The death of Annie Thwing / by Jason Turgeon

I’ve written before about the Thwing family, but today I came across some more information.  In July of 1856, the Thwing family was traveling, possibly on vacation.  They traveled by coach to the shores of Lake George at Ticonderoga, where they boarded a 140’ steamer with a paddle wheel on each side.  The ship had been delayed for several hours by late-arriving passengers and was pushing hard to make up time.

Not long after leaving, traveling at the then-rapid pace of 10 miles per hour, the ship’s engine room caught fire.  The ship’s small crew steered the boat, which was just a short distance from land, towards the shore but there was panic among the 80 or so passengers.  The ship had no functioning life preservers and only one lifeboat, which Supply Clap Thwing is reported to have tried and failed to launch before the fire reached it and burned it in place.

As the ship approached land it struck a rock and stopped abruptly.  Parts of the ship were in shallow water, while others were in much deeper water.  Several passengers either jumped or were thrown off the deck by the collision, and 7 women died.  If I had to guess, I would say that the women were likely to have been wearing large dresses with several layers of undergarments, so they probably never stood a chance in the masses of heavy, wet clothing.

Among the dead were Supply’s wife Annie and her sister Caroline Belknap.  Young Walter Eliot, then just 7 years old, survived the incident along with his father but unfortunately had to witness his mother’s drowning.  The paper doesn’t say if young Annie Haven, who was 5 years old at the time, was also on board but it seems likely that the family was traveling together.  A young girl was reported to have been placed on top of a box and floated to shore—the box contained a number of rattlesnakes belonging to one “old Dick, the rattlesnake man.”  The girl and snakes all survived. It’s pure conjecture on my part to guess that this might have been Annie Haven, but it’s possible.

Annie and Caroline were given a service at the First Church presided over by Reverend Putnam.  Annie is buried at Forest Hills Cemetery in the family plot.  I don’t know Caroline’s final resting place but there’s a good chance that she is also at Forest Hills.

This must have been a tremendous blow to Supply Clap, especially as he had lost 2 infant daughters, one in 1853 and the other just a year earlier in 1855.  But he went on to recovery and lived another 21 years.  Walter lived on until 1935 and Annie Haven made it until 1940 at her home at 65 Beech Glen St.

There’s an interesting first-hand account of the disaster, complete with a heartbreaking description of Walter’s attempts to wade into the water to save his mother, in the New York Times.  There’s also something of a rebuttal to that version of things that attempts to portray the captain and crew of the John Jay in a slightly better light.

Thwing Family headstone at Forest Hills