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USS Princeton

On February 28, 1844, President Tyler, fellow cabinet members, and 300 other guest were invited by Captain Stockton to go on a cruise down the Potomac River. One of the cabinet members on the trip was Abel Upshur who had just wrapped up the treaty with Texas that would annex Texas to the United States.USS Princeton

The USS Princeton was the state of the art naval ship at that time. It used screw propellers instead of paddle wheels. The propellers made it fasted and harder for other ships to disable its movement. It also had tow long guns the Oregon and the Peacemaker. The Peacemaker was the longest gun in the world at that time. It was said to be 15 feet long.

The day started brilliantly with the Princeton deck out in flags and people looking forward the the firing of the Peacemaker. The president, Secretary of State Upshur, Secretary of the Navy, Gilmer and the other guest enjoyed the firing of the Peacemaker and the other guns on board.

Later President Tyler and other guest went below for food and champagne. (One of the presidents favorite drinks.) Tyler was about to start a round of toast when he notice that his future wife Julia Gardiner was still on the deck. Tyler sent a messenger to her and her father to come below deck and join him. When she finally arrived Tyler started the toast to the Navy and to the Peacemaker and a third to Captain Stockton.

On deck, someone noticed that they were passing Mount Vernon, George Washington's home, and asked to have the Peacemaker fired again in his honor. Captain Stockton said no, but was over ridden by the Secretary of the Navy, Gilmore. Some people, including Stockton, Upshur, Gilmer, and Gardiner and other partiers left the party to see the firing of the gun.

Julia Gardiner once again was slow to move to the deck and the president stopped to hear a song his son-in-law had just started singing.

Suddenly there was a large boom that was cheered below deck. Then they realized that a major accident had occurred. The Peacemaker had exploded killing eight people and injuring twenty others. Among the dead were Able Upshur, Thomas Glimer, David Gardiner, a diplomat from Maryland Virgil Maxey, Commodore Beverly Kennon from the U.S. Navy, two seaman, and Tyler's slave an body servant. The president saw the results of the explosion and was grief stricken. Julia Gardiner grieved the death of her father. It was said she fainted in Tyler's arms.

USS Princeton Explosion
Explosion on the USS Princeton



A few days later, President Tyler said "A more heart rendering scene scarcely ever occurred. What a loss I have sustained in Upshur and Gilmer. They were truly friends, and would have aided me for the next twelve months with effect."

The explosion set back Tyler's goal of annexing Texas. John C. Calhoun replaced Upshur as Secretary of State. The explosion on the USS Princeton was one of the greatest disasters for a U.S. President at that time. Tyler had lost three members of his cabinet (One had died earlier.) and he felt he lost his chance at reelection

The explosion of the Peacemaker lead to new ways of producing Naval guns that made them stronger and safer.

Four months later on June 16, 1844, the 54 year old Tyler married 24 year old Julia Gardiner. They lived a happy life and had seven children.

 

Sources:

Images:
Explosion on the USS Princeton: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Explosion_aboard_USS_Princeton.jpg
USS Princeton at sail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:USS_Princeton_(1843).jpg

Books: John Tyler, the Accidental President

 

 

 

 

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This page was last update on Tuesday, March 5, 2013.