Nancy F [Ferryboat]

The Nancy F was a ferryboat that caught fire and sank in the Mississippi River on December 3, 1929, killing the vessel’s pilot after he saved the life of a preteen girl.

The Nancy F, which was powered by a seventy-horsepower oil-burning diesel engine, began ferrying vehicles and passengers between Westover (Phillips County) and Friars Point, Mississippi, around 1925. It was owned by Fletcher P. Fitzgerald of Clarksdale, Mississippi, and was valued at $20,000.

The vessel left Westover on a bitterly cold December 3, 1929, with five crew members and fifteen passengers, including George Smith of Helena (Phillips County) and his daughters Opal, Effie, and Estelle, who with their truck full of household goods were heading across the river to move to Rosedale, Mississippi.

When the boat was about 200 yards from the Arkansas shore, a fire was discovered in the engine room, and it spread rapidly. Captain W. E. Aikin and his crew quickly lowered lifeboats into the water, and the Memphis, Tennessee, Commercial Appeal wrote that “some of the passengers equipped with life preservers, jumped from the burning deck into the waters and were then towed into the boats.” One of the ferryboat’s linemen swam back to the Arkansas side of the river.

The Nancy F’s pilot, forty-year-old Harry Richardson of Westover, stayed aboard to buckle a life preserver onto Opal Smith and then tossed her into the river to be picked up by a lifeboat. A newspaper reported that “passengers in lifeboats saw him dash back into the cabins and a minute later the Nancy F sank into the water.” Richardson was later credited with also helping to save four crew members and six other passengers.

The survivors were taken to Friars Point, where they received medical attention after suffering from exposure. Attempts were made to find Richardson’s body, but it was never located, leading to the conclusion that he went down inside the Nancy F. The ferryboat, along with the Smiths’ truck and belongings, was a total loss and was not salvaged.

For additional information:
“Abandon Hope of Recovering Body of Ferryboat Pilot.” Biloxi, Mississippi, Sun Herald, December 5, 1929, p. 3.

“Father Gives Pilot Praise.” Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger, December 5, 1929, p. 1.

“Hero Pilot to Be Memorialized.” Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger, December 7, 1929, p. 9.

“Mississippi Pilot Dies Rescuing Passengers.” Fort Worth, Texas, Star-Telegram, December 4, 1929, p. 6.

“Richardson’s Body Still Undiscovered.” Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger, December 15, 1929, p. 1B.

“River Pilot Dies as Flames Sweep Ferry.” Memphis, Tennessee, Commercial Appeal, December 4, 1929, p. 1, 2.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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