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Reprints of newspaper clippings on the Catastrophe of the Steamer: Wisconsin, compiled by Laurie Donohue.  See:
Catastrophe of the Steamer "Wisconsin", TI Life, January - 2015
Editor Eagle: In your issue of February 5, which contained a write up of Who Remembers Catastrophe of the Steamer "Wisconsin," on May 20, 1867? I left Cape Vincent in 1865 but remember well the time of this catastrophe. My late brother, Henry, was there and saw the wreck. The first engineer was my uncle. His name was Andrew Morrison, and his son, "Abe" Morrison, was the second engineer on this boat when the accident occured. Cape Vincent Eagle, 19 Feb 1931”
concerning the burning of the steamer "Wisconsin," which occurred on May 20, 1867, and which, no doubt, is remembered by many of our older residents: "Dear Mr. Editor; It is not my intention to submerge you with narratives that originated in your village fifty or sixty years ago, but in looking over some notes which had been laid aside a number of years I discovered one briefly describing a catastrophe that occurred a few miles from your village sixty-three years ago. I am sending this with the thought that it may contain something of interest to the readers, of your paper. "How many of your older residents who are living in the Cape at this time remember the cloud of gloom that hung over the little village of Cape Vincent on the 20th day of May, 1867 or the cause of it? On this date the Northern Transportation Co., of Chicago, was operating a line consisting of twenty-one steamers between Ogdensburg and Chicago. The steamers all used four foot wood for fuel. I mention the matter of fuel at this time because this was the real cause of the catastrophe. Coal was not yet being used to any extent for fuel. Every other night between ten and eleven o'clock one of these steamers called at the Cape to take on passengers and freight. On the date mentioned the steamer 'Wisconsin' left Ogdensburg on time, arrived at the Cape at the usual hour, took on passengers and freight and departed for the West. About a mile or so beyond Tibbett's Point Light House, fire was discovered in the boiler room, All efforts of the crew to gain control of the fire proving futile, the captain decided to beach the steamer on Grenadier Island. This he did, but before reaching the Island the steamer had become almost wholly enveloped in flames. As soon as the vessel grounded, passengers and crew began leaping into the water. To prevent the possibility of a boiler explosion, the engineer when obliged to leave the engine room, had purposely left the engine running. Many of the people jumping from the stern of the steamer were killed and badly managled as they were struck by the wheel. It was here where the greatest loss of life occurred. The steamer was almost entirely destroyed. After checking up on passengers and crew, twenty two were found to be missing. The twenty-two bodies were recovered the following day and brought to the Cape on the steamer 'Pierrepont.' A temporary morgue was provided in the R. W. & O, freight house where the inquest was held and the bodies of the victims prepared for shipment to their former homes. A family by the name of Chisolm were among the passengers on this boat on this eventful night. They came from Scotland a few weeks before, landed in Montreal and resided there a short time before deciding what part of the west they would make their future home. There were eight in the family and five of this number perished, the mother and four children. The remaining members of the family, the father and two sons, John and William, remained in the Cape and died there a good many years ago. The elder Chisholm sued the Northern Transportation Co. for $50,000. The suit was contested for eight or ten years and was finally settled for $10,000. During the time the Chisholms were in Montreal one of the daughters married a Grand- Trunk railroad man named Semper. He was killed in a railroad accident a few years later. Mrs. Semper was the mother of the late Charles and William Semper who were well known contractors of this city. Later Mrs. Semper married an old time attorney of your village Francis N. Fitch. "Thus ended a tragedy that caused a great deal of mental as well as physical suffering." Cape Vincent Eagle 5 Feb 1931.”

“The following essay, written by Miss Helen Armstrong and awarded a prize at the meeting of the Improvement League in June, 1928, was read at a meeting of the Historical club on Monday afternoon. Owing to the fact that there has been much comment concerning the "Burning, of the Wisconsin," we publish the essay, as it sheds a new light on the catastrophe: It was a very ordinary drizzle on a very usual night and the drip and prickle of the raindrops on the hurricane deck of the old wood-burning propeller chimed easily and melodiously with the muffled throbbing of the slew running engine. The greasy bubbling water under the stern suggested preparation for a start although a feeling of serene quietness blanketed the atmosphere and foretold no ill omen. The air was faintly tainted With the odor of burning wood, but excited no curiosity among the laickadasical crew who were casualy engaged in a semiconscious conversation. The passengers were in their berths and the cargo of package freight was stored in convenient places on the main deck. The chief engineer was in conference with the captain on the bridge. Suddenly through the thick air a shriek and groan from the whistle and the clanging of the bell brought the crew to their feet with a bound; and awakened the passengers who inwardly raged at the unceremonious, disturbance of their rest. The plunging engine shook the frame of the boat and stirred the waters into a white foam. Minutes passed. A tense feeling surrounded all. A half hour then "Fire! Fire! The boat's on fire," rang into the air like a clarion call, and as the bugle rouses the army to instant action, so did the cry awaken hearts and minds filled with frantic terror and the desire for escape, escape for life and possessions. "To the island. Head her for the shore," came the captain's excited order, as he signalled full speed ahead. Choking, flaming smoke mixed with the shrieking, stumbling, hysterical mass. Wrecked freight and strewn clothing impeded the onrush to the rail. A shuddering tremble ran the length of the boat. Over the rail dropped bodies, live bodies, only to be drowned in the raging current made by the furiously fanning propeller. The yawl was being lowered and the captain was begging, cursing, ordering not to overload. The panic stricken mob didnt hear, how could they hear. The tackle, the forward tackle fouled! No. But yes! and some one is cutting the tackle and the raft not yet in the water. The people were howling and shrieking as they were drawn to their deaths in the seething waters. A line has finally been passed to the shore. Hand over hand, one by one, the remaining numbers went fearfully toward the shore through the five feet of water.

The ill fated boat- (Do you) remember years ago that wood burning propeller which belonged to the Northern Transportation Co., and plied between Ogdensburg, N. Y., and Toledo, Ohio? Of some such scene as this, did the survivors have recollections. The "Wisconsin" made regular stops at the R. W. & O. dock at Cape Vincent where she took on five passengers on this particular trip. All passengers however, changed boats at Cleveland, Ohio, and from there she carried only freight. The "Wisconsin" at the time of the disaster, May 21, 1867, was on her course but a half hour after leaving Cape Vincent when fire was discovered. The alarm was spread and caused great terror among the passengers and crew. Because the fire was beyond control, Captain Townsend headed the boat for the shore of Grenadier Island. She was beached in five feet of water on what is now the Humphrey farm with the engine running full speed. On account of the fire in the engine room the machinery could not be stopped, consequently all of the passengers and crew who swarmed over the rear were drawn under by the forceful current caused by the propeller Wheel. The yawl was ordered lowered and the captain begged and threatened the frantic, terrified passengers not to overload. However the boat was loaded beyond its capacity and before it reached the water the forward tackle became fouled and the second mate, in his excitement, cut it, sending the bow with the whole load into the water. At last the steward, C. H, Dodge, went over the bow with a line and reaching the shore fastened it securely. Over this line came the remaining passengers and crew and all who used this means of rescue were saved. There were twenty-four persons drowned and all except one woman were identified. As one enters the old Market Street, cemetery, a tall marble monument on which is listed the names of five members of the Robert Chisholm family, is seen on the left and this grim shaft marks, perhaps, the most, pathetic incident of the tragedy. The first and second engineers, Andrew Morrison and his son, Abram, who lived in Cape Vincent, and first mate John Powers, of Ogdensburg, were also drowned. It is said that one woman was traveling with a baby and when the alarm was spread, she wrapped it in a feather bed and it went over the line with one of the sailors, who after laying the bundle aside, forgot about it in the excitement of the rescue. However, the mother found the baby safely wrapped and alive. It is also said that another woman reached the shore on a gang plank from the ship and was later employed at the Union House for a number of years. The morning after the disaster salvagers made quick work in picking up relics from the boat and some of these souvenirs are still to be seen in the possession of some of the older residents of Cape Vincent. The hull was later raised and taken to Ogdensburg and the machinery was saved. Perhaps no other disaster, whether of fire, drowning or wreck, made such an impression, on the hearts and minds of the people of Cape Vincent as did the burning of the "Wisconsin".” Cape Vincent Eagle 19 Mar 1931

“Many people are still living who recall the propellers of the Northern Transportation company, which were built in Ogdensburg and which ran for many years, between Ogdensburg and Chicago. This line was launched in the early 50's and flourished until the Civil war, when a decline set in, though the line continued for several years after that. There were twentyone boats in the fleet, so that there was one leaving each terminal every day during the season, carrying both passengers and freight. The liners burned wood and the principal fueling station was at Lee's Point, near Fishers Landing. After 1870 a few of the boats ran from Chicago to Michigan ports for ten years. Nearly every one of the original twenty-one vessels came to grief and their wreckage strews the bottom all the way from Chicago to Ogdensburg.” Cape Vincent Eagle 1915
“But this community never had intenser feelings or more sympathetic hearts than was manifested when the propeller "Wisconsin" was burned and twenty-four persons went suddenly into the presence of God. The last body taken from the water was that of Andrew F. Morrison, the engineer, six weeks after the disaster. The "Wisconsin" was a steamer belonging to the Northern Transportation Company, and was on her third trip, bound for Chicago. About one hundred persons, including the crew and the five passengers which got on at Cape Vincent, made up the company. She left the wharf not far from half after ten in the evening. The night was dark,a drizzling rain was falling, nearly all the passengers were in their berths; a half hour later and many were asleep, when--"Fire! The boat is on fire!" rang through the cabins with that shrillness and horror, such as only terror could give the cry. Men and women hurried out of the rooms, half dressed or in their night-clothes, top find the flames bursting through the hurricane-deck and crowding up around the smoke-stack like the tongues of fiery snakes, and filling the hatchway near the engine, as if mad that hey had so little freedom. No description of that terrible night can be adequately given. Captain Townsend immediately gave orders to head the "Wisconsin" for Grenadier island and clear away the yawls. Only the big yawl seems to have been of much service, and when that was bought abreast if the rail, panic-stricken men and women rushed into it, with a consideration as to the load it would bear. Seeing the confusion, the captain ordered the yawl lowered o the water, and in that position remained till the steamer was beached. Thus fastened to the side of the propeller and quite out of sight from the deck, they rushed on together, side by side, into the inky darkness, leaving behind them a lurid stream of flames and cinders, and the victims uttering more than on beseeching cry to God for the shore. But the shore was death; for just as the steamer struck the beach, some person in the forward part of the yawl cut the rope, which held her fast, the stern rope till being secured, when she instantly turned bottom upwards, and eighteen or twenty persons were thrown into the water. Some might even then have been saved, as they were only fifty or sixty feet from land but the wheel was running at full speed, so that every person was drawn under by the swell and perished. Jumping over the bow of the propeller, the steward, C. H. Dodge,--all honor to his name, --swan shore with a rope, the end of which he fastened securely, and then went back and remained in the water to assist the remaining passengers to reach the island and save their lives. More than one, in his efforts to shove himself along over the rope, was dropped off and was picked up by Mr. Dodge. It is believed that no one was lost who remained on the "Wisconsin" and used this rope as a means of rescue. On the next morning, very early, the steamer "Watertown," hearing of the burning wreck, went up to the scene of death, and soon after returned to the village with fourteen bodies. They were placed side by side in the freight-house, a coroner's inquest was held in the hotel of the passenger depot, and nearly all the bodies were buried in the old cemetery on Market street. The loss of Mr. Robert Chisholm's wife and four children, and the utter wreck of his fortune and hopes, can never be forgotten by this generation. Ten other bodies were found from time to time, as they washed ashore. Nor must it be forgotten to record the special efforts of the Transportation Company in bearing the expenses which the accident occasioned, and especially the kindness of the islanders and residents of this village, in furnishing food, clothing, and money, so far as it was required for the immediate necessities of the survivors. All those who were saved returned to his village on the following day.”
“Additional Particulars of the Burning of the Wisconsin. George Ashworth of Lawrence, Mass., whose name is first on the list of saved from the Ill fated steamer Wisconsin, arrived here on the noon train of the E. W. & O. R. R. yesterday, on his way home, having lost everything he had with him. From him we learn the following interesting additional particulars of the terrible calamity which befell the WISCONSIN, on the night of the 21st. The steamer left the Cape at half past ten by Mr. Ashworth's watch. When seven miles above and abreast of Grenadier Island the cry of fire was started. Mr. A. had not retired and was one of tho first to rush to the point of fire. It broke out on the main deck over the boiler and near the smoke stack and spread rapidly. The Captain behaved heroically and gave his orders with the utmost coolness throughout the trying ordeal. He was ably assisted by the second mate who was the last man to leave the burning vessel. The steamer was at once headed for Grenadier Island and the pony or force pump set to work to check or put out the iire, but all efforts in this direction were unavailing. About twenty minutes after the fire broke out, the steamer struck the shore on Grenadier. One of the boats were lowered for the purpose of landing the passengers, but it had hardly struck the water before it wns filled and swamped. The frantic passengers, and those of the crew, who were more intent in making their own escape than saving the lives of others, jumped from the upper deck, some stricking in the boat and some in the water. Those in the water caught the sides of the boat, and thus, by overloading, swamped her. It was by the swamping of this boat that all the loss of life occurred, and the total number, he thinlcs, will reach twentyfive to thirty. But two persons in this mass were saved—Mr. Chisholm, who lost five of his family, and .a Mrs. Gallagher, who was picked up it mile from the wreck three hours after she grounded.  Mrs. Gallagher had caught hold of a plank, and she was noticed floating away. Search was made twice before she was finally rescued, and when picked up, she was nearly exhausted. The gang plank was launched and rope taken ashore, and down this rope the passengers were passed to the shore; the Captain standing in the water up to his neck, and handng them towards the land, while the Second Mate superintended the launching. A few feet from the vessel the water was shallow enough to permit a six-footer to keep his head above water. There were several small children on board, all of whom were saved. One child, eight months old, was taken by one of tho crew from the arms of its mother. The gallant fellow jumped overboard, and bore his little charge safe to land. Those of the passengers who had retired, did not have time to even dress tlhemselves, and saved only their night clothes. Had the fire occurred a mile above or below the spot where it did, it is Mr Ashworth's opinion, that few would have been saved. The people residing on Grenadier Island did their utmost to relieve the necessities and administer to the wants of the passengers. Up to Wednesday afternoon, at six o'clock, fourteen bodies had been recovered, and the crew were still prosecuting the search. It is proper to state that there are two islands a the upper St. Lawrence named Grenedier— One about twenty-eight miles above this place and the other above Cape Vincent. Not one of the passengers or crew saved an article of any kind beyond what they had upon their backs when the cry of fire was raised. The rescued passengers and crew were bro't to Cape Vincent by trie steamer Watertown, and the ladies and citizens of that place were unremitting in their efforts to supply the wants of the sufferers with food and clothing.”  21 May 1867 Ogdensburg Journal
A report to the Watertown Reformer gave the total loss of life at forty. It will be noticed that all of the lost whose names are reported, except those of the crew are from three families. There were several persons known, to be on board whose names are not reported in either of the above lists.”  1867 Ogdensburg Journal 
“Additional Names of the Lost. The bodies of the following persons not before reported lost, from the "Wisconsin" have been recovered. Artimus White, Henry Chatham, Henry McAlpine, John Goodwin, George Lindsay, James Casey, and A. J. Cook.”  1867 Ogdensburg Journal
“The Wisconsin Disaster. From Captain Keating; who has been at the scene of disaster, we learn that the Wisconsin is a total loss. All that remains of the steamer is the bottom of the hull and a mass of burnt and warped iron. The stem is within thirty feet of the shore in four feet of water, and the stern in eight feet. The vessel burned completely to the water's edge. The fearful loss of life is accounted for as follows : When it became evident that all effort to reduce the fire must fail, the first mate was ordered to lower the large life boat to about a foot of the water's edge in order to ensure the safety of the passengers in case the steamer should fail to reach the shore. The engineers were directed to do the same with one of the other boats. The mate succeeded in getting down the boat as directed and it was filled with passengers. The captain's orders were under no consideration to attempt to, let the boat into the water until the steamer beached or stopped running, but just about a minute before she struck the shore some one cut the forward fall, and dropped the bow of the life boat into the water, and the after fall remaining fast the boat was turned end over end and its precious freight deposited into the lake. The engineers were not seen after receiving the Captain's order”. 1867 Ogdensburg Journal

The Chisholm family lost five members that day and they are buried in Cape Vincent:






Robert Chisholm escaped with a daughter Eliza and two sons, William & John, they are also buried in Cape Vincent:





Robert Chisholm lived the rest of his life in C.V. with various local families,there was a lot of sympathy for him and his family.  He filed a lawsuit against the boat line and in 1869 he won one of the lawsuits.

“Robert Chisholm, who sued the Northern Transportation Company for damages to his person and property, caused by the burning of the steamer Wisconsin, nearly two years ago, near upper Grenadier Island, was recently awarded by the jury $7,800. The prosecution was conducted by Messrs. Kiernan & Seymour, of Utica, and the defence by Mr. Dickman, of Cleveland, and Messrs. Starbuck and Sawyer, of Watertown.

The Watertown Informer says the evidence tended to show over-firing (the Morrison’s), intoxication of the fireman (Joseph Strong and Joseph Johnson), and a remark of the Captain (Townsend) to the effect that he would overtake a certain schooner or sink the boat to hell. There are other cases pending against the Company, involving precisely the same points, in which over $50,000 damages are claimed. The Company will carry the case to the Court of Appeals.

The greatest care has always been exercised by the President and Directors of the Northern Transportation Company in the selection of its employees. The most rigid scrutiny is maintained over the conduct of the officers and crews of the boats, and the least incompetency or disregard for the safety of life or property, is made the occasion of a "ticket of leave." It will be remembered that the accident to the Wisconsin occurred on the first or second trip of the season of 1861.”   1869 Ogdensburg Journal

The Ira Creed family lost three souls that day, with only Ira being spared, one can speculate that he sent his wife and children into the lifeboat to save them, while he stayed behind. Ira, 51, originally from Vermont, he was heading out west with his wife Nancy, 47 and two young children - Catherine, 13 and Fredrick, 7, while daughter Cornelia, 11 was either left behind in SLC or survived the fire.

Another lawsuit filed by the father of Artemas White, also appeared in the papers, but the “tone” is a bit more tongue in cheek, then the one for Mr. Chisholm:

“Mr. Artemas White, of Keeseville, at the court just held in Watertown, has recovered the sum of $1,400 against the Northern Transportation Company of Ohio. This suit was brought to recover for loss of life and property, on the propeller Wisconsin, in May, 1867, near Cape Vincent, when his son, Artemas White, Jr., was drowned. Mr. White himself is now confined at Watertown, from the effects of a fall, which injured his hip severely. Fortunately, an accidental policy yields him $25 a week.” 1870 Ogdensburg Journal