony, he had been a deck hand, fireman, engineer (15 yrs) and master (20yrs) before 1854. Was he fired by "Rcih Joe" Vann at Louisville in 1844, or did he quit?
One of the persons killed on the Lucy Walker was Samuel M. Brown who almost certainly was the same Samuel M. Brown who was the loser in a famous gun and knife fight in 1843 with Cassius Marcellus Clay (Brown lost an eye, nearly lost an ear, and had severe slices in his scalp; Brown's bullet was deflected off Clay's Bowie knife scabbard). "Cash" Clay was an abolitionist from Louisville and a cousin of Henry Clay (his comtempory namesake is now known as Mohamed Ali).
Cassius M. Clay
Cassius M. Clay was from Whitehall, Madison County, Kentucky, near Richmond, and not far from Lexington. Five and a half years of my younger days were spent in Richmond at what is now Eastern Kentucky University, but when I first trod those hallowed halls it was still called Eastern Kentucky State Teachers College.
Even then, whenever the name of the afore-mentioned Colonel Clay was suggested, it was spoken with a reverence tinged with a fear of the type that caused the speaker to carefully check over both shoulders. Such was the respectful anxiety that the name Cassius Marcellus Clay engendered over fifty years after he was laid to rest in the Richmond Cemetery.
In the Ante-bellum South, it was a lot more risky to be an abolitionist in Louisville,Ky than to be one in Boston or New York. Cassius Clay had to be handy with his Bowie knife. His assailant Brown was said to be a hired killer.
Lucy Walker was a side-wheeler with 3 boilers and was built in Cincinnati,OH in 1843. She had 1 deck, no masts, no figure head, and an above deck cabin.
Dimensions were: Length 144'; Beam 24' 6"; Draft 5' 6"; 183 Tons. I have copies of Lucy Walker's enrollment or inspection certificates issued at Cincinnati. Before her demise she had three captains: Thomas F. Elkert, John Cochran, and Thomas J. Halderman. The Lucy Walker in 1843 transported 200 Seminole Indians from New Orleans to Indian Territory, under contract with the U.S. Army. Most of her trips apparently were between Webber's Falls, Cherokee Nation, Ind. Ty. and Louisville,KY. Question: what was the purpose of throwing slabs of meat into a boiler; did the grease have an "afterburner" effect? Acccording to Cherokee sources, the slave engineer followed Vann's orders, then leaped for safety just before the explosion.
Slabs of fat meat were reputed to burn with a very hot flame, hence a way to add power by raising steam pressure.
Why would Cherokees be in Louisville when they were headed for Oklahoma? Lloyd's Directory does not mention Indians being on the Lucy Walker, even though it lists passengers by name and many crew members by name. The Cherokee Nation was centered in Eastern Tennessee.
This is beginning to sound like a couple of events melded into one.
Most of the Cherokees were forced to migrate from the homeland (parts of Alabama, eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and northern Georgia in the so-called "Trail of Tears". Acting independenly of his tribe, "Rich Joe" Vann was evicted from his mansion (google "Chief Vann House") by a gang of Georgians in 1834; moved his families (he had 2 wives) and slaves to Tennessee, then in 1837 shifted operations to Webber's Falls on the Arkansas River in Indian Territory, where he built a replica of his Georgia home. The new home was destroyed in the Civil War, but the original is still extant near Chattsworth,GA.
The "Lucy Walker"s vessel documents contained Vann's sworn statements that he was a U.S. citizen from Arkansas. He was neither, but probably got the documents by greasing some palms. Vann was only about 1/8 degree of Cherokee blood, and as one of the wealthiest persons in America travelled anywhere he wanted. As the owner of a famous racing filly, and with a passenger (Gen. J.W. Pegram) whose father-in-law (James Ransom Johnson) was known as the "Napoleon of the Turf", I suspect that the visit to Louisville even in pre-Churchill Downs times involved horse racing, drinking, and gambling. This could well explain subsequent steamboat racing, drinking, and gambling (and the explosion of "Lucy Walker").
The Cherokee Removal ("Trail of Tears") occured between 1835 and 1839, with nearly 12-14,000 persons transported by a combination of groups of steamboats, flat and keel boats, 12 large wagon trains, and even travel by railroad (in Alabama). Part of this was under control of the U.S. Army, and part under Principal Chief John Ross and tribal leaders. One of my ancestors, Collins McDonald, was second in command of the 10th wagon trains.
One of the interesting aspects of news stories and survivor's accounts of the loss of the "Lucy Walker" that little was said about ownership by a Cherokee Indian, presence of slave crewmen, and nothing said about racing, drinking, or gambling (although the New Orleans Daily Picayune suggested that steamboat racing may have been a factor in the explosion).
Lucy Walker on Wikipedia
My article has been posted on Wikipedia: "Lucy Walker steamboat disaster". Check it out for any errors or improvements.
Pennsylvania vs. The Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Co.
I misdated this Supreme Court case as occuring in 1854; it was actually 1851. Testimony taken by Reubin Hyde Walworth, Commissioner for the Court can be found on the Internet. Issues included safety concerns over clearance of steamboat smoke stacks (known as "chimmneys") under a proposed bridge over the Ohio River. The witnesses were engineers, captains, and other experienced rivermen about many different aspects of steamboat operation on the Ohio, such as problems in traversing the "Falls of the Ohio" rapids at Louisville. One of the witnesses was Thomas J. Halderman, who in 1844 had been captain of the "Lucy Walker."
The Amis family (parents and three daughters) were passengers on the Lucy Walker when she blew up. Below is a quotation from the memoirs of Mary Amis, who was a baby at the time. Yes, I know that she got the month of the disaster wrong. Please forgive her; she was only a year old at the time.
"When I was 11 months old, my father and mother left Warrenton and returned to Columbus, Miss. There were no railroads in those days, so they took the steamboat on the Ohio River to reach Cairo, where, they were to board a steamboat going down the Mississippi River. How the journey was continued, after leaving the Mississippi River boat, I do not know. They may possibly have gone as far as New Orleans, from there, to Mobile, and then, up the Tombigby to Columbus or, they may have landed at Vicksburg, and continued the trip by stage.
I never remember hearing what route they took. In any case it must have been a long and tiresome journey, particularly, as it was in the hottest month, July. When the Lucy Walker, that was the Ohio Riverboat’s name, arrived opposite the town of New Albany, her boilers bursted, and the steamboat burnt to the water’s edge. We the only entire family saved. My father, being a good swimmer, swam to the shore, and returned with a small skiff, which he rescued my mother, Mammy, Sister Sallie and me. Sister Bettie was on deck at the time of the explosion, and was thought to have been killed, but on returning to the shore, was found safe and sound. A strange gentleman had swum ashore with her. My mother, in her great joy, neglected to ask the gentleman’s name, this she always regretted. She simply offered the stranger her purse which he refused."