It was January 1840 when the steamboat Lexington, commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt, burned and sank in Long Island Sound. Of the up to 150 passengers and crew on board, only 4 survived.
The most amazing survival story was that of second mate David Crowley, a Providence native, who drifted on a cotton bale for 50 hours in subfreezing temperature before washing up on the shore of eastern Long Island. He stumbled nearly a mile to the house of a couple who saved him. It took Crowley nine months to recover enough to return home to Providence and go back to work as a steamboat captain.
His incredible tale of survival does not end there. After retiring, he survived another tragedy – a serious railroad accident.
After his death in 1900, Crowley was buried in the City of Providence’s North Burial Ground, where fellow Lexington survivor Charles Smith was also buried. In total, North Burial Ground is home to gravestones or memorials for six Lexington survivors and victims, including Crowley, Smith and Captain George Child.
Crowley’s headstone, which over time had broken into three pieces, is being meticulously restored by Ipswich-based Epoch Preservation. A campaign is underway to fund it, spearheaded by Bill Bleyer, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of “The Sinking of the Steamboat Lexington on Long Island Sound.”
On July 12, Bleyer and the North Burial Ground will launch a new walking tour of the six Lexington graves. To kick off the event, which is free and open to the public, Bleyer will give a lecture outside of the North Burial Ground office at 6:30 p.m., followed by the tour, which includes a stop at Crowley’s restored headstone.
For more information on the history of the Lexington disaster, its ties to Providence, and the funding campaign, please contact author Bill Bleyer or City Cemetery Director Annalisa Heppner.
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