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Burning of the SS G. P. Griffith - Lake Erie 1850; 241- 289 Souls Lost #maritimehistory

The SS G. P. Griffith was a passenger steamer that burned and sank on Lake Erie on 17 June 1850, resulting in the loss of between 241 and 289 lives.

The destruction of the G. P. Griffith was the greatest loss of life on the Great Lakes up to that point, and remains the third-greatest today, after the SS Eastland in 1915 and the Lady Elgin in 1860.

On 16 June 1850, the G. P. Griffith departed Buffalo, New York, heading for Toledo, Ohio with stops along the way. The Griffith was carrying 326 passengers, many of whom were recent immigrants from England, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia The G. P. Griffith stopped at Erie, Pennsylvania, and Fairport, Ohio, then departed Fairport for Cleveland.

Around 4 am on 17 June, the Griffith was about two miles out of Fairport when the ship's wheelsman, Richard Mann, reported sparks shooting up around the ship's smokestacks.C. C. Roby, the ship's captain, ordered the ship's course altered towards the shore.

The Griffith's speed fanned the flames, consuming the aft of the ship and forcing the passengers forward. The crew abandoned their posts, causing the Griffith's engines to run out of steam and the paddle wheels to slow and stop. However, the ship's momentum carried it forward until it hit a sandbar in water eight feet deep less than half a mile from the beach. Flames quickly consumed the ship, burning to death anyone left aboard.

Many passengers jumped into the water, where most drowned or were pulled under by other panicked passengers who could not swim. The ship's mate swam ashore and found a small boat, which he used to go back and rescue others.

Captain Roby threw his wife into the lake in an attempt to save her, then did the same for his mother, his child, and the wife of the ship's barber before jumping in himself. The Captain and his family perished, but the barber's wife survived, the only woman to do so.


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