In February 1884, when the old warship New Orleans, which had been on the stocks since 1815, was undergoing demolition, it parted directly in the center and fell to the ground, instantly killing a workman named James Oates, and seriously injuring Ralph Godfrey, Manuel Jeffrey and John Hemens. Eight other workmen narrowly escaped. Oates was terribly mutilated, a spike being forced entirely through his head and a bolt through his back.

        The New Orleans was begun by Henry Eckford, of New York, about the first of January 1815, under contract with the government. Her name was fixed by the authorities after Gen. Jackson's victory at New Orleans on January 8th the same year. She was to be 3,200 tons burden, 187 feet length of keel, 56 feet beam, and 40 feet depth of hold; pierced for 110 guns, but could carry 120.

        When Eckford was awarded the contract a large force of men was secured and timber was gathered from the surrounding forests. Nails, spikes and bolts were forged on the ground, the bolts being entirely of copper. The timbers were mostly cedar and oak, the beams in the keel being of an extraordinary size. The gun carriages were carried across the country from the Mohawk Valley, and were composed of mahogany and lignumvitae, and are yet [1894] in the storehouse at Sackets Harbor.

        The police commissioners from England and the United States met at Ghent, Belgium, and declared peace on December 24, 1814. The news did not reach Washington till the February following, and it was not until two weeks later that Eckford received orders to cease work, which he did about March 1. During 60 days the immense ship had been nearly finished, the main deck was laid and supports for the bulwarks were raised. The New Orleans was intended to be used as a sort of floating battery, to be stationed at the head of the St. Lawrence river to prevent the British fleet from entering the lake. As she was constructed entirely of green wood it was an open question whether she could ever have been navigated.

        The government caused a house to be erected over the New Orleans early in the 1830's, but that was finally destroyed. The ship was visted by hundreds of tourists and curiosity seekers each season, thanks in part to its portrayal on currency circulated by the Sackets Harbor Bank.

        In 1882 Congress ordered the sale of the New Orleans at auction. Alfred Wilkinson, of Syracuse, bid her in for $400. While being demolished under his orders the accident occurred. Wilkinson, it is said, cleared about $4,000 from his investment.

        When the New Orleans was dismantled, its parts were sold off to anyone who would pay. Some of its beams were incorporated into homes in the village, and some were crafted into furniture. An exhibit about the New Orleans can be seen today at the Sackets Harbor Visitors Center in the Augustus Sacket Mansion, which commands a view of where the mighty ship was stood.


© Mark A. Wentling, 2000


Capt. Ralph Godfrey was a sailor on the Great Lakes and for a time was owner of the Dyer Burnham House at 205 West Washington Street in Sackets Harbor. He married Jane Stoodley, who was first cousin of Manual Jeffrey.

Manuel Jeffrey was son of English immigrants Robert Jeffrey and Jane Lane, daughter of Thomas Lane and Nanny Stamp, who are buried in Sulpher Springs Cemetery. Manuel was reared for a time by his aunt Elizabeth Lane and her husband William Stoodley, also English immigrants. He survived his injuries at the New Orleans and died 24 July 1922 in Sackets Harbor, aged 85 years. Learn more about Manuel Jeffrey elsewhere on this site.


  • Haddock, John A. "Growth of a Century: A History of Jefferson county, New York 1793-1894." Phila.: Sherman & Co., 1894. pp. 600.
  • "Our County and Its People: A descriptive Work on Jefferson County, New York." Boston: Boston History Co., 1898. p. 646.