Astonishing Story: Mary Spent Five Days Underwater in a Shipwrecked Boat and Lived!

You can find the most incredible stories about your ancestors in the pages of old newspapers – like the survival story of Mary (Sanger) Applebee (1789-) I discovered while searching in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Mary was traveling on the schooner New Connecticut on Lake Erie in September 1833 when the ship capsized.

The crew abandoned ship and thought that Mary, who was in her cabin, had drowned.
It was five days before rescuers returned to the vessel.

When they returned to the New Connecticut, according to this newspaper article:

“She [the New Connecticut] was subsequently discovered, not sunk, but righted, and Mrs. Mary Applebee… after being five days in the cabin, partly immersed in water, came out alive, like one from the dead!”

An article about Mary Applebee, Commercial Advertiser newspaper article 5 July 1834
Source: GenealogyBank, Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York), 5 July 1834, page 2

Looking for more information, I found this article, which fills in more details:

“The captain and crew all got safe to land, in a small boat, and supposed that a Mrs. Appleby of Colden, Erie co., who was a passenger on board, and in the cabin a the time of the disaster, must have been immediately drowned, as the cabin, as far as it could be discovered, was filled with water… the woman was found alive, having subsisted for five days and nights upon one biscuit and an onion which floated to her, and being mostly covered with water during the whole time.”

An article about Mary Applebee, Jamestown Journal newspaper article 25 September 1833
Source: GenealogyBank, Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 25 September 1833, page 2

The website Maritime History of the Great Lakes has an entry on the September 1833 capsizing of the New Connecticut and the remarkable story of Mary Applebee, who was the aunt of the schooner’s Captain Gilman Applebee. The website’s account is based on historical newspaper articles:

“We learn from the Conneaut Gazette that on Wednesday last, the schooner NEW CONNECTICUT of that place capsized off Northeast, Pa. A Mrs. Appleby was drowned, the remainder of the persons on boar, were saved by taking to the [life]boat. She was loaded with flour and wheat, which it was feared would be lost.”

Source: Maritime History of the Great Lakes quoting: Cleveland Weekly Herald (Cleveland, Ohio) 7 September 1833, page 2

A week later, the Cleveland Weekly Herald issued a correction:

“It will be recalled that, in giving, in our last, an account of the accident that befell the schooner NEW CONNECTICUT, we stated that Mrs. Appleby, who was on board, was drowned. We have since learned that she has, after the lapse of five days, been taken from the vessel alive. The following particulars of this wonderful preservation we extract from the Conneaut Gazette.

“When the vessel filled, which it seems she did before she capsized, Mrs. Appleby was standing in the companion-way, and the water forced her back into the cabin, where she floated about until she found herself in an upper berth, on the larboard side. When the vessel capsized, she lay on her starboard side, which left the berth occupied by Mrs. Appleby, partly out of the water. In this situation she [the New Connecticut] lay from Wednesday until Saturday, when the vessel being partly righted up, it filled the berth, and Mrs. Appleby only found space to keep her face out of the water by lying on her back. Not succeeding in righting the vessel on Saturday, she was let down again, which gave Mrs. Appleby a little more room. On Monday last, the vessel was again righted, when Mrs. Appleby seeing a small light at the companion-way, made an effort by diving under the water to get out, and on the second trial she succeeded. Her only food for five days, was one small biscuit. She supposed that the crew had not abandoned the vessel, and would probably succeed in effecting her rescue. The vessel has been taken into Portland, but we are sorry to learn is very much damaged.”

Source: Maritime History of the Great Lakes quoting: Cleveland Weekly Herald (Cleveland, Ohio) 14 September 1833, page 3

Wow – what an incredible story.
Thanks to the old newspapers, her story has been preserved.

Genealogy Tip: Find, preserve and pass down your family stories, like Mary’s, in America’s old newspapers.

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