Daily Event for January 3, 2008

At eleven thirty PM on January 3, 1844 the paddle steamer Shepherdess hit a snag on the Mississippi River only three miles from Market Street, St. Louis, Missouri. The disaster took place on what is said to have been the coldest day of the season so far and the people on board were needless to say, unprepared for a midnight swim in a freezing river. The majority of free passengers had turned in for the night and were in their berths when the incident occurred. Many of the other "passengers" were most likely below decks presumably restrained somehow. They were not convicts this was 1844, they were salves.

From reports the first snag holed her hull and water began to fill the boat quickly, she then drifted several
hundred yards down river and hit another snag, this one caused the ship to lurch to starboard throwing several people into the water. Drifting aimlessly and uncontrollably the ship hit a bar which caused the hull and the cabin to part, the hull sank but the cabin continued down river. It passed the SS Henry Bry, whose captain was alerted by the crys of those on board. He and his crew saved many of those people. It is said he "worked until he was entirely covered with ice."

One man sighted for his heroic efforts was Robert Bullock of Maysville, Kentucky. He was apparently up
when the accident happened and instead of saving himself he concentrated on saving the women and children on board. Even after all the other men had abandoned the cabin he stayed below searching for survivors, finding several children and saving them. The final person he rescued was described as "The Ohio fat woman 240 lbs," he passed her up to the hurricane deck, two or three others lifted her out of the wreck. Even when he finally left the cabin and swam to shore his effort was not finished. Without a coat (he had given it to a lady on the wreck who had none,) he found two women on shore who were freezing and were "determined to go to sleep" which surely would have killed them. He kept them awake and made sure they made it to safety.

It is not known the exact number of those who died, but from reports of the time it is between 30 and 100, most of them being slaves. This fact was glossed over for the most part by the papers of the time who focused their attention on the "white" passengers. I could only find one report that even mentioned them and one other report which stated "one man lost 30 slaves." I found several accounts of tragic stories of women and children who had died and this is a tragedy, apparently at the time a slave freezing and dying was not on the same level as I found no accounts of their pains.
© 2008 Michael W. Pocock