This week, I’ve invited Sandi Esposito, a local historian and friend who’s been helping me with my “Big Idea,” to write a guest blog post. What follows is the story of Frank Padget, hero batteauman. (Note: Some people spell it “batteau” and others “bateau,” but for this blog entry, we’re going with the two-T version.)
The incident began on Jan. 21, 1854. A freshet, due to heavy rains, caused dangerous conditions on the James River. At the time, the canal boat Clinton was being towed in the open river at the mouth of the North — now Maury — River.
The Clinton was part of a fleet owned by A. S. Lee & Co. of Richmond. Its captain was A.C. Wood. The boat was carrying approximately 45 people, mostly African Americans who were possibly hired to work on the railroad at Covington, Va.
The towline broke and seven men jumped into the water. Three drowned, including two unnamed African Americans and Reuben Payne of Fredericksburg, Va. Four men survived: teenager Sydnor Royal of Lynchburg, Va.; E.F. Flagg of Caroline, Va.; and two unnamed African Americans.
With encouragement from those onshore, Capt. Wood got the boat over Balcony Falls dam, but after the boat went over the dam it rested near some rocks. The captain and four or five people jumped onto the rocks and became stranded in the middle of the river. Roughly 32 or 33 men remained on the Clinton.
A rescue team was organized. It included enslaved African-American and skilled batteauman Frank Padget and two other African-American men, named Sam and Bob. Two white men, William Matthews and Matthew McColgan, also volunteered, for a total of five.
Although the rescuers were initially driven back to shore by a squall, they eventually saved the captain and the men on the rock. At about the same time, the Clinton drifted again and an African-American man — possibly named Edmond — jumped on to a rock and was stranded. This left 31 or 32 men on board the Clinton.
The five-man rescue team ventured out to save the remaining people. They tried but were unable to get Edmond, but they reached the others on the Clinton after it became lodged on an island. They were taken to safety.
Again, the crew tried to reach Edmond. As they were preparing to go, two more men joined the rescue team, one unnamed African American and Thomas Oney. The team of seven headed toward Edmond. Unfortunately, just as Edmond jumped into the rescue boat it crashed into a rock.
Frank Padget and Edmond were washed down river and drowned. Sam grabbed a piece of the boat and floated to shore. The remaining five men jumped onto the rock.
Another effort to take a batteau out and rescue the men on the rock failed, when it was washed out of the hands of the man preparing the boat. The water was still rising and daylight was waning, so the men remained stranded on the rock until morning.
The next morning, another batteau, headed by Samuel Evans, ventured out with a crew. They found all five men alive but severely frostbitten. All told, five men were lost during the tragedy, including four passengers of the Clinton and Frank Padget.
A monument, honoring Padget and his sacrifice, was later commissioned and paid for by Capt. Edward Echols. Echols, a Lynchburg native, wrote the first published, eyewitness account of the tragedy.
Initially, the monument was placed near a lock in the Kanawha Canal, but in 1997 it was moved to the village of Glasgow, Va., where it remains.
Ad. “For Lynchburg-Boat Clinton.” Richmond Dispatch, Feb 27, 1854: 1. available from Newspapers.com.
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Correspondent of the Lexington Star, “Honor to Whom Honor,” Richmond Dispatch, Feb 6, 1854: 1. available from Newspapers.com.
Herbert, Paul N. Slave’s Heroism Recognized. May 3, 2008. http://www.washingtontimes.com (accessed Feb 8, 2017).
Kimball, Gregg D. “The African American Presence in Virginia Cavalcade, 1951-1996.” Virginia Cavalcade Vol 46, no. No 2 (Autumn 1996): 85-86.
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Miller, Lynda Mundy-Norris. Glasgow, Virginia: 100 Years of Dreams. 1990. http://www.allofsouthamerica.com (accessed Feb 8, 2017).
Morton, Oren Frederic. “Echols.” In A History of Rockbridge County, 251-252. 1920. available from books.google.com.
Richmond Dispatch . “The Canal Boat Clinton.” Jan 27, 1854: 1. available from Newspapers.com.
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Robertson, Gary. A Hard Life on the Water/ Exhibit Recounts History of Blacks on State Rivers. Sept 26, 1999. archive.vcu.edu (accessed Feb 8, 2017).
Scribner, Robert L. “In Memory of Frank Padget.” Virginia Cavalade Vol 3, no. No 3 (Winter 1953): 7-11.
Staunton (Va) Spectator. “Thrilling and Melancholy Casualty.” Poughkeepsie Journal, Feb 11, 1854: 2. available from Newspapers.com (This version appears in several other papers in NC, NY and PA.
The Daily Express. “In the Circuit Court.” Dec 7, 1855. available from virginiachronicle.com.
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W. E. Trout, III. The Upper James Atlas. Virginia Canals & Navigation Society, 2004., pp. 58-69.