Daily Event for February 28, 2008

Built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1843 the USS Princeton was the U.S. Navy's first screw frigate, she was
164' long and displaced 954 tons. During her trials in late Oct. 1843 she even engaged in a race against the
Great Western, a British sidewheeler who at the time held the Blue Riband, easily outrunning the ship.

Captain Robert F. Stockton USN, was the new ships strongest advocate even aiding in the design of one of the main guns. The two 12" guns, named Oregon and Peacemaker were made of wrought-iron parts welded together, a design normally used on much smaller weapons of the time. Oregon was manufactured in England
while Peacemaker was designed and built in New York. Stockton used the basic design of the Oregon, but
had little understanding of the hoop construction of the English gun, this caused him to reinforce the breech
by increasing the thickness of the iron in that area. Stockton was so impressed with the design and construction of Peacemaker after it's trial he said "it's perfect" he also said he believed "no charge of powder could damage it" This was a disaster waiting to happen, and on Feb. 28, 1844 disaster struck.

With over 200 people on board, USS Princeton sailed from Alexandria, Virginia, the guests included
President of the United States John Tyler and members of his cabinet, also on board were New York State
Senator David Gardiner, his daughter Julia and former First Lady of the United States Dolley Madison,
Captain Stockton in command. As they proceeded down the Potomac River Stockton fired the Peacemaker twice to demonstrate the power of his new warship. After the demonstration the assembled crowd retired below deck
for dinner.

After dinner some wanted to see the gun fired again and so Stockton obliged, he had 25 pounds of powder
loaded and fired the gun, upon detonation of the powder the gun exploded sending shrapnel into the bystanders, killing six of them and injuring twenty others. President Tyler was still below decks and was uninjured, however the Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur, Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gilmer, Chief of the Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repairs Capt. Beverly Kennon, Representative Virgil Maxey of Maryland, Senator David Gardiner and President Tyler's valet, a slave who had been brought to the United States on the Amistad. Twenty others including Capt. Stockton lay injured on the deck.

When Julia Gardiner learned of her fathers death she fainted into President Tyler's arms. Some four months
later the two would marry. Stockton survived and went on to serve in the Navy and achieved the rank of
Commodore, he also had four U.S. Navy ships named in his honor, later he was elected U.S. Senator from New Jersey. Stockton died in 1866.
© 2008 Michael W. Pocock

Portrait of the explosion of the Peacemaker on the USS Princeton by Nathan Currier.


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