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and Sailing Vessels on Lake Ontario and River St. Lawrence," an unpublished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
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
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.
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 10¼ 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.