Disaster on the Potomac

Today in History, February 28: 1844 – The Peacemaker Disaster. President Tyler, Secretary of State Abel Upshur, Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gilmer, New York financier David Gardiner, his daughter Julia and several hundred other dignitaries are aboard the new steamship USS Princeton sailing on the Potomac River to review the ship and her new 14 inch guns. The guns had already been fired twice in demonstration, and the party had moved below decks. One of the dignitaries suggested firing the “Peacemaker” one more time in honor of George Washington. Once the observers had moved back upstairs the gun was fired…and exploded. 6 were killed, including Upsher, Gilmer and Gardiner. 20 others were injured including famous Senator Thomas Hart Benton and Captain Robert F. Stockton. President Tyler, below decks, escaped injury. When Julia Gardiner head of her father’s death, she fainted, falling into Tyler’s arms. Tyler, a 54-year-old widower, had already proposed marriage to 20-year-old Julia; they were married four months later. The disaster led to re-engineering of naval guns and the processes used in their construction, making them much safer.

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