Other Event Detail

Steamship Lexington Fire
Long Island Sound (off Eatons Neck), NY

January 13, 1840

The paddlewheel steamship Lexington was the fastest vessel which traveled from New York City to Boston, during 1835-1840. It departed its pier on Manhattan's East River at 4 p.m. on January 13, 1840. At 7:30 p.m., the ship's first mate noticed that the woodwork and casings about the smokestack were on fire. At that point, the ship was four miles off Eaton's Neck on the north shore of Long Island, New York. The ship's crewmembers used a hand-pumped fire engine, and buckets to put water on the fire. But, they were not able to put it out, and the ship's three lifeboats were prepared for launch. The ship's paddlewheel was still churning at full speed, since crewmen could not reach the engine room to shut off the boilers. The first boat was sucked into the wheel, killing its occupants. The Captain of the ship had fallen into the lifeboat and was among those killed. The ropes used to lower the other two boats were cut incorrectly. The boats to hit the water stern-first and promptly sank. An attempt was made to steer towards shore to ground the ship. But, the drive rope that controlled the rudder burned through, and the engine stopped two miles from shore. The ship drifted away from land. In addition to the 143 passengers and crew, the ship also carried 150 bales of cotton. The cotton ignited, causing the fire to spread from the smokestack to the entire superstructure. Passengers and crew threw empty baggage containers and bales of cotton into the water to be used as rafts. The center of the main deck collapsed shortly after 8:00 p.m. The fire spread so that most of the passengers and crew were forced to jump into the sub-zero water by midnight. Those who had nothing to climb onto quickly succumbed to hypothermia. The ship was still burning when it sank at 3:00 a.m. on January 14th. Of the 143 people on board, only four survived.

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