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TBT: The Mary Frances last trip down the Warrior River ended in disaster for Tuscaloosa

The Mary Frances last trip down the Warrior ended in disaster

(Transcription from a history of Tuscaloosa written by an older resident, Ben A. Green, in 1931 who was the managing editor of The Tuscaloosa News July 31, 1949)


Tuscaloosa hearts had been lifted from the state of frenzy and apprehension by the end of the World War, (WWI) but it remained for the year 1919 to bring this community its darkest hour. It was Sunday, June 15, when the “Mary Frances,” 39-foot motor launch owned by Samuel F. Alston, made its last of the many trips which had won for it the name “Boat-Load of Happiness” for the joy it had given hundreds of Tuscaloosa children.

Black Warrior River (blackwarriorriver.org)

Last trip ended in a disaster

The last trip was suddenly ended when the boat overturned off Holt, a scant quarter-mile from where it had received its cargo of 62 men, women and children at the Riverview wharf. Government inspectors officially reported that the boat was by no means crowded, was handled in a seaman-like manner and the occurrence could be in no way blamed upon the owner, who himself barely escaped or the captain, Dick Antonio. The inspector said it was an unaccountable accident, apparently caused when the people aboard suddenly rushed to one side as the boat turned. The keel may have struck a submerged tree stuck straight up in the river which was 100 feet deep at that point.

Thirty-six escaped or were rescued and twenty-six were known to have died in the catastrophe. The hull was dragged to shore by a Holt man and several bodies were taken out of a hole cut in the side before the hull again sank. All night the rescuers worked under huge arc lights and two days later divers trod the bottom of the Warrior to find any additional victims.

Comfort for the grieved ones

All merchants and other establishment closed the Monday following, all helping their utmost to comfort the bereaved and to search the scene for other victims. Memorial services were held Monday and the following Sunday.

Mr. Alston, sorrow-stricken, did his utmost to comfort the grieved ones. Most of the victims were buried in a general area at Evergreen, plots which Mr. Alston secured and paid all costs of interment.

Evergreen Cemetery, Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Library of Congress)

The life of this great citizen was visibly shortened by the disaster from which he barely escaped. He passed away two years later at the age of 63. Captain Antonio never completely recovered his sanity after the occurrence. Records show that one parent filed $50,000 against Mr. Alston for the loss of a boy but a judicious court refused to entertain such a thing.

The 36 Survivors

Persons known to have either escaped unaided or been rescued by others were: J. H. Clabaugh, saved by three girls, Jerome Kennedy, Polly Jones and Myrtle Burchfield, Gertrude Boy, Annie Bell Adams, Corrine Adams, Will F. Englebert, Jr., Cecille Cunningham, Howard Maxwell of Northport, Mrs. L. Rosenfeld, Hyman Dickie Emanuel and Louise Rosenfeld.

James Waddell, Charles Rice, Miss Sadie Foster, who rescued several, Bettie Hood, Allen Parker Mize, Troy Wall, Miss Norma McGraw, Grace Lindsley, Russell St. Clair, Darrell st. Clair, Harris Strong of Northport, Mrs. Robert Cleere, Florence Buckner, H. M. McLeod, Jr., Patton Evans of Northport, Roy Speed, Stephen speed, Truman Walden, Bill Wilson, S. F. Alston himself and Capt. Dick Antonio.

Discordance: The Cottinghams Inspired by true events and the Cottingham family that resided in 17th century Somerset, Maryland, and Delaware, colonial America comes alive with pirate attacks, religious discord, and governmental disagreements in the pre-Revolutionary War days of America.

Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1)


By (author): Donna R Causey
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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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3 comments

  1. Thank you for this story. My great aunt Kathleen Bartee Bishop and her 4 children were lost in this accident. They are all interned in one grave in Evergreen. I have recently started working on the advances in genealogy…digital form and have looked and looked for this story.
    I appreciate this. As a history teacher your daily dose of Alabama goes a long way in helping me include Alabama in my American History 10th grade lesson plans. Thanks again.

    1. I’m glad the stories are helpful.

  2. My husband O. J. Gast, was an infant. His mother had in in line waiting to go aboard, but missed the trip. She often reminded su ha they been aboard they might have drowned.

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