Fire Aboard the Steamship Phoenix
This terrible accident occurred about four o'clock on the morning of the 21st of November, 1847, on Lake Michigan, within seventeen miles of Sheboygan.
The fire was first discovered under the deck, near the back end of the boiler ; but it soon spread in every direction through the boat. There were more than two hundred passengers on board, and it soon became manifest that, with the means of escape which offered, not more than one-third of them could be saved. The excitement, consternation and despair which then prevailed among so many people doomed to a horrible death, cannot be depicted by any human language. About thirty of the passengers betook themselves to the small boats, which would contain no more, and they were taken up by the steamer Delaware, which soon hove in. sight, but not in time to save those who remained on board the Phoenix, more than one hundred and sixty persons, all of whom were drowned or burnt to death.
Richard Sherman, 21 years old, and the son of the original captain, Jahaziel Sherman, commanded the ship. The elder Sherman was convalescing at home with the flu. The ship was about 12 miles north of Burlington, Vermont, when the alarm was given that a fire had broken out in the Phoenix. Apparently some members of the crew after a midnight meal left a candle burning in the galley. Within minutes the ship was ablaze and havoc ruled the ship. As the passengers rushed for the two lifeboats, the young captain brandished two pistols and proceeded to direct an orderly evacuation of the burning ship. Fanned by a north wind, the Phoenix soon was a glowing ember.