“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Sheboygan in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)

Fiery Passage

Fiery Passage Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By William J. Toman, April 16, 2011
1. Fiery Passage Marker
Inscription.  On November 21, 1847 the propeller steamer Phoenix burned, with the loss of 190 to 250 lives, seven miles north of the Sheboygan Harbor. At the time of her loss the Phoenix carried close to 300 passengers and crewmen. Most of the passengers were Dutch immigrants bound for Sheboygan. Her burning is considered one of the worst disasters in the history of the Great Lakes.

During the late 1840s thousands of immigrants flooded into Buffalo, New York. Most considered the water route through the Great Lakes easier than traveling overland to reach the farmlands of mid-America. Approximately 350 of these boarded the Phoenix in Buffalo on November 11, 1847, for the last trip of the shipping season.

Built in 1845, the propeller driven Phoenix was among the latest and newest of her type. (Until that time most of the steamers built were sidewheel steamers. The first propeller-driven steamer, the Vandalia, had appeared on the Great Lakes only two years before, and most considered it a very radical departure.) Captain G.B. Sweet was in command of the vessel.

During the stormy passage through
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the lakes the captain fell and suffered an incapacitating injury. The battered Phoenix entered Manitowoc Harbor November 20 to discharge a few passengers and take on fuel. Near midnight the weather cleared and the seas calmed, and the ship departed for Sheboygan, now only thirty miles away.

After several hours of travel, passengers sighted the lights of Sheboygan, now just seven miles away. Excitement spread among the immigrants. After traveling thousands of miles, they were at the end of their journey.

Suddenly crewmen discovered a small fire in the engine room. Overheated boilers had set the overhead wooden beams on fire. At first the crew contained the flames, but soon the fire raged out of control. The first mate gave the order to abandon ship.

The Phoenix's two lifeboats carried 41 persons to safety, and two crewmen saved themselves by clinging to the side of the ship. All the rest perished. Entire families disappeared in the roaring flames, or beneath the frigid water. Most of those who died were children.

The crew of the steamer Delaware, in the Sheboygan Harbor, saw the flames and set out for the disaster as soon as they could get up steam. But when rescuers arrived they found only the dead, and a burnt out drifting hulk. The ship had burned to the water line. The Phoenix towed the smoking hull to the
Fiery Passage Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By William J. Toman, April 16, 2011
2. Fiery Passage Marker
The marker is on the kiosk in the lower right of this photo. Sheboygan Harbor and Lake Michigan are in the background.
Sheboygan Harbor, where it settled to the bottom in shallow water.

Many survivors reported Mr. David Blish, a first class passenger, to be a hero. Mr. Blish, a merchant from Southport (now known as Kenosha), formed a bucket brigade to fight the flames, comforted lost children, helped others over the side, and refused to take a seat in a lifeboat himself. The flames finally drove him into the water, and he was last seen swimming, holding onto a small child. They did not survive.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Settlements & SettlersWaterways & Vessels. A significant historical month for this entry is November 1999.
Location. 43° 45.125′ N, 87° 42.184′ W. Marker is in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in Sheboygan County. Marker can be reached from the intersection of Broughton Drive and New York Avenue, on the right when traveling north. The marker is between the marina and the parking lot in Deland Park. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 901 Broughton Drive, Sheboygan WI 53083, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. The Home Fleet (here, next to this marker); Bustling Shipyards (approx. 0.2 miles away); Heroic Seamen (approx. 0.2 miles away); Seils–Sterling Circus (approx. 0.6 miles away); The Phoenix Tragedy
The Marker is in Deland Park image. Click for full size.
Photographed By William J. Toman, April 16, 2011
3. The Marker is in Deland Park
(approx. 0.9 miles away); Schooner Gallinipper (approx. 0.9 miles away); North Point /Sheboygan Point (approx. one mile away); Revolutionary War Veteran (approx. 1˝ miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Sheboygan.
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker. This is a list of markers regarding Wisconsin Dutch settlers, including another marker regarding the Phoenix.
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. It was originally submitted on April 21, 2011, by William J. Toman of Green Lake, Wisconsin. This page has been viewed 884 times since then and 108 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on April 21, 2011, by William J. Toman of Green Lake, Wisconsin.

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Oct. 4, 2023