Body unknown

I climbed to the Harrisville Cemetery in Burrillville, Rhode Island, from the hill at its back. While preparing to put our canoe in at the boat access on Mill Pond, my dad had pointed up the forested slope and told me that the old graveyard was just through the woods. There are few things I love more than old cemeteries, and this one held an interesting connection to one of my particular historic interests – transit during the nineteenth century.

Towards the center of the cemetery, I came across the Bryant and Remington family plot with its large granite marker for 27-year-old Clarence S. Remington, “lost from the steamer Narragansett.”

On 11 June 1880, two sister paddle steamers collided in the fog on Long Island Sound. The SS Narragansett left the Jay Street pier in Manhattan at 5:06 pm heading towards Stonington, Connecticut, with 300 passengers. The same evening, the SS Stonington, with its 400 passengers, departed the steamer dock at Stonington heading for New York City. At 11:20 pm the two ships collided in the night. The Stonington struck the Narragansett headlong on its starboard side, gashing open the hull. The situation quickly worsened when the ship’s boiler, damaged in the impact, exploded, starting a fire which quickly engulfed the steamer.

Clarence Sidney Remington and his wife Susie Emeline (Brooks) Remington of Burrillville were among the 300 passengers aboard the Narragansett that night. The Remingtons had already had a dreadful 1880, as they had lost their two children – Edgar Leroy (age 6) and Florence (age 2) –back-to-back that winter. Clarence was the keeper of the Harrisville Country Store; with Susie and his sister Minnie, he was on his way home to Rhode Island after visiting New York City.

The lives of approximately 50 of the Narragansett’s passengers were lost in the disaster, though it took weeks to determine the missing and even today the true number of victims remains uncertain. The Stonington, with a heavily damaged bow, was able to return to its port having suffered no casualties aboard.

Mrs. Clarence S. Remington and Miss Minnie C. Remington appear on a list of survivors published in the Boston Globe in the days after the disaster. Amidst the chaos, some fifty passengers of the Narragansett were pulled from the water and the deck of the sinking ship by the crew of the Stonington. Another steamer, City of New York, mercifully arrived on the scene to rescue nearly 200 more and bring them back to New York.

In its coverage of the survivors, the Globe reported that Mr. Remington had been separated from his wife and had gone to New York to get her, perhaps hopeful thinking on the part of Mrs. Remington. Unfortunately, it was not the case. In late July, the body of an unknown man was found floating in the waters off Fishers Island and buried on the beaches of Noank, Connecticut. Presumed to be a victim of the SS Narragansett, the body was identified as Clarence S. Remington on 2 August; his body was returned home to Burrillville, where he was buried alongside his children in Harrisville Cemetery. Susie Remington remarried Edwin Roscoe Bryant in in 1884; together they would later also be buried in the family plot in Harrisville.

Danielle Cournoyer

About Danielle Cournoyer

Prior to NEHGS, Danielle worked as an Interpretation and Programming Fellow for The Church of the Presidents, where she led guided tours of the historic church and the Adams crypt. Additionally, Danielle has worked as an Historic District Research Aid for the Arlington Historical Commission. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston with a Master of Arts degree in History in May 2016. Her interests include urban development and history, focusing on Boston and New York.

3 thoughts on “Body unknown

  1. Your story reminded me of a later water disaster, in September 1932. It was the explosion of the ferry “Observation,” carrying construction crews for the Rikers Island prison in New York. Michael and James Horan were brothers and among about forty killed when the boiler exploded. Michael was the husband of a sister-in-law of a grand uncle.

  2. As a maritime historian, I know this type of tragedy well: two boats collide, pandemonium rules, lifeboats are inadequate and the captain does not go down with the ship. My great grandfather Walter R Hazard was a Captain on P+S line in 1880. A similar fate of the sinking of the Larchmont in a collision off Westerly in 1907 occurred with my grandfather EJ Hazard a pilot scheduled to be on the Larchmont, luckily he as transferred to the sister ship Edgemont. As genealogists, we often ponder the serendipity of life’s fate.

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