Belle Zane [Steamboat]

The Belle Zane was a sternwheel river packet that struck a snag on the Mississippi River about twelve miles below the mouth of the White River on the night of December 18–19, 1845. As many as fifty passengers and crew members perished in the accident.

The Belle Zane was a 128-ton sternwheel steam packet built in Zanesville, Ohio, in 1844, described as a fast-running and light draught steamer, drawing only twenty-three inches. While the vessel normally ran a route between Zanesville, Marietta, and Cincinnati, Ohio, the Belle Zane set out on December 18, 1845, for a run to New Orleans, Louisiana, carrying a cargo of flour, corn, oats, beans, and potatoes and around 125 passengers and crew.

The vessel, commanded by Captain Charles Brazier, was about twelve miles below the mouth of the White River when it violently struck a snag, with contemporary sources stating that the accident happened around midnight on December 18 or 1:00 a.m. on December 19. Most of those aboard were asleep when the accident happened, and those who escaped were wearing only their night clothes as the Belle Zane abruptly turned upside down. The steamboat’s floor and hurricane deck separated from the hull, and several people floated down the Mississippi on the wreckage.

The steamboat Diamond came upon the hull of the Belle Zane and picked up sixteen survivors who had made it to the Arkansas shore. Three crew members from the doomed vessel found a small boat and used it to rescue other survivors on the wreckage of the deck. Of the five passengers floating on one piece of wreckage, three froze to death before reaching the shore. Four other survivors reportedly froze to death after reaching the Arkansas side.

The survivors, thinly clad and soaking wet on the bitterly cold night, assembled at Napoleon (Desha County). Gerardus Wynkoop, who escaped the Belle Zane with his wife and son, wrote that James Hibbard, owner of a plantation and store at Napoleon, “conveyed the ladies to the Town, and furnished them, as well as the other passengers, with every comfortable accommodation that they could desire; and I would not say that he was the only one, for it was a general feeling that seemed to warm the bosom of the inhabitants who witnessed our distress.” Some of the survivors later published a resolution in a New Orleans newspaper in which they praised the Belle Zane’s crew for their efforts and gave thanks “for the hospitable and kind manner they were treated by the citizens of Napoleon, who furnished all who were destitute of clothing, and administered to their wants.”

The wreck of the Belle Zane and the accident’s aftermath resulted in the loss of about fifty lives.

For additional information:
“For Lafourche” [Advertisement]. Times-Picayune, December 29, 1844, p. 2.

“Loss of the Belle Zane.” Times-Picayune, January 1, 1846, p. 2.

Lloyd, James T. Lloyd’s Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters. Cincinnati, OH: James T. Lloyd & Co., 1856.

Southron [Jackson, Mississippi], December 31, 1845, p. 2.

“Terrible Steamboat Disaster.” Spirit of Democracy [Woodsfield, Ohio], January 10, 1846, p. 2.

Times-Democrat [New Orleans], December 21, 1907, p. 9.

“Was Last Survivor.” Times Recorder [Zanesville], December 22, 1904, p. 10.

Way, Frederick, Jr. Way’s Packet Directory. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1983.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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