On Monday, November 6, 1809, a chilly windy day in New York City, Mr. Samuel Delaplaine left his house at 136 Bowery (just north of Chinatown the fashionable address in those days) for the Cortlandt Street Ferry on the Hudson River (about where the Vista Hotel now stands). He was on his way to Powles Hook (now Hoboken), New Jersey, perhaps to visit his farm in Shrewsbury, New Jersey. He may have first stopped by his office at the corner of Old Slip and Water Street, in downtown New York, where he owned and operated a prominent export/import company, specializing in trade with Mediterranean countries.
There was every reason for Samuel to be pleased with himself. The Delaplaines, a Huguenot family, had lived in New York for almost two hundred years, having been "lesser burghers" under the Dutch. Samuel, himself, was one of the richest men in New York City. He was married to Phila Pell, an heiress of the distinguished family in Westchester. He had extensive business dealings in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia (where his kinsmen Joseph Delaplaine was writing Delaplaine's Repository of Famous Americans, a popular compilation of biographies). At 60 years of age, he was also a new grandfather, his son Samuel's wife having given birth to Henry Delaplaine who would in time become our great (3) grandfather.
Mr. Delaplaine boarded the ferry, a sailboat, with ten people aboard, including John B. Coles, Esq. and his son Benjamin, Mr. Anthony Steinbeck and his former partner, Mr. Brown, two women, a black man and two ferrymen. The ferry pushed off into the crowded New York Harbor, but the boat did not get far before a "headflaw of wind" deadened her way, taking the wind out of her sails. Before the sails were full again, another "flaw" struck the ferryboat and she was upset. Small boats immediately set out and picked up all the passengers, but Samuel was so exhausted when he was brought ashore that he soon died. His was the only fatality.
The following day, the funeral was held at his house at 3:00 p.m. Most of the newspapers carried stories of the accident and short obituaries of Samuel. There had been talk that the Corporation of the City of New York was going to buy one of the new steamboats which Robert Fulton had recently invented, but this hadn't gone through yet. Some believed that the accident would speed the process. The Public Advertiser wrote a poem which began as a memorial, but ended as an advertisement for Fulton steamboats (see next page.)
One of Samuel's sons, John F., donated space in midtown Manhattan (on the block that spans 37th and 38th between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue for the building of Brick Presbyterian Church where it was before its current location on the upper east side of Manhattan.
In 1767, the First Presbyterian Church, then located on Wall Street, established a "New Church" further uptown on Beekman Street. The "New Church" was constructed in 1768 of red brick, and soon was called "Brick Meeting". During the Revolutionary War, the building was used as a hospital and military prison but was restored to religious service in 1784. Brick Meeting became an independent church in 1809. The property was sold in 1856 and became the site of the New York Times offices. In 1858, a new Brick Church was opened on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 37th Street. Designed by Griffith Thomas, the red-bricked Georgian edifice included a 250-foot spire which contained the old bell. In 1937, Brick Church merged with Park Avenue Presbyterian Church (which was located at Park Avenue and 85th Street in the building now occupied by Park Avenue Christian Church). A lot was purchased on Park Avenue and 91st Street and a new church building, designed by Lewis Ayres of York & Sawyer, was dedicated in 1940. The weather vane and old bell were moved to the new spire, and the 1917 Skinner organ was moved to the new church. The Chapel of the Reformed Faith, designed by Adams & Woodbridge, was constructed in 1952.
The foregoing information is courtesy of the New York Historical Society where the Delaplaine family papers repose.
(Nov. 8, 1809, Public Advertiser)
The unfortunate oversetting of the Powles Hook Ferry Boat on Monday last, by which event an estimable citizen, Mr. Delaplaine lost his life, has greatly increased fears which individuals have ever felt on crossing this ferry.
Fortunately ... the corporation are about concluding a contract with Mr. Fulton to establish steam ferry boats for this passage.
Lines occasioned by the late disaster of one of the Paulus [sic) Hook passage-boats upsetting from which accident one of our citizens was drowned and the remainder on board narrowly escaped.
I saw a bargue on Hudson's wave that plies,
Yield to the blast that rends the autumnal skies;
From Cortlandt's wharf she took her vent'rous way
Rude gloom'd the sky, and blustering was the day.
The fatal blast too powerful prose'd for art,
With pain I saw the shivering sail depart:
In vain the helm by cautious hands was held,
One flaw upset her and the wind prevailed;
One worthy man, I tell with grief sincere,
One worthy man* was doo~'d to perish there
Leave all behind that could attract his love
Without one farewell at this last remove.
All you who on this rugged Hudson stray,
To seek far Jersey's coast, or Bergen Bay,
Let every future voyage be by steam;
Let Fulton's art, unrivall'd art, prevail,
Nor trust existence to the dangerous sail,
Bid him apply the powers that reason gave,
To waft you safely o'er the treacherous wave;
On his firm deck you may all safety find;
Nor dread the madness of the threatening wind.
See Neptunes car, a floating palace move,
And fears no danger from the blasts above
No tides delay her, and no gales alarm,
The power of steam can every blast disarm,
Be such your choice -- on such a barque rely --And every danger of the winds defy.
(Public Advertiser Nov. 11, 1809)