By: Frank Wagner

Type: General Entry

Published: December 1, 1994

The 111-ton sidewheel steamship Dayton is chiefly remembered for the boiler explosions that caused it to sink in Corpus Christi Bay on September 12, 1845. The vessel was constructed in 1835 by Robert Beer of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who also served as its master and sometime captain. The Dayton traded on the Ohio and down the Mississippi until about 1839, when its shallow draft provided an advantage in the Texas coastwide trade. In 1840 Galveston city recorder George F. Lawrence was killed during a fight aboard the Dayton. Augustus M. Tomkins and his brother were charged with murder. When strong feelings in the community resulted in a change of venue to Houston, the Dayton carried the witnesses to Harris County. When the Mexican War broke out, the United States Army quartermaster contracted the Dayton to transport men and goods from the depot on St. Joseph Island to the large army beach encampment at Corpus Christi. On July 23, 1845, Gen. Zachary Taylor and a party of the Third Regiment of Infantry made the trip.

The explosions on September 12 occurred after the Dayton left Corpus Christi on a return trip with a party of noncommissioned officers and enlisted men, among them Capt. George Hampton Crosman of the Sixth Regiment of Infantry, who was in charge of the transportation effort and who carried money and a letter of formal discharge from the contract. Near noon one of the boilers exploded off McGloin's Bluff. Two officers, Lt. Benjamin A. Berry of South Carolina and Lt. Thaddeus Higgins of Pennsylvania, were killed instantly. The second boiler exploded as the burning ship settled in the water before sinking. A small boat picked up the wounded in the water after the explosions, but six of the officers and crew of the Dayton were killed. Lt. Ulysses S. Grant had chosen at the last moment not to take the vessel, and wrote a graphic account of the matter to his fiancée, Julia Dent, on September 14 and October 10, 1845. Capt. E. Kirby Smith also wrote of the incident to his wife on September 18, 1845. The bodies of the dead officers and men were buried in a military cemetery northwest of camp. The burial ground, which commands a view of Nueces and Corpus Christi bays, is now called Old Bayview Cemetery.

Charles Adams Gulick, Jr., Harriet Smither, et al., eds., The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar (6 vols., Austin: Texas State Library, 1920–27; rpt., Austin: Pemberton Press, 1968). Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Fifty Years in Camp and Field: Diary of Major-General Ethan Allen Hitchcock, U.S.A, ed. W. A. Croffut (New York: Putnam, 1909). Houston Morning Star, April 10, September 1, 10, October 3, November 2, 1840. William Gilman Lyford, Western Address Directory for the Year 1837 (Baltimore: Robinson, 1837). John Y. Simon, ed., Papers of Ulysses S. Grant (12 vols., Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967-). Telegraph and Texas Register, August 13, September 24, 1845. Austin Texas Sentinel, April 15, 22, May 9, 1840.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Frank Wagner, “Dayton,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994