1819 Drowning

The Great Drowning

from the Napanee Beaver, April 30th, 1897

Probably the most memorable drowning accident that ever occurred in this county was just in front of the old Adolphustown Methodist Church, on Sunday morning, August 29th, 1819. Though nearly seventy-nine years have since elapsed, and every one who ever witnessed that sad catastrophe has long since passed away, yet the remembrance of it still remains fresh with nearly all the descendants of the families of those days.

The circumstances were substantially as follows; There had been a great revival in the Methodist societies in nearly every part of this county that year, and the preachers then in charge of the Bay of Quinte circuit, Revs. Isaac Puffer and James Wilson, had arranged for a special quarterly meeting in the Adolphustown church for that day. A quarterly meeting at that time was almost sure to bring out a number of the zealous people from every society in the county. Those from all parts of North Fredericksburgh and the northern part of Adolphustown had to cross Hay Bay in small boats; the bay just opposite the old church is about a mile and a half wide. Barnard Cole and his family lived across the bay from the church; he owned a pretty large, skiff which was quite a rarity then, as the old time log canoes were much in use. That Sunday morning more assembled to cross at that place than it was safe for even his large boat to carry.

Some, it is said, would not venture in the boat at all, under the circumstances, and some who did so got out again and strongly urged their friends to do so. Among the latter was the late Gilbert Bogart, who died years ago at his farm at Riverside, on the Deseronto road now owned by Mrs. R Thompson. Feeling there was so much danger he went away crying because he could not prevail on his brother Peter to get out also. Peter was one of the victims. They were both young men at that time.

The morning was calm and beautiful; there was scarcely a ripple on the waters of the bay, and the owner of the boat had full confidence in its capacity to carry all its precious cargo, and more too. He strongly urged all to get in. Four of his own family were among the number, three of whom escaped. His son, the late Conrad B. Cole, who died an old man in North Fredericksburgh a few years ago, was one of the survivors, and has frequently told the writer of the events of that memorable day, and pointed out to him the exact spot where the boat filled and the drowning took place. It is not to be wondered at that every incident in connection with that catastrophe was indelibly fixed in his memory to the end of life.

There were eighteen in the boat all of whom, with the exception of Barnard Cole and his wife, were young people. They were all members of the Methodist church, and most of them recent converts. Everything went smoothly and pleasantly at first and the young people had been singing hymn after hymn among the popular revival hymns of those days. When half way over it was found the boat was leaking very freely and settling lower in the water in consequence. A bailing dish had been forgotten, and the men at the oars began to pull with all their strength, seeing the danger that thus threatened them. Finally it occurred to one of them to use his Sunday hat for bailing purposes, but by that time the water was pouring in too fast to be thus got rid of.

The Calamity Occurs

When within about forty rods from shore, Peter German, one of the young men, said to the others he was a good swimmer and would jump out and swim to shore, and thus lighten the load. In doing so he thoughtlessly stepped on the edge of the boat, tipping it so that water poured in over the top. That alarmed the already much frightened young women who suddenly leaned to the other side, settling it so much that the boat at once filled with water, partly upsetting at the same time. Of course now all was confusion and dismay. The young women, who could not swim struggled and clung to each other and in this way they were all drowned. Peter Bogart, one of the young men, though a good swimmer, is said to have been carried down by some clinging to him whom he was trying to save. John German, who was also a good swimmer, turned back to help when he heard the cries of his sister but she had sank beneath his reach when he got there. He then became so bewildered that he did not attempt to swim to shore again, but swam around and up and down the bay until he sank exhausted. His body was found some distance from the others, and was not recovered until the next day. Those who had enough presence of mind to cling to the boat were kept floating until help came, but ten of the eighteen were drowned.

Some Of The Incidents

Years ago, every family about the bay had its store of incidents to tell about that great drowning. It would require a volume almost to have related them all. It is said that the preliminary prayer meeting had began and one had just prayed "make this a day long to be remembered,: when the first shriek was heard. Rev. Isaac Puffer was in charge of the meeting and looking up, he at once saw the terrible struggle only a few rods away from the church. He at once called out "our friends out in the bay are in distress," and all rushed out on the banks.

The church stands within a few rods of the water's edge. The scenes on the shore are represented to have been even more heart rending than those in the water. Some were witnessing the struggle of their own children or near relatives. Some tore their hair or their clothing in their agony. Some are said to have rolled on the ground in their agony, others seemed paralyzed at the sight. Prayers and appeals went up to God from the hundreds thus assembled.

Boats were near by and soon several were called out to the rescue. Seven were picked up who had been clinging to the boat. One, Mrs. Cole, was found floating on her back in the water, past consciousness, but was resuscitated soon after. She lived many years after and used to frequently say that she found drowning easy and painless, but the agonies of resuscitation were such that she wished they had left her as she was. Some of the others were also restored with considerable difficulty but all the survivors lived many years.

The Victims

The names of those drowned will be found in the verse here appended. The first named, John and Jane German, were young people of the same family, children of Stophel German, a local preacher and one of the first subscribers for the building of the church. The late Nathan German of North Fredericksburgh, George German, of Gosport, and Mrs. Wm. Vallear of Richmond, were members of the same family. Their parents witnessed the terrible scene from the shore and the agony of the mother was said to have been dreadful to witness. She was a beautiful singer, but never was heard to sing again though she lived nearly forty years after. They lived on the north shore, on the beautiful farm now owned by Mr. James Jaynes.

Peter Bogart's parents lived next farm, Abraham and "Polly" Bogart, the latter of whom lived to be over a hundred years of age. The large and well know Bogart family, of Adolphustown, were all of the same family. Our townsmen, Messrs. G. Bogart, postmaster: J.M. Bogart, and Marshall Bogart, of "Riverside" are all nephews. It is said that Peter Bogart and Jane German were to have been soon married and it was in striving to save her life he lost his own.

Mary Cole lived next farm, the daughter of Barnard Cole, already referred to. She was soon to have been married to Joseph Johnson of Prince Edward, near Picton, who was also one of the company that day but survived. She had a presentiment of some such sudden death in a dream the night previous, and told Mr. Johnson of it in the morning. Mary and Jane Detlor were from North Fredericksburgh, and lived on the farm now owned by our townsman, W. Nelson Doller, Esq. They were connected with the Detlor families now living in Napanee and this vicinity.

Betsy McCay also lived in the same vicinity, on Little Creek, she was a sister of the late Asa McCay, of Clarksville, and A.B. McCay, Esq., who lived and died on the old homestead. Huldah Madden lived on the boundary line between Fredericksburgh and Ernesttown, a concession north of where the Morven brick church now stands, near the farm of Robert Collins, Esq. She was a sister of the late Stauts S. Madden, father of Mr. W.D. Madden, of Napanee, and Wm. Madden, York Road, who died a few months ago.

Matilda Roblin was a member of the large Roblin family still residing in this county, but where she lived we do not know. She was a sister of the late David Philip Roblin and Mrs. Geo. H. Detlor. Betsy Clark, was, we believe, a daughter of Elias Clark, on the "back bay" of Adolphustown, a family well known to all the old residents. So far as we can ascertain they were all of U.E. Loyalist families.

Recovering And Burying The Bodies

Burger Huyck, living on the north shore, on the farm now occupied by Samuel Hawley, his son-in-law, was an expert fisherman and had a fishing seine. This was at once got and brought over. It was cast about the scene of the calamity and at the one draw, eight of the dead bodies were brought to shore. The ninth was got soon after, but it was not till the next morning that the body of John German was found, as he had swam some distance off before he finally sank. The church was at once transformed into a morgue; of course all the regular services for that day were broken up.

Carpenters were at once got and the work of coffin making began - there were no professional undertakers in this country then. Word went speedily around and the absent friends soon began to arrive. The next day the funeral took place, the ten coffins all being placed in a row outside of the church. Such a concourse of people had gathered that the church could only hold a part of them. The preacher was Isaac Puffer, then a well known "circuit rider" here, who afterwards went to the States, where he lived and died. He was a very eccentric man and knew every chapter and verse of scripture by heart, and could readily quote any verse, or tell at once where any quoted passage could be found. The writer well remembers hearing him preach to a large congregation in the same church during a visit to his old time circuit, late in the forties. He was then a venerable and gray haired old man. So affecting was that funeral scene that, over and over again would the preacher break down and nearly the entire congregation break out into sobbings and tears.

Eight of the graves were side by side in the old burying ground just opposite the church. The ninth was laid beside some other member of her family. One, Mary Cole, was buried on the north side of the bay in the well known burial place there, on her father's farm, where nearly all the earlier settlers of that section found their last resting place. Strange to say there does not remain anything now to mark even the spot where all these memorable graves are, though the ground is in a good state of preservation. It is said, however, to be located about the middle of that historic old "God's acre."

The following lines were composed and printed soon after and sold in separate slips by the many hundreds.. At one time, there were few houses in all the old Midland district in which copies could not be found, and nearly all the young people for two generations committed them to memory. We doubt if any other production, crude as it is, was ever so extensively read and committed to memory in this part of Upper Canada. The Beaver has formerly published them but as many are still asking for them they are again re-produced in these columns. Some have attributed their authorship to Isaac Files, then a school teacher in Prince Edward, Rev. John Carroll, Mr. Playter and others claim they were written by Alexander Shorts, who lived and died in Richmond, a few miles west of Selby. Our friend, W. S. William, Esq., now of California has informed us it was his father, the late Isaac Williams, who was well known to many in Napanee some years ago. He was then a young man residing near Picton.

Thomas W. Casey


A Ballad On The Death Of Ten Young People, Drowned In Hay Bay

Come all you good people, of every degree,
Read over these lines, which are penned down by me.
And when you are reading these lines, which are true,
Remember this warning is also to you.

In the year of our Lord, 1819,
On the 29th of August, on Sunday I mean -­
The place where it happened I'll also put down,
But the loss I can't tell of , in Adolphustown.

These people were all in good health and in prime,
All modestly clothed in apparel so fine, -­
To Church they were going, their God to adore -­
To reach the said place they had Hay Bay to cross o'er.

The boat being small, and their number eighteen,
To go over together they all ventured in; -­
They launched away singing a sweet excise,
Their moment near by them was hid from their eyes.

The voice of Jehovah speaks unto us all;
Always to be ready, to go at his call,
And when you are reading these mournful lines o'er,
Death may be sent for you, and enter your door.

The boat being leaky, the water came in
To bale with their hats, they too late did begin.
They looked at each other and began for to weep.
The boat filled with water and sank in the deep.

Their friends on the shore then for help flew with speed,
And eight of the number from the water they freed;
There were brothers and sisters and parents also,
Soon heard the sad story, which filled them with woe.

A seine was preparing to draw them to land
Their friends all a-weeping, around them did stand;
Such cries and lamentings were never before,
The loss was so fatal, that none could restore.