A Terrible Steamboat Accident

07 May

Steamer MAGNOLIA WDH07141855

Steamer MAGNOLIA WDH07141855

Fayetteville Observer - 9 Feb., 1857

Fayetteville Observer - 9 Feb., 1857


Fayetteville Passenger Line.

THE NEW STEAMER “MAGNOLIA” will leave Fayetteville Tuesdays and Fridays at 15 minutes after sunrise, and Wilmington Wednesdays and Saturdays at  o’clock.  Passage $4.


June 14, 1855


Freight and Passenger Line between Wilmington

and Fayetteville.



Leaves Fayetteville on Monday and Thursday mornings, 15 minutes after sun-rise.

Leaves Wilmington on Tuesday and Friday mornings.

Steamer FANNY LUTTERLOH, leaves Fayetteville on Tuesday and Friday mornings, 15 minutes after sun-rise.

Leaves Wilmington Wednesday and Saturday mornings.  Both carrying Freight and Passengers.

Steamers ROWAN, with full sets of Lighters, runs regularly, carrying Freight only.

The regularity of our Boats on all stages of the River, and the dispatch and promptness in delivering goods, are too well known to require comment.

To our patrons we tender our thanks for the very liberal patronage heretofore bestowed, and can assure all shippers that no effort will be spared in future, and feel confident that our facilities for dispatch are equal if not superior to any line on Cape Fear River.


Agent for Lutterloh & Co.

Fayetteville, Oct. 1, 1856

[North Carolina Argus – Fayetteville, NC  –  Saturday, April 25, 1857]



Our community is intensely shocked this morning by intelligence that the Steamer Magnolia, Captain John M. Stedman, burst her boilers and sunk in deep water, near Whitehall, on the Cape Fear River, yesterday morning.  A brief letter from one of the passengers sent by private hand to Mr. W. H. Lutterloh, gives us all the reliable news as yet received.

The letter is dated Wednesday 1 o’clock, and at the time of writing the bodies of seven persons had been found.  The only names mentioned among the killed are those of Captain Stedman and a negro man Charles, one of the boat’s crew, belonging to Mrs. John Murchison.  Thos. S. Lutterloh, Esq., the owner of the Magnolia, was on board and severely hurt.

It is supposed, from the location of the disaster, that there was, as usual, a number of way passengers; and it is feared that some, ladies and children among them, went down with the boat.

Capt. Stedman leaves a large and helpless family, (his wife the daughter of the late Judge Potter.)  We learn that he had a Life Policy of $2000 in the Greensborough Mutual Company.

In addition to the above particulars, we have seen a letter from the Rev. A. Paul Repiton, of Wilmington, who was a passenger on the Magnolia, and who writes from the W. & M. Rail Road, (9 miles from the scene of the disaster,) which he had reached on his return to Wilmington.  He says,–

“By request of Mr. Lutterloh, of your place, I write to inform you that the Magnolia burst her boiler last night about 12 o’clock.  Some 12 or 15 passengers are dead.  Capt. Stedman is also among the missing, and had not been found up to the time I left White Hall, where the accident happened.  Mr. Lutterloh has sustained no injury except in his left shoulder, which it is thought may be dislocated.  I left him at White Hall, where he requested me to write from this point for the sake of his family.”

[Fayetteville Observer – Thursday Evening, February 18, 1858]


We learn that about midnight of Tuesday last, the Steamer Magnolia of the Lutterloh line, which left this place on the afternoon of the same day, stopped at Whitehall landing, Bladen county, some forty-nine miles from Wilmington, to put a passenger ashore. While at the landing, her boiler exploded, making a complete wreck of the boat, and killing and wounding a number of persons. The following are all the particulars of the loss of life that we have been able to learn.

White Persons Killed. – Capt. Stedman, commander of the boat, Dr. Fellows, a young gentleman from Philadelphia, said to have been raised in Sampson; Mr. Tyson; a female from Wilmington, and boy about eight years old, — neither names known.

Colored Persons Killed. — Simon, the cook; Charles, the Pilot, and two or three others. – names unknown. A colored man named Carver, or Carter, was mortally wounded, and another colored man badly hurt, although he may possibly recover.

Mr. T. S. Lutterloh of Fayetteville, was pretty severely injured in the shoulder, but his situation is not supposed to be dangerous. It is proper to remark that the body of Captain Stedman has not been found, but no doubts are entertained of his death. It is believed that some fifteen persons were killed, but our accounts are very meager. Rev. A. P. Repiton, of Wilmington, was on board and made a narrow escape. There were some thirty passengers aboard. The boat was valued at $10,000 . No insurance.

P. S. — We learn that a man named George Payman, or Pearman, from Wilmington, was aboard, accompanying a corpse, which he was carrying up to Fayetteville for interment. The coffin and what it contained were blown to pieces, and the many has not been heard of, so that there is too much reason to fear that he also has been killed.

[Wilmington Daily Journal — Thursday Evening, February 18, 1858]

THE EXPLOSION ON BOARD THE MAGNOLIA.—The only additional particulars of this melancholy affair that we have received, are contained in the communication of our attentive correspondent “Bladen,” who has our thanks for his courtesy.  We would also call attention to the advertisement of Mr. Sikes, who seeks an owner for one hundred and twenty-two dollars in gold found in a buckskin purse, hanging to an oak near the scene of the accident.  The scene must, indeed, have presented a melancholy and pitiable sight, as described by our correspondent, and the news will carry wailing and distress to many a fireside.


For the Journal.

WHITE HALL, Feb. 17th, 1858.

MESSRS. EDITORS: An awful and heart-rending scene is presented here this morning.

On last night, (Tuesday, the 16th inst.,) at 12 o’clock, the steamer Magnolia, Capt. Stedman, while delivering passengers and freight at this place, exploded her boilers, scattering wreck, ruin and death around. I have only time to state a few of the particulars.

Among the whites we have found

Captain John Stedman, killed.

Dr. Milton Fellows, of Bladen, killed.

Thomas J. Tyson, of Cumberland, killed.

James O. West, of Bladen, on the boat, not found.

Susan E. Larry, (or Leary,) formerly of Marion C. H., S. C., late of Norfolk, Va., on the boat, not found.

A small boy named Andrew Bell, on the boat, not found.

Negroes. — Five dead bodies found.

It is though that from five to ten others, white and black, are lsot.

Badly Hurt. – T. S. Lutterloh, arm broken, doing well; Geo. Peaman, Wilmington, badly scalded and otherwise injured; Archibald McRae, son of John McRae, of Harnett county, badly burned; together with several others.

The boat is a total ruin. Parts of her hull, machinery and apparel cover the shore for two hundred yards around.

Harrison Driver, the mate, after being blown overboard into the river, swam to the flat lying at the landing, and was instantly active and efficient in rendering relief. Driver’s conduct merits much praise. The sufferers are being well attended to.

Those of the whites, not here named, who were known to have been on the boat, are saved.

The most melancholy and pitiable sight is presented here. Frightful and horribly distorted corpses lie scattered around.        Yours in great haste,


[Wilmington Daily Journal – Friday Evening, February 19, 1858]

THE WHITEHALL DISASTER.—Nothing positive has been added to the statement published in the last Observer, except the names (in part) of the killed and wounded.  We have been unable to obtain a list of those on board the Magnolia, (supposed to number 35 to 40) at the time of the explosion, or a complete list of the saved.  Eleven persons are known to have been killed, and one of the wounded negroes has since died.  From five to ten other negroes are reported among the missing, and are believed to have been killed.

The fullest statement we have seen is contained in the annexed letter, which from its date, should have reached us in time for the last Observer, but only came to hand by yesterday’s (Sunday) mail.

The general opinion here as to the cause of the disaster differs from that entertained by our correspondent’s informants.  It is most commonly supposed that the explosion was caused by the rush of cold water upon the heated and exhausted boilers; not by a head of steam too large for their capacity.  We have heard that the Magnolia was permitted by the U. S. Examining Officer to carry 125 lbs., and that there were not on board weights to enable her to carry more.  But all these matters will of course be investigated, and it is proper in the meantime that the views of those on board should be made known, as they are by our correspondent, that if erroneous, they may be rectified.  Mr. Lutterloh, as soon as he recovers, intends, as we hear, to make a thorough investigation.

Letter to the Editors of the Observer, dated,

ELIZABETHTOWN, Feb. 17, 1858.

MESSRS. EDITORS:  The citizens of this community were called upon, on yesterday, to witness the most melancholy and awful scene perhaps ever exhibited within the borders of our State.

The steamer Magnolia, Captain John M. Stedman, while lying at the wharf at Whitehall, on Tuesday night the 16th inst., exploded her boilers, scattering wreck and death on every hand!

From all the information which I could gather in the hurry and confusion incident to this accident, it appears that the boat had been running under unusual pressure of steam, which was not permitted to escape after she was stopped to deliver a passenger and a few articles of freight.  The fire in the furnace was very high, steam was fast generating, and an additional weight having been applied to the lever which commands the escape at the safety-valve, no change was given it to expend its force, save in the way it did.

At about the hour of 11 o’clock “there came a burst of thunder sound,” shaking, jarring and blowing into a million of atoms the hull, apparel and machinery of the boat, and hurling for hundreds of feet on every side human bodies, fragments of iron, wood and clothing, strewing and lining the shore so completely with particles of the wreck that one could scarcely have escaped unhurt had he been standing a hundred feet away on any side.

The report of the explosion was heard for nine miles so distinctly as to awaken persons from sleep.

The boiler, weighing two or three thousand pounds, was blown at least three hundred feet over a store-house some 30 or 40 feet high, striking in its flight and breaking a stick of ton-timber 16 inches square, upsetting two others, and cutting off two trees at least eight inches through!

Of the immense force exerted in this explosion, I can give you no adequate idea.  Description is too meager to convey a commensurate sense of it.  Bolts and bars of iron were cast as mere playthings from its giant blast.  The tree-tops round about are hung full of great sheets of the deck, and articles of clothing flutter from the branches as though they had been vomited from her boiling cauldron and hung there to dry.*  A portion of a door, with the lock attached, was found at least six hundred feet from the wreck!

The hull of the boat is torn to fragments, and presents the idea of a huge mastodonic skeleton exhumed, with its big ribs alone remaining to outline its form!

One can hardly conceive that so much force and power could possibly be shut up and confined in so small a compass.  In short, sirs, the Magnolia is a total wreck.  Her furniture, machinery and fixments generally are torn into fragments.  Had natural and artificial force combined to despoil her of her fair proportions, they could not have succeeded more effectually in accomplishing her end.

I am not, at this time, sufficiently quiet in feeling to give you a particular account of all that this scene presented.  I have not been accustomed to look upon death in such hideous and distorted shapes as there seemed to mock the observer.  Here and there lay the dead, bruised, blackened and mangled; ghastly wounds, exuding blood, shocked me on every side, and my tears were dried up in their very fountain by this sirocco of death!  May it never blow in our midst again!

Among the whites killed the bodies of the following persons have been found:  Capt. John M. Stedman, dreadfully torn and disfigured; Dr. Milton Fellows of Bladen, (a bar or bolt of iron entered his throat just under his chin, and passed out at or near the mould of his head); Thomas I. Tyson, Cedar Creek, Cumberland.

In addition, the following whites are thought to have been killed,–(they were known to have been on the boat and have not since been heard from)—James O. West, Bladen; Susan E. Leary, formerly of Marion Court House, S. C., late of Norfolk, Va.; Andrew Bell, a small boy, in company with the above.

Among the negroes, have been found the bodies of five.  It is believed that from five to ten others are lost.

Wounded.— Mr. Lutterloh,, arm broken and bruised—doing well; Arch’d, son of John McRae, of Harnet, badly scalded; George Pearman, Wilmington, slightly scalded and otherwise injured; several negroes, one mortally.


Mr. John W. Sikes advertises in the Wilmington Journal for the owner of $122 in gold, found in a buck-skin purse hanging to an oak near the scene of the disaster.—OBS.

It is thought that at least thirteen lives have been lost by this explosion.  It is not for me to say how it occurred.  No one can tell positively where the blame, if any, should lie.

I have been told that one of the Captains of the boats on the River gives it as his opinion that the boiler exploded from gas; that the boiler was perfect and capable of resisting a pressure of one hundred and sixty pounds of steam without danger, if properly supplied with water.  Persons who were on the boat, however, generally believe that she was carrying too much steam.

Great credit is due to Harrison Driver, the mate, for his very prompt and efficient services in rendering relief.  Driver was thrown overboard into the River, but, with great presence of mind, he swam to the ferry flat with which he was instantly active at the wreck.

There is a sad and poignant regret in the death of poor Fellows.  He had labored hard and sedulously against opposing circumstances in life to acquire a place in the Medical profession, and was just returning from Philadelphia, ‘bouyant and happy, to his home and friends, when, alas for human hopes and promises!  he was cut down at the very threshold!

——“Earthly things

Are but the transient pageant of an hour,

And earthly pride is like the passing flower

That springs to fall, and blossoms but to die.

In a hasty and random way I have noted some few incidents of this calamitous mishap.  It came upon us “as a thief in the night.”  Let us hope that our eyes may never look upon its like again, and that God may so comfort the heart of the widow and the fatherless, as ere long sunshine and joy may take the place of sadness and sorrow.

P. S.  Driver, the mate, testified before the jury of inquest that the boat had been running for several weeks without the services of the steam-guage,–by guess.  The guage was out of fix.  The community should have known this, or the boat should have been taken from her work.

  1. BLADEN.

[finger pointing >] Just as we are going to press, we learn from Mr. T. S. Lutterloh, that the statement as to the Steam-Guage is entirely without foundation, as he knows from personal examination.


The remains of Capt. John M. Stedman, of the ill-fated steamer Magnolia, were followed to the grave, on Friday afternoon, by the Order of Odd Fellows, the Independent Company, and a large number of citizens.  A tribute to his memory, handed us this morning by one who knew and loved him well, we are compelled by press of matter to postpone till Thursday.

[Fayetteville Observer – Monday Evening, February 22, 1858]


MESSRS. HALE:–Gentlemen:  Will you kindly allow me space in the Observer for a brief tribute to the memory of Mr. Fellow, medical student, on the Magnolia at the time of the explosion.  He was indeed a worthy young man:  for a stranger to know him was to respect and admire him; for friends to be associated with him was to love him.  John Milton Fellow is lost to us,–struck down in the dawn of usefulness to his countrymen, of honorable advancement to himself,–one likely to have proved an ornament to any community, an undoubted credit to this his native State.  Again we are invited to repeat the poetic sentiment—alas, too often realized!—“Death loves a shining mark.”  Again we are summoned to bow, mutely resigned, beneath the weight of an inscrutable dispensation of Providence.  We are smitten—we are smitten with the rod of affliction; but let us not presume to murmur, let not the bereaved mourn us those without hope—without Heavenly Consolation.

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense;

But trust Him for His grace

Behind a frowning Providence

He hides a shining face.”


Mt. Zion, South River, 8th March.


An Incident.—A friend sends the following:  When the Magnolia exploded on the Cape Fear, an old negro man, the cook, was fatally injured.  Being found horribly scalded he seemed cheerful and happy, and exclaimed “Glory to god.  I am going home to heaven.”  It was astonishing to observe the difference in death, between the triumph of this poor old negro, and others whose tortures did not appear to be alleviated by the Christian’s faith.  “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.”

N. C. Christian Advocate.

Poor old Simon!  For about forty years he was a faithful steward, mostly on one boat—the old Henrietta — on the Cape Fear.  He was faithful in life,, and was not without Hope in his death.

[Fayetteville Observer – March 15, 1858]

Excerpt from the article, “THE STEAMER R. E. LEE”, regarding her boiler explosion in August of 1871.

“… the the same engine and machinery now on the Lee was used on the ill fated Magnolia that blew up near White Hall in 1858, when Capt. J. M. Steadman and others were killed…”

[The Eagle – Fayetteville, NC – Thursday, August 24, 1871]

John Madison Stedman marker in Cross Creek Cemetery, Fayetteville, NC.

John Madison Stedman Grave Marker

John Madison Stedman Grave Marker

The Cape Fear River Steamers

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