The Crooked Lake Review

Winter 2001

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Horatio Nelson Throop

His Life and Inventions


James Van Cleve

The following account of Throop's life was found by Richard Palmer. The account is from "Reminiscences of Early Steamboats, Propellers and Sailing Vessels on Lake Ontario and River St. Lawrence," an unpublished manuscript by James Van Cleve, Lewiston, NY, 1877, p 145. Copy in Oswego City Hall.

Horatio Nelson Throop (1807 - 1884), the first person born in Pultneyville, was the son of Ruth and Samuel Throop. His father was an experienced salt-water sailor and the captain of the Farmer, the first vessel to sail from Pultneyville. It had been built by Oliver Culver in 1810 at Irondequoit Bay. Samuel built the Nancy in 1816 and, three years later, drowned when the schooner sank in a gale.

Horatio built boats as a boy, then learned how to build ships in Charlotte, and when he was 17, launched the Sophia. In 1827 the Sophia went down, but as told [below], H. N. survived.

In 1838, when he was 31, Throop had a steam-powered vessel built. He wanted to propel his new boat, the Express, with a screw propeller but, unable to test his design adequately, he gave it up. He did make a number of models of paddle wheels and of propellers. They are now in the museum exhibits. Some may have been used to make molds to cast metal propellers.

Locally, Throop was regarded as the developer of screw propulsion for ships. John Ericsson, however, is generally credited as the originator of the screw propeller. He received an American patent in 1837, the year before the Express was built.

Throop thought the cumbersome walking-beam engines used on boats to run paddle wheels took up too much cargo space. He considered replacing engines and sails with wind-driven turbines to drive vessels. In the museum is a model of a wind turbine. This mechanism may have been a prototype for a larger turbine to have been mounted on top of a barn to run farm machines, or possibly placed on a boat to utilize energy from moving air masses to turn a propeller.

H. N. Throop was always interested in efficiency and sought to improve ship hull design. Several of his half-hull models are displayed in the Throop Room of the Pultneyville Historical Society House.

He was a forward-looking and practical man. At one time he had his own sawmill on Shipbuilder's Slip near the harbor.

In 1842 he was commander of the passenger steamer Rochester. When the Ontario Steamboat Company was formed in 1859, Throop became a board member and treasurer of the company, and the superintendent of all their boats. In a few years the railroads took so much business from the lake steamers that the company sold its boats in 1867.

Captain Throop's last boat, a steam yacht, The Magic, built in the 1880s, was eighty two feet long and only thirteen feet wide. Someone said it had the handling characteristics of a cigar. The boat was elegantly fitted out and accommodated twenty passengers. The Magic was completed not long before Captain Throop died in Pultneyville on August 6, 1884.

Horatio Nelson Throop had married Mary F. Ledyard of Pultneyville in 1834, and had had his brother Washington Throop supervise the building of a cobblestone house for them next to his family's house. Both houses are still standing. The Throops left no children, but had many nieces and nephews. Horatio had come from a musical family; his guitar is in the Throop Room with other displays.

Captain Throop was conservative in his habits and liberal in disposition. Though he supported Whig principles, he took little part in politics. He gave to the Methodist Church, but did not participate in church activities. He was a sincere believer in individual liberty, and he transported on his boats many fugitives fleeing from slavery.

Van Cleve's Reminiscences of Throop's life begin with a letter
to Captain Van Cleve from H. N. Throop.

Pultneyville June 17, 1877

Capt. J. Van Cleve

Dear Sir

I herewith send something of an account of the loss of my little schooner in 1827. I could have added many more incidents connected with the affair, my lonely swim getting ashore, finding in the wilderness a house where I remained 28 hours, my travel through five miles of woods and one long mile of gravely beach barefoot after leaving the house on my way home, but I have perhaps said more than will be interesting.

Yours, Truly,

H. N. Throop

The Loss of the Sophia

On the 22nd of August 1827 the small schooner Sophia of about 25 tons of Pultneyville owned and commanded by Capt. H. N. Throop was lost by sinking[,] drowning two or three persons on board[,] the captain saving his life by swimming four miles to the land six miles east of Big Sodus Bay [Lake Ontario]. The vessel was loaded with corn taken on board at Pultneyville in bulk. On the passage from Pultneyville to Oswego during a strong north west wind[,] about 8 o'clock A. M. it was discovered that a sudden change had taken place in the motion of the vessel and in less than 10 seconds after[,] it became apparent that water was rushing in on the leeward side and towards the forward end of the vessel.

Efforts were immediately made to change the heading of the schooner in order to bring if possible the aperture above water[,] but the inward rush of water was too rapid to admit of much change in the course of the vessel[,] for less than one minute from the first indication of wrong[,] the forward end of the vessel and hull two thirds of the distance to her stern was entirely under water and the after part first settling below the surface[,] and in two minutes from the discovery that the vessel was leaking[,] her hull and spars had disappeared leaving the three persons comprising the crew struggling for life in rough water four miles from land each one looking for some floating thing to aid in buoying his person while paddling to reach the shore.

One grasped a large oar. Another an empty barrel having only one head which furnished considerable buoyancy but its shape for such purpose was probably of no advantage as the person having it soon sunk quite near where the vessel went down. The man having the oar left the vessel just in time to be beyond the vortex influence; he swam off partly with the [wind] and sea toward the land and gained a distance of about 100 yards where in about 5 to 8 minutes he drowned.

The captain had great confidence in his swimming ability under any circumstances which affords him great advantage on this occasion. He had up to the last moment been trying expedients and encouraging the two men and aiding them in saving their lives, but the time was so short after the efforts to change the direction of the vessel that but one of the men had time to reach the stern which was the last part above water, and the place above where the captain was.

One of the men did reach this point but an instant before the stern went under and probably through fear of the suction or vortex jumped immediately into the lake and hurried away. At the moment the last part of the hull went below the surface[, the] captain was on the trunk deck over the cabin when a wave came sweeping over[,] driving a quantity of water down the companion way into the cabin overcoming the pound of buoyancy and the vessel disappeared below the surface drowning in the vortex [,] the captain 12 to 15 feet under water requiring active movements on his part to again reach the surface in good time.

On arriving above water the view presented may by some be easily imagined, a few floating articles which had been loose on the deck of the vessel and the two men at momentary intervals only to be seen-the man having the barrel was evidently drowning-the other with the oar but a small distance away but only a few moments to remain above water.

The captain had found a piece of board 18 inches by 10 inches thick. This he kept with him, held alternately by each hand arriving at the shore of the lake six miles below Great Sodus Bay, so much exhausted as he was unable to stand on his feet for near an hour, having been about 4 hours in rough water.

The cause of the disaster was probably caused by the cargo of corn becoming wet, swelling, and spreading open some of the seams on the vessel.

Note: At the time the Sophia went down, Capt. Throop was only 19 years old. His father, Samuel, drowned while endeavoring to bring the schooner Nancy into Great Sodus Bay during a storm in 1819. This information is contained in a long memoir of Throop's life in the History of Wayne County, N. Y. published in 1876.
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