Shipwreck of the Steam-Packet Home
On Saturday afternoon, John D. Roland left New York on the steam-packet Home bound for Charleston. His trip quickly took a turn for the worst. By Monday morning, the ship encountered a violent hurricane in the waters around Cape Hatteras and was taking on water. All hands were at the pumps, women included, bailing out water, but the leak continued to increase. After water reached the engine, Captain Carleton White decided to beach the vessel in order to save the passengers and crew on board. At around ten o'clock in the evening, the Home struck the outer breakers a quarter mile from the shore. Roland reported, In an instant after the strike, all was utter confusion and alarm. Men, women and children screamed in the most agonizing manner, fearful of the almost certain death that lay before them. Amid all the chaos, Mr. Roland shed all his clothes except for his shirt and pantaloons and dived into the turbulent waters. Somehow, he managed to escape death and made it to the shore - though the current had swept him a mile and a half to the south.
Roland recalled how the scene the next morning was too horrid to describe. The engine and the boiler being the only unbroken relics of what was the beautiful packet Home. The shore was lined with bodies constantly coming up. All hands were engaged in collecting them together. In a letter to the owners of the Home, Captain White estimated the death toll at around 80 souls. After the catastrophe, Roland returned to New York and told his story.
Steam vessels like the Home always passed through the sea lanes off the Outer Banks. It was not uncommon for vacationers there to see as many as half a dozen vessels off the shore. The navigation of these sea routes enabled better access to local and national markets, fueling the economic development of North Carolina in the 1840s and 1850s. But how did the South respond to the maritime disaster of the Home? First, questions were raised about the safety of these steam-packets that were designed for luxury more than performance, in order to compete with railroad travel. Southerners looked to the steam vessels of Britain for engineering standards. A more illuminating response was the consideration of religion. One Reverend, clinging to a piece of luggage, was heard to utter these words in the frigid waters of the Outer Banks: He that trusts in Jesus is safe, even in the perils of the sea. If there was one thing common to Southern society, it was that most people found ultimate solace in religion. After the shipwreck, it was the only way to make sense of the destruction. Accordingly, Reverends throughout the area consoled their congregations, reminding them of God's divine plan even in the face of such a catastrophe.
- David Stick, The Outer Banks of North Carolina, 1584-1958 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1958), 107-116.
- James W. Hale, Authentic account of the loss of Steam Packet Home, from New-York bound to Charleston (New York, NY: J.F. Trow, 1837).
- Thomas Smyth, The voice of God in calamity: Reflections on the loss of the steam-boat Home, October 9, 1837. A sermon delivered in the Second Presbyterian Church, Charleston, on Sabbath morning, October 22, 1837. (Charleston, S.C.: Jenkins & Hussey, 1837).
- Hugh Talmage Lefler and Albert Ray Newsome, The History of a Southern State: North Carolina (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1973), 391.