John Quincy Adams Train Wreck 1833This account is from President John Quincy Adam's 1833 diary account of a train wreck in New Jersey, which was one of the first fatal train wrecks in the United States. John Quincy Adams mentions Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt and other prominent Americans injured in the railroad crash....
a.v. Friday-From New York to Philadelphia
Blasted! ever blessed by the name of God! that I am alive and have escaped unhurt from the most dreadful catastrophe that ever my eyes behold-We arrived at New York at half past six this morning-I took leave of Mr. Harrod, his daughter, my niece Elizabeth, and Mr. Gourgas-took a [black] with Mr. Potter and crossed from the East to the North River, put my baggage into the steamboat Independence Captain Douglas and walked to the City Hotel. I found that my wife and family proceeded thence last Monday on their way to Washington-There was a card of invitation to attend a public dinner to be given to Commodore Chauncey to-morrow, to which I wrote a declining answer. I then returned to the Steam boat, which left the wharf at sight and larnded the passenger at [Imbay] about twenty minutes past ten. The boat was crowded almost to suffocation and people of every land and language seemed congregated in it among the [n]est a whole tribe of wild Irish whole languages I now for the first time heard spoken. The only persons of the passengers whom I knew were David [S.] Ogden of New York and [St] N Dowell, whom [I condict] introduced to me last winter at Washinton and who was then a Professor at Princeton College,; but has since left it, and has removed to Philadelphia-There were upwards of 200 passenger in the Rail road cards. There were two locomotive engines A and B each drawing an accomodation car a sort of moving stage, in a [square], with open railing -a platform and a row of benches holding forty or fifty persons-then four or five cars, in the form of large stage coaches, each in three compartments with doors of an [tronca]on both sides, and two opposite benches on each of which sat four passengers-Each train was closed with a high quadrangular open railed baggage waggon, in which the baggage of all the passengers in the train was heaped upon the whole covered with an oil cloth. I was in car B [N.S.] and of course in the Second train-of the first ten miles, two were run in four minutes, marked by a watch of A Mr. Da Yong in the same car and division with me-THey stopped, oiled the whells and proceed. We had gone about five miles further, and had traversed at one mile in one minute and 36 seconds, when the front left wheel of the car in which I was, having taken fire and burnt for several minutes, slipped off the rail-The pressure on the right side fo the car then meeting resistance, reaised it with both weels from the rails, and it was over setting on the left side; but the same pressure on the car immediately behind raised its left side from the rail till it actually overset to the right, and in oversetting brought back the car in which I was to stand on its four wheels, and saved from injury all the passenger in it. The train was stopped I suppose within five seconds of the time when our wheel slipped off the rail; but it was then going at the rate of 60 feet in a second, and was dragged nearly two hundred feet before it could stop. Of sixteen persons in two of the tree compartments of the car that overset, one only escaped unhurt-A Doctor [Cuyler]- one side of the car was stoved in and almost demolished. One man, John C. [Stedman] of Raleigh, NOrth Carolina, was so dreadfully mangled that he died within ten minutes. Another named I believe [Walles] of Pennsylvania can probably not survive the day. Captain Vanderbilt had his leg broken, as had Mr. [Walft] Minister of the Episcopal Church at Newport Rhode Island. Mrs Bartlett wife of Lieutenant Bartlett of the U.S. Corps of Engineers and her sister dangerously hurt-her child about three years old is not expected to live. Mr and Mrs. [Charleges] of St. Louis, Missouri, severely cut and bruised; a Mr. Dreyfuss of Philadelphia, cut in the head and sprained in the back and six other persons among whom are Doctor McDowell, and a young lady with him gashed in the head and otherwise wounded. The scene of the sufferance was excruciateding. Many women and a child, scattered along the road, bleeding, mangled, groaning writing in torture and dying. Was a trial of feeling, to which I had never before been called-and when the thought came over me that a few seconds more of pressure on the car in which I was would in all probability have laid me a prostrate corpse like him who was before my eyes as a cripple for life-and more insupportable still-what if my wife and grandchild had been in the car behind me! merciful God! how can the infirmity of my nature express or feel the gratitude that should swell in my bosom that this torture, a thousand fold worse than death has been spared me-At my request a coroner's inquest was called upon the deceased-The other dying man was left at Hightstown, 3 miles beyond where the disaster happened, and after a detention of nearly three hours, the train was resumed and the coroner's inquest held by a magistrate of the county had been sworn and I had given my testimony before we left the fatal spot. Several of the wounded were left at Hightstown-The rest were transported on cushions from the cars over the Railway to Bordentown; and thence with us in the steamboat New Philadelphia to Philadelphia on reaching the wharf the Rev'd Mr. Brackenridge came on board, and told me he had heard I had been seriously injured, by the accident on the Railway-Apprehensive that such rumors might circulate and reach my family. I wrote on board the steamboat to my wife at Washington and to my son Charles at Boston and dispatched the letters to the Post Office at Philadelphia. We landed at Chesnut Street Wharf between six and seven in the evening, and I took lodging with Mr. Potter at the United States Hotel-I resolved to proceed on my journey to morrow morning, but called and spent an hour of the evening at Mr. John Sergent's -Mr. [Grommalin] came in while I was there"