Canal break at Williamsport, 1855
From the Williamsport Journal of Saturday last.
Canal Break — Loss of Life.
A serious occurrence took place on Wednesday night last near Piper’s warehouse on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. A heavy thunder storm had passed over that portion of country during the evening, swelling the streams to such an extent as to do considerable damage, the culvert near the warehouse was washed out, leaving a breach in the Canal of so great magnitude that it will require several weeks before it can be repaired and navigation resumed.
Shortly after the break had occurred, a boat belonging to Mr. William Crown, with a cargo of coke, came along and proceeded nearly to the frightful chasm before the hands were aware of the occurrence or of their own danger. They had sufficient time, however to jump off and thus fortunately save their lives. Two other men were on board as passengers who did not jump off as the captain directed, and the consequence way they passed through the aperture with the boat and were drowned.— The boat and cargo is a total loss to Mr. Brown. It will cost the Canal Company no little amount of money to repair it, and is a serious drawback to all engaged in the boating business.
The names of the unfortunate men who were drowned we have ascertained to be Mr. K. W. Dunham, of Cumberland, and J. Miller Cole, the notorious State’s witness in the cases of robbery which were perpetrated here last winter. He had been retained several months in the County Jail as an evidence to appear in the last one of these cases which came up before the Circuit Court for this County on Tuesday last. The case having been decided, he was discharged the same day, when he proceeded direct to the Canal, got aboard this boat, and in a few hours after met an untimely fate. The bodies had not been recovered at last accounts.
A little boy on board the boat miraculously escaped. He was asleep in the cabin when the boat passed through the breach, he was awakened by the occurrence, and found himself surrounded by water. He clambered on to the deck of the rear cabin which just protruded out of the water, and whilst in this situation he heard the mules which were in the stable on board the boat, splashing and kicking, when he immediately proceeded to the stable, having to wade the race-plank to reach it, and cut the halters, which leaving them free, they jumped out and swam to shore thus saving for Mr. Brown three fine mules. This presence of mind and noble action on the part of a boy of his age is highly commendable. He then proceeded again to the cabin and called for help, and was shortly after rescued from his perilous situation.
Herald of Freedom & Torch Light
C&O National Historic Park
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (Md.); Washington County (Md.), History